Potted

I couldn’t resist the one word that really felt out of place on the tea sachet.


If you’ve a few years behind you, you’ll remember the old butcher’s shops around the island. I recall one in Strand Street and one on the Terrace and one down in the row of shops near the cooling tower at Pulrose. They all smelled the same – of meat and the sawdust sprinkled on the floor. They all seemed to be run by large, cheerful red-faced men. And as well as sausages and chops they all sold things like brawn and chitterlings. And sometimes they’d sell potted meat. A prosaic name for a delicacy – at least to a child’s palate – and made even more special by coming in a little pot all of its own. And one of those butchers – and I’ll not tell you which, for I promised I’d never say – had the recipe from a witch, and that’s why it tasted so good.

How it came about was like this. At that time, the great grandfather of that butcher was himself a butcher’s assistant, with no prospect of ever being anything more. And he was walking through a field out Lezayre way one day with his gun, for he’d been after rabbits. He’d been lucky, and he was carrying three fine fat conies over his shoulder as he strode towards home. And as he came up to the foot of the church, where in them days there was a little well to capture the fresh water from the spring, who did he see sitting there on the big stone by the well but Lilee the witch.

For in them days everyone knew who was a witch and who wasn’t. Not like these days when anyone with a bit of book learning can call herself a witch even if she knows nothing about healing or the weather or the ways of animals.

“Jem Costain”, said she as soon as he came within earshot. “I’ve been delayed caring for Peter Killey’s cows all day and I won’t get to the market before closing time. If you give me one of them fine rabbits for me tea, I’ll make you a rich man.”

Now, Jem had nothing against being a rich man, and he had no need of three rabbits, for two was more than plenty for him and his parents to sup on. And it never hurts to be in with a witch. So without further ado he unslung the fattest of those bunnies and presented it to Lilee with a small bow, as if he was giving the Governor’s wife a posy.

And the witch laughed, and said, “You’re a well-mannered lad and you’ll go far by your own efforts, but come and see me in the morning and I’ll give you something to help you along your way.”

Well, Jem could hardly sleep all that night for thinking about what the witch might give him. Surely it would be gold or silver? For everyone knew that witches could find buried treasure just by sniffing it out.

So you can imagine his disappointment the next day when all he got for his trouble was a recipe for potted meat, written up on an old scrap of brown paper. But you can’t complain about a witch’s behaviour – at least not to her face – so he took himself home and gave the recipe to his mother, saying nothing about where it had come from.

And when his mother made the potted meat, it was the tastiest thing any of them had ever eaten. So tasty that they ate the whole lot straight from the pan and she had to make some more that she was going to put into store. And this time the smell of the cooking brought the neighbours around, and they swore it was the most wonderful good thing they’d ever tasted too.

Soon word spread and people were queueing all down the road for a taste of this marvellous paste, and paying whatever Jem asked to get a bit. And so it wasn’t long before Jem had the money to open a butcher’s shop all of his own in Ramsey – where he could carry on making and selling the witch’s potted meat to all the folk of the north of the island – aye, and some from the south too!

Writing (with blank for Jem’s name, which I didn’t pick until after I’d finished!)

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