Easter Monday and Tuesday: ‘Hocktide’

...Suddenly a hug comes over me and I'm
giving it to you, like a variable star shooting light
off to make itself comfortable, then

From 'The Hug' by Tess Gallagher (b1943)

After the feasting comes the fun. Easter Monday and Tuesday used to be called ‘Hocktide’ and they were a couple of days in the spring calendar for people to let their hair down. Think about it - all those long dreary days of Lent; with only simple food and no pleasures (no time for any hanky-panky in Lent) and then on top of that, a pious weekend. By now, irrepressible youth is ripe for adventure and misrule, so that’s what Hocktide was all about. A bit like Twelfth Night, it was time for a bit of un-chaperoned horseplay between the sexes.

In the East Riding fishing port of Filey, in the early nineteenth century on Easter Day, the young men would try and steal the shoes of the young women. On Easter Monday the girls got their own back and stole the hats off the men’s heads. The battle of the sexes was a characteristic of Hocktide. In some towns, the men chased the women on Monday and the women chased the men on Tuesday. If you were caught you had to pay a forfeit to your captor; a kiss or a sweetmeat was the usual fee! The capture usually involved ‘hocking’ or ‘heaving’ i.e. lifting, so that the pursuer had to get the quarry’s feet off the ground to qualify for the kiss.

The custom appears as an aristocratic game in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight', an alliterative poem written in the fourteenth century and Ron Hutton in his wonderful book ‘Stations of the Sun’ remarks on how much Hocktide was a festival dominated by the activities of women. In various parts of the country they went round and collected money for the church or performing in plays to the same end.

There are numerous accounts of hocking, most of them written by men who often took exception to being pursued by a gaggle of working class girls. One writer describes the girls who chased him as ‘brawny pit-bank wenches’. They sound like a lot of fun. The poor scholarly vicar of a village in Warwickshire had his Easter rendered miserable by being chased by his young female parishioners every Easter Monday, ‘over hill and down dale’. On Easter Tuesday 1838, the Squire of Coleham in Shropshire says he ‘escaped from a posse of his own tenant’s wives and daughters…and fought a host of resolute females assembled in the Castle Foregate’, but ‘at Acton Reynard - could neither fight nor run away.’ 

Here's another account from Manchester in 1784.

'Lifting was originally designed to represent our Saviour’s resurrection. The men lift the women on Easter Monday, and the women the men on Tuesday. One or more take hold of each leg, and one or more of each arm near the body, and lift the person up, in a horizontal position, three times. It is a rude, indecent, and dangerous diversion, practised chiefly by the lower class of people. Our magistrates constantly prohibit it by the bellman, but it subsists at the end of the town; and the women have of late years converted it into a money job. I believe it is chiefly confined to these Northern counties.'

By 1880, Hocktide has completely disappeared from the festal calendar. The only remaining relic now is in Hungerford; Hocktide was a rent day and Hungerford still holds its Hocktide Court, when rents and dues are paid. The tutti-frutti men go out holding flowers and kissing the women, the commoners hold a lunch – although that’s on Good Friday and consists of macaroni cheese and watercress.

We’re eating Easter Day leftovers today and I made pashka for our Easter Sunday dinner. Here it is. It’s a Russian cheesecake, shaped in a mould and decorated with glace fruit. It’s made across Eastern Europe on Easter Day, they do it in Albania and Bulgaria too, but not as elaborately decorated. It is customary to put an Orthodox Cross on your Easter pashka or mark it IHS. But I didn't.


There are  number of recipes for this traditional Russian dish, most of them involve huge quantities. But it's quite a simple thing really, it's a cheesecake without a crust - and you cook the eggs first so it's not baked. This a very plain version - pared to the basics.

You need a mould preferably with a drain hole. I used a shallow crocus pot which I scrubbed vigorously, soaked in sterilising fluid, then ran through the dishwasher twice - but it occurs to me you could just use a sieve. Line the mould with a thin cloth like muslin or something similar.

400g cottage cheese or ricotta. Drain for an hour through a sieve, to get rid of some whey.
2 large eggs
Small carton of double cream
Two tablespoons of golden caster sugar
1 tsp of custard powder.
Vanilla or almond essence or orange flower to taste.

Glace fruit to decorate.

Some recipes add chopped glace fruit into the mix, but I prefer it outside

Heat the cream until not quite boiling and beat the eggs, custard powder and sugar in a separate bowl. Pout on the cream and cook over a gentle heat until quite thick and coating the back of a spoon. Add the flavouring of your choice. Cool.

Put the cheese into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pour in the cool custard and whizz again. When thoroughly combined pour into the lined mould. Put in the fridge and leave overnight. Turn out carefully onto a pretty plate and decorate with glace fruit. It's soothing and pretty.

Happy Hocktide. More on the 10th.

'I'll leave to the people of England
All that remains
Rags and patches - a few old tales
And bawdy jokes, snatches of song and galumphing dance-steps
Above all my obstinacy...'

'The Green Man's Last Will and Testament' by John Heath-Stubbs (1918-2006)


Bethan said...

As a medievalist I love love love Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the best bit is when his head gets chopped off!


Mary Beth said...

ceAnd a Happy Easter to you, too, Liz! Again, LOVE the history and the lore. I have never made or even tasted pashka- on my list, though, for future occasions.

Our feast included what my family calls Polish sweet bread, a version of babka without the fruit or flavoring. My Grandma's version calls for cake (fresh) yeast, and so that is what I still use. Although cook books will always say there is no difference between fresh and dried yeast, my taste buds beg to differ. We also get some good kielbasa (both fresh and smoked), some beets ground with horseradish to make a relish, as well as roast lamb, asparagus, a spinach salad with a special dressing, and a ricotta pie flavored with almond and lemon. Have to cover all the family traditions!
Hope your weather is more springlike than here. It is starting to warm up, but stubbornly cool. I see a few shoots of chard trying to come up in the garden. Resurrection, outside my back door. Love to you and yours.