Read by Rob Witcomb
From the pantry notebooks of W E Stream: extra-naturalist 1896-1949
Our ancestors, to be sure, had a full range of magical folk to hunt. Alas, due to the encroachments of industry and the manufacture of cheap potted meats, the time hallowed pursuit of edible magical folk – the tasty wee folk, as some would quaintly call them – has met a double end.
Fewer and fewer people depend on the fresh catch of magical folk for their protein, and less and less magic exists today in our woods. Indeed, fewer and fewer woods exist. But! There is no true need to despair, for the traditional hunt continues very well with the four main types of magical folk we have left in our copses and hedges. It is with these that my pantry notes are concerned.
These words are aimed at a generation bereft. A generation whose trusty ancestors would have known – without research – the things I make note of … and but for the forced desistance of magical huntings, would have passed on this knowledge still. It is to my peers, the present grand owners of this illustrious island, that this small collection of notes is addressed.
The dark wood elves are easiest to trap. A little shiny object that is sure to catch their eye, placed close to a decent hiding spot big enough for you to hold a long stout stick in, will do the thing nicely. Before you know it ... bang!
Dark wood elves always stop, no matter what, to inspect all that glitters. (Which is so rarely gold. When will they learn?) While your dark wood elves are regarding said non-gold object, it becomes merely a matter of smacking them very hard with your stick. An extremely easy task, I must say. One smack will usually do the trick; they are rather delicate creatures. That said, they are rather stringy creatures, too. They must be stewed thoroughly (please see my recipes at the end of these notes). I prefer my meat with a little nice fat on the bone. But, seeing as I'm as lazy as the next hunter, dark wood elves will do. And they often do.
Of course, if there is a chance of grabbing a nice fat gnome – well, well, well … Gnomes are absolutely delicious. Quite lovely, really. All their ceaseless mushroom-eating tremendously improves the taste of their flesh. In my experience, even the skinniest gnome will make a tasty morsel, especially when paired with a nice aged mead … The secret, of course, is to braise them first.
Gnomes are relatively easy to catch; the hardest part, these days, is finding one. Not only are they growing somewhat rare in the countryside, gnomes have the knack of blending in to whatever they are around. And, as they don't stop to investigate interesting objects, and they don't travel in packs, it is something of a rigged game to go out and seek one in the field. No, in my opinion, the only sure way to catch yourself a juicy tidbit of gnome is to sit yourself down in a moist mossy spot, preferably by a babbly brook fringed by birch trees, and simply wait. Sooner or later, if you are lucky – and I like to think folk-hunters are, by nature, lucky – a gnome will approach. Usually with an outstanding basket of fungi attached to its back. Now, the trick to catching a gnome is stealth. Make no sudden move. Simply inch up to the small figure – they have poor peripheral vision – with your stick at the ready. When you are within swatting distance: swat. You don't have to kill it in one blow – quite frankly, the more you beat it, the more toothsome it will be. Gnomes excrete a fear hormone which breaks down cell walls, making their meat fall off the fork tender. Peas and turnips go very well with gnome.
However, if you cannot, for whatever reason, look to gnomes for your dinner-time fare, a good compromise is the standard light elf. They present a little difficulty in their capture, which is why so many go in for the dark elf instead. But light elf is worth the bother! And, if you follow my instructions, you will see that the bother itself is rather small, all in all. You will need, besides your trusty hunting stick, three items that are relatively easy to obtain: a small mammal or songbird, a shaker of table salt, and a length of good raw leathern cord. Once you have assembled these things, you will need to find yourself a good hiding spot, too.
The first thing to do is to wound your small animal in such a way as to render it incapable of wandering off, but not so much that it is impossible to heal. Place this animal within stick distance of your hiding spot. Then, hidden and with salt in hand, wait for a light elf to arrive. When an elf appears, as it surely will, I recommend tossing salt on its wings as soon as it comes in to look at the wounded woodland creature. Do not wait for it to begin tending to the animal, for by then it may close its wings. Once you have salted the elf, of course, you have to disable its spell-throwing ability – for that you shall need to tie it up, fast, with the raw leather cord I have mentioned. Tie fast, making sure to bind the hands and wings close to its trunk. That is it! Once the hands and wings are immobile, the elf will keep for days. Do be careful, though, for it can emit nasty tones which can damage the aural nerves of some hunters. If you haven't caught one of these before, and do not know for certain that you are immune to elfish wails, it is best to simply whack it against a large rock and knock its head right off at the neck.
If you find the knocking of elf heads on rocks unpleasant, bring scissors with you along with the leathern cord, and after you've trussed the elf, you can cut its head off quite neatly. Once you've field-dressed it, you can look forward to a lovely spit of meat that evening. I recommend basting in strawberry juice while you turn it – if you happen to have any strawberries – perhaps once every half hour or so; the juice complements their sweet meat very nicely. Do look out for small bones – light elves have more than you'd think!
We are left with only one more magical folk type left to us to hunt in this day and age: the troll. Hunt it if you will, but do not, for any reason, eat troll. It is truly nasty stuff. They are simple enough to catch, as they are slow, dull-witted creatures who will stand still long enough for you to throw a large rock at them if you happen upon one (of course, you may prefer to hit them with your hunting stick, which will work perfectly well too) but their skin tastes of rotted fish and their flesh is liable to harbour all manner of nasty parasites that will transfer themselves to your inner gut. It is better to starve. Throw them in the rubbish heap once you get home. Do not let the dogs have at them.
If you pay close attention to my notes, I trust that you shall be amply, and quite agreeably, rewarded. May your stick never miss!
(c) Juliegh Howard-Hobson, 2010
On the Catching and Cooking of Magical Folk by Juleigh Howard-Hobson was read by Rob Witcomb at the Liars' League Flesh & Fowl event at The Phoenix, Cavendish Sq., London on Tuesday 8 June 2010
Juleigh Howard-Hobson's work has appeared in Aesthetica, Going Down Swinging, and KeyHole, among other places. An A Million Writers Award "Notable Story" writer, she's been nominated for "The Best of the Net" and the Pushcart Prize. Born in England, she grew up in Australia and now lives in Portland Oregon, USA.
Rob Witcomb graduated from the Guildford School of Acting in 2005, receiving the postgraduate acting prize. He’s appeared in Britcom Three & Out and on TV in various programmes and commercials. In theatre, he has performed extensively in the UK and abroad in roles from Shakespearean clowns and villains to real-life celebrities in NewsRevue. He is currently writing and devising a new sketch TV & radio pilot called Fold Up which premieres later this year.