Michele Roberts eats hare and feels like a hypocrite

Hares are such noble, beautiful creatures. Who would ever wish to eat them? Asks Michele Roberts

Lunch with Yvette this week began with chicken bouillon soup, thick with tapioca-like perles de Japon, followed by moules marinieres. The red wine was opened only for the main course. Yvette served up jugged hare. The hunting season has just finished. You can shoot hares on three weekends in the year only, and a huntsman friend had donated his spoils. She imagined she was giving me a big treat, had poured the reserved blood into the wine sauce, and brought her big pot to the table with eclat. I haven't eaten hare in years. They are such noble, beautiful creatures. On summer nights, at dusk, if I sit very still on the step, a hare sometimes saunters down the lane from the fields above the house, lopes right past me, and vanishes into the pasture below. You feel blessed by this encounter. Who, having met a hare under these circumstances, let alone having seen three pairs of them dancing one dawn in a Norfolk field, would ever wish to eat them? I am a hypocrite and so I did, not wanting to offend Yvette, and the hare was delicious.

As a parting present, she gave me a dish of rillettes de museau, another by-product of hunting. The farmers kill wild boar (or, as they simply call them, pigs) as a method of culling. The pigs rampage through the fields, digging up and eating all the young crops. As with hares, you don't shoot the females. When you do manage to down a pig as it zooms past at top speed, you have to offer your companions a bottle of champagne.

But one local landowner, a rich lawyer from Paris, actually breeds wild pigs, to give himself more sport. So there you might be, having culled your pests, feeling pretty pleased with yourself, and there he is, releasing packs of pigs into the forest that then stray on to your land and dig up your crops and eat them. So off you go hunting again.

I like rillettes, which were invented in Le Mans, just over the border in the Sarthe. The Sarthois prefer their rillettes smooth, but here we like them chunky. I've helped Yvette make them. You simmer the bones and bits of pig in a vat of lard, stirring with an oar from time to time, then after a day's slow cooking, you pour the melted results into large-handled pots and seal the rillettes with their own fat. People eat them with bread as a supper dish or a snack. As a child, I used to love pork dripping, which we had on toast as a treat after the Sunday roast was used up. Exquisite. Rillettes are similar: earthy and rich.

Yvette's pot of rillettes of pork muzzle was like brawn, I suppose, prepared using the whole pig's head, boned, cooked, pressed and moulded. I made brochettes of it for lunch the following day. One mouthful was enough. It was both gristly and too fatty, like chewing on elastic-sided boots filled with solid grease. That night, the cat and his friends dined sumptuously.

This article first appeared in the 22 March 2004 issue of the New Statesman, After Madrid, does urban life have a future?