Bunny Stew

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

Henry had to cook for the twelve young guys for a week.

Bunny Stew

The boss told the twelve forestry trainees that they’d be camping in the derelict farm house for three months. ‘The roof doesn’t leak,’ he told them, ‘there’s plenty of dry wood for the coal range and there’s a good water supply. Pity there aren’t any beds,’ he added, ‘but there are paillasses in the back room, so you’ll have to fill them yourself with straw. There’s a few bales in the back shed. Now then, one of you can have the week off work to be the cook and bottle-washer. Responsible to keep the place tidy… and I mean tidy.’ He looked at his watch. ‘It’s nearly two o’clock, you can have the rest of the day to sort yourselves out. There’s late night shopping in town ’cos it’s Friday night. You can buy all your stores at the G.U.S. store. Baz, you drive the gang truck.’ And the boss turned to head off.

‘What about pots and pans?’ Henry asked. ‘And plates and knives and forks?’ He added.

‘Shit, I forgot!’ Replied the boss. ‘They’re in the storeroom at the office, I’ll send them back with Alby, the forest clerk… by the way, there’s electricity for the lights, but I wouldn’t trust those bloody plugs.’

 

The old farmhouse was big, with enough rooms to accommodate the twelve trainees. Some were lucky enough for just two to bunk in one room, Henry and Gordie were an example. They filled their paillasses and laid them out on the floor with their packs nearby. There was a set of drawers that needed the mouse shit cleaned out, but they were happy to have a couple of drawers each, which was more than some of the others had. Henry and Gordie had a look around outside and found the woodshed, there was a water tank on a stand that could give pressure but there was no bathroom. There was a long-drop dunny outside, with no paper and someone had recently built a frame for six enamel bowls to sit in, and there was a tap with a gallon enamel jug.

‘Must be our wash area,’ Gordie suggested, ‘and look they’ve dug a drain to tip the dirty water into. It might get boggy in the winter, don’t you reckon?’

‘The old washhouse needs a damn good clean,’ Henry screwed his nose, ‘it’ll be interesting to light the old copper to heat the water, I bet the chimney’s full of birds’ nests.’ He looked into the tubs, ‘Yeah, the rinsing tubs look ok though.’

‘I’d have a hot bath in the copper.’ Gordie reckoned.

‘Yeah, me too.’ Henry agreed.

By four o’clock they had the place reasonably organised, and somebody called a meeting, so they sat outside in the sun on the front doorstep, or on the rocks that bounded a long-ago garden.

‘We’d better make a roster of who’s going to cook for the week.’ Robin suggested. ‘And seeing as Henry here was keen to know about the pots and pans, he’d better be the cook for the first week.’

When nobody else volunteered, Henry reluctantly agreed, ‘Ok… looks like you picked me because I’m the smallest.’ There was some muttering and it seemed Henry had been voted in. ‘First thing then, is weekends.’ Henry was making it up as he went along. ‘Some of you will want to sleep half the blimmin’ day, others will be buggering off, so the duty cook might keep the coal range going, but everyone should fend for themselves. Maybe the cook’s duties should be just Monday to Friday, fair enough?’ There was mumbled agreement.

Henry knew six of the trainees well enough, they had been together for a few months, but he didn’t know the other lot, their training was under a different regime, and the two regimes weren’t always… compatible. He didn’t know how reliable they were, so he asked. ‘Ok, if I’m cooking from Monday, I suppose I’ve got to cook breakfast and the evening meal, surely you buggers can make your own lunch and smoko to take with you!’ He looked around and the others looked at each other. ‘Well, c’mon, what do you want for breakfast and your lunch, and who’s going to be in charge of buying the stuff… and what about paying for it?’ The silence was deafening! After a long pause, Colin suggested, ‘We need a kitty, if we all put in say, fifteen quid, [it was pounds shillings and pence in those days] and we leave it to the cook to buy his own weeks’ worth of groceries and do the cooking like in any forest cookhouse. Otherwise everyone will be bitching and moaning they don’t like this or that… and no calling the cook a bastard.’

‘And who called the bastard a cook!’ Someone chimed in to complete the old saying. There was a tinkle of laughter.

‘Well, I’m figuring that the first lot of groceries will cost a bit more because we’ll need salt ’n’ pepper, sugar, tea, and flour, so ok, I’ll do my best, but don’t moan if it doesn’t turn out right first time!’ Henry told them. Nobody made the promise.

