Yesterday was Father’s Day in Aotearoa New Zealand. One offspring knows his father too well…
I admit it. The wife and I are food junkies. We both like to experience new forms of cuisine. For us food is always an adventure. Living in Aotearoa New Zealand means that some of the foods that the wife grew up with in Japan are not available here, although much more is available than when she first arrived.
One item she has often missed is the lack of variety in the types of mushrooms available in this country compared to what is available in Japan. That’s unlikely to change much as the importation of fungi into this country is strictly controlled. The reason being that the effects of any foreign mushroom on our unique environment, should any get established in the wild, is unknown.
However two exotic species of mushroom are now able to be grown in Aotearoa New Zealand: shiitake mushrooms – under strictly controlled conditions, and oyster mushrooms which are are not controlled. It’s the latter about which I wish to sing my praises.
Oyster mushrooms are by far my favourite mushroom, although I’m not able to say why. Perhaps it’s because it has less of an earthy smell than other forms or perhaps it’s because its texture changes depending on the cooking method employed.
A few weeks ago a stall at the local Farmers Market was selling mini oyster mushroom farms. Essentially a large plastic bag filled with a material inoculated with oyster mushroom spores. We bought one. Finally, after several weeks of waiting, the very first batch of what will hopefully be a long season of mushrooms have been harvested and consumed.
I can tell you, that oyster mushrooms consumed within an hour of harvesting are absolutely divine. As we often do, tonight we cooked at the table. Tonight, copious quantities of oyster mushrooms, aubergine (eggplant), red capsicum (bell peppers), brown onion, finely chopped cabbage with mung bean sprouts, chicken kebabs, and finely sliced grass feed Angus beef steak, washed down with an NZ Sauvignon Blanc. What can I say but that it was like heaven on earth!
Two words synonymous with the Christmas season and summer in Aotearoa New Zealand.
If you’re not a Kiwi or an Aussie, you probably think if a pavlova (if you think of it at all) as a meringue dessert topped with whipped cream and berry fruit. And you could be forgiven for thinking that.
In fact I have been served such a thing in overseas restaurants and even on a cruise ship renown for the culinary skills of its chefs, all incorrectly described as pavlova. They were not. They were, as I described above, just meringues topped with whipped cream and strawberries.
So what’s the difference between a meringue and a pavlova? I think of a meringue as being either crispy throughout, or being a softer, slightly moist texture when used as a topping such as on a lemon meringue pie.
What I have been served as a pavlova outside of Aotearoa New Zealand or Australia, is more or less a larger version of a meringue as shown on the left above, smothered with whipped cream and strawberries and sometimes kiwifruit. That, a pavlova does not make!
On the other hand, a pavlova has a very thin crispy exterior only a few millimetres thick, and a soft, moist, fluffy interior, so soft that it collapses when gently squeezed between tongue and the roof of the mouth. It’s so fragile that it can’t be picked up with your fingers. Without the crispy exterior, any fruit placed on top of the pavlova would sink right through it. In fact the whipped cream spread over the top is more dense than the interior of a good pavlova. A good pavlova often looks like it’s about to collapse with the crust cracking once it is decorated.
Here ends my lesson on distinguishing the difference between a real pavlova and a fake one,
The pōhutukawa is sometimes referred to as the New Zealand Christmas tree, as in some parts of the country it flowers at Christmas. Like much of the NZ flora and fauna, its population in the wild is decreasing due to predation by introduced species – in the case, the common brushtail possum from Australia. The possum, with its voracious appetite for green leaves, buds and young shoots, eats many of these trees to death.
Fortunately, the pōhutukawa’s spectacular displays of crimson flowers make them a desirable plant in larger gardens, and they are now distributed well beyond the region they naturally flourish in. With careful pruning, they can be kept to under four metres high.
One particular pōhutukawa tree has a special place in Māori mythology. On Cape Rienga at the northern tip of Aotearoa New Zealand, an ancient Pōhutukawa clings to the side of a cliff and overhangs the ocean below. It’s estimated to be around 800 – 850 years old and would have been a relative youngster, perhaps no more than a hundred years old, when humans first set foot on this land. The tree is special in that it is the departing place of the deceased on their way to the legendary home of their ancestors – Hawaiiki-A-Nui.
According to myth, the spirits of the deceased travel along the coast until they reach this particular pōhutukawa. They enter the underworld by sliding down its roots and into the sea. Then they travel out to Three Kings Island, where they climb a peak to bid a final farewell to Aotearoa before commencing their long journey to Hawaiiki-A-Nui.
I’m aware of one other myth regarding the pōhutukawa. According to legend, the crimson flowers represent the blood of the warrior Tāwhaki. He fell to earth while attempting to find heaven to seek help in avenging the death of his father.
A growing trend among Pākehā (non-Māori New Zealanders) is the adoption of the Māori tradition of planting a pōhutukawa as a living memorial to the dead.
The word Hell conjures up different images, depending on the culture one is most familiar with. In many cultures the concept of hell does not exist. Within our indigenous Māori mythology there is no equivalent place. The spirit of everyone, regardless of deeds or thoughts, return to Hawaiki, which is the mythical place from which the ancestors of the Maori set sail to Aotearoa New Zealand in the twelfth or thirteenