playground: hocks and haws

One of the JAFF websites has a bimonthly short story ‘playground’. The prompt for January and February was ‘Shock and Aw’. This is my contribution …

~from the heart of Darcyshire~

In an extraordinary stroke, some papers from over 200 years ago were found in the attics of a manor house here in Tenston.

The householder passed the papers to the local museum, saying that she had no interest in ‘dusty old books’. Mrs Yam Roy Tin, archivist at the local museum grudgingly accepted the generous gift and left the boxes (and boxes) in a corridor as she had ‘better things to do than poke through dusty old books’. Reminded that she was paid to do exactly that, Mrs Tin opened a box to find a mish-mash of ramblingstreasure trove of writings.

Close, if reluctant, inspection found these to be from the pen of Lady Prudence Tenston. Histerical records show that Lady Prudence was the mother of Lady Harriet, wife of the ninth Earl of Matlock, and was renowned locally as a flirtatious eccentric. Descendants of Lady Prudence still live in Tenston, but were not available to comment.

Some of her writing was clear enough to be transcribed directly, and this paper is delighted to print extracts from Lady Prudence’s diaries, day-books and correspondence as it fills column inches; we start with a letter and recipe.

Tenston, on the border of Derbyshire and Shropshire

January 18—

My dear Mrs Mary Tonne,

Two of my very many very distant nephews, Colonel, the Imponderable Richard Fitzwilliam (younger son of the Earl of Matlock) and Steven Robin Darcy (grandson of a bygone beau, the dread Judge Darcy) inform me that you are soliciting guidance for saucy looks to tempt admirers. They were giggling mightily in the manner of little boys, so I expect that they have it muddled and you wish for receipts for sauces to ensure compromises.

I have enclosed a receipt which has never failed.

Lady Prudence Tenston

Hocks and Haws

Before you start, be sure to have the following to hand:—

– A veritable multitude of strapping young manservants

Send the strapping young manservants to search every corner of the manor house for every bottle, flagon, flask, glass, casket, tun, barrel or decanter of beer, ale, wine, brandy, port and all other spirits. If you have more manservants than bottles, send for more bottles. If you have more bottles than manservants, send for more manservants. A shock —that is, a full sixty— of each is ideal.

Line up the manservants in order of strappingness. Do not be tempted to hurry this process as it will affect the efficacy of the sauce.

Into a very large cauldron suspended over a very low flame put the hocks of some well-hung cattle. You may add to this divers diverse root vegetables.

Here I must advise you to apply to Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park, which is separated only by a lane from the humble Hunsford Parsonage, Hunsford, near Westerham in Kent, for the correct procedure for digging up root vegetables. If you are very honoured, Lady Catherine will also share with you very precise instructions for the preparation of said vegetables for the pot. I beg you to not be too disappointed if she refuses; your cook’s usual method will suffice.

Send the strapping manservants to the cauldron, one at a time, inspecting each one before admitting him to the kitchen. Bid him to pour some of the beer, wine or spirit from his bottle into a teacup. Have him drink the teacup while pouring the remainder of the bottle, flagon, flask, glass, casket, tun, barrel into the cauldron. Ample time should be allowed between the entrance of each strapping manservant for both a thorough inspection of his strappingness and for the dissipation of the unwanted bad humours from the cauldron.

With a full shock of strapping manservants, this might well take several weeks, if not longer. Each Thursday morning, at precisely 27 minutes past the hour of ten of the clock, send a maid into the kitchen to add a single berry from a hawthorn tree to the cauldron. If she swoons, open a window to allow the bad humours to escape. If she does not swoon, it is likely that your diligence in assessing the strappingness of the manservants has distracted you and has thus delayed the stipulated addition of spirits to the cauldron. It is verily important that you do not panic. Add one full bottle of brandy, two full bottles of port, four full bottles of wine and a cask of ale to the cauldron post-haste, and continue the method as directed.

When all sixty of the strapping manservants have been inspected, their spirits raised and all bottles, flagons, flasks, glasses, caskets, tuns and barrels emptied, allow the cauldron to rest over the low flame until all of the bad humours have flown away. Strain out the hocks and divers diverse root vegetables. You should have four and a half teacups of stock remaining. Do not allow the butler to drink this. Cover and leave overnight in the pantry. Decant the stock into a bowl, cover and leave to cool in the cellar.

The following morning, or whenever your attentions to the straps of shocked manservants allow, retrieve the bowl from the pantry. Direct the butler, or your cook, should she be sufficiently red-faced and jolly, to remove the layer of congealed bad humours from the top of the hock stock.

It is worth noting that these congealed bad humours can be melted in a frying pan or on a girdle and used for the frying of slices of bread or dropped scones. If any of the strapping manservants are particularly fatigued, such delicate rustics should rev- [cont. on page 17]

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