It looked an awful lot of tucker even for twelve young, working men! Among the bulky stuff was a side of hogget wrapped in muslin cloth, a 25 pound bag of flour and the bread. Henry banked on three loaves of bread for each of the five days and hoped another six would last over the weekend, he knew spuds would be popular, so he bought a sack of those. He wasn’t sure if he’d bought enough, but was happy he still had about sixteen quid left in the kitty. They all had fish and chip in town, and the six from the ‘other regime’ said they’d be back on Sunday night, as well Les said he was going to hitchhike home, and said he’d be back on Sunday night too.

It was a quiet weekend, so on and off Henry thought it would make his week easier if he had a tidy up in the kitchen and he cleaned out the meat safe that hadn’t seen meat in years. He had to bend the catch so it closed properly, which made it fly-proof, so he butchered the half hogget and squeezed it into the safe. While the bread was fresh, they cut and buttered slices, and soon a can of apricot jam was demolished! Sure enough, Sunday night the six other trainees arrived back in a beat-up Vauxhall car that Ned had acquired… he also had a litter of five not-long-weaned pups! He told everyone he was only looking after them for a month, but none of the others were happy at the prospect, because they knew damn well, they’d be howling all night!

Henry found the cooking was quite easy, and after all, he’d done it before in other camps. The highlight of the week was his blackberry pie. He made the pastry and collected the berries along the roadside… he thought the butter was getting low… using a lot making the pastry, so he used mutton fat to grease the pan, but nobody seemed to notice. They all had hollow legs anyhow! Thursday night’s part-shoulder of hogget had turned a bit green in the February heat, so Henry did what his mother used to do… rub pepper into it! It spiced things up, and nobody complained.

‘There’s no meat left for tomorrow night.’ Henry warned the group, and in response to the swearing he added, ‘well I could cook up those rowdy blimmin’ pups if you want meat tomorrow night!’

‘We’ll be starving after the day’s work,’ Les moaned, ‘maybe just rustle something up and we’ll have fish and chips again in town.’ So that was the consensus.

Next morning after the others had gone off to work and he’d cleaned up, Henry took his trusty .22 rifle and shot half a dozen rabbits. He’d noticed there were plenty of bunnies in the area when he’d picked the blackberries. For his usual rabbit stew, he liked to soak them in brine overnight, but six hours would have to do. Ned’s pups were still yelping and had pissed everyone off with their yelping for attention each night, and Ned didn’t really look after them, poor buggers were probably hungry, Henry thought. He prepared his rabbit stew with plenty of onions and he’d noticed a sage bush while he was hunting, so a few sprigs went in. And carrots too. With the stew, spuds and some vegetables prepared, he had a brainwave. He’d found a roll of rabbit netting in the back shed, so he took it across the road to where there was a copse of trees. He made a rough enclosure using trees for posts, and took the pups one by one and dropped them into it. He fed them with the rabbit guts, trimmings and heads, which he hoped would keep them quiet for a while.

The guys arrived back and after washing up, they sat down to their semi-unexpected meal.

‘Bloody good stew this!’ Gordie commented, and some of the others chimed in.

‘Shoot a few bunnies, did you?’ Les smiled after the stew was finished and the bones sucked dry. Henry smiled and tapped the side of his nose with his finger, which left a question.

It took a few seconds, but Ned eventually tumbled to it, ‘You rotten bugger!’ He shouted, pushing back his chair! He ran out to check on the pups. He was back within thirty seconds!

‘Bloody hell!’ he shouted, ‘He’s cooked my bloody pups!’

En masse, they all rushed outside! Henry quietly followed them to find them leaning on the fence, trying to bring up what had just gone down! A few were retching, but none managed to bring up anything other than a bit of spit.

‘Before you bring up my well-cooed rabbit stew,’ Henry called innocently, ‘I’d better tell you, I shifted the pups across the road so we can have some peaceful nights!’

Henry ducked for cover, wise to the potential for revenge while cooped up in the gang truck! Besides, it was the cook for next weeks’ job to do the grocery shopping.

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: November 11, 2021

© Copyright 2021 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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dewey green

Nice story mate! Reminds me of a song! Bloodwood had a version but couldn't find it online, however there's another, It's on Youtube.
The Rabbit Trappers Song - Frank Povah

Thu, November 11th, 2021 2:57pm

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Thanks Dewey, I'll look it up. I'm pleased you liked it. Usianguke

Thu, November 11th, 2021 12:17pm

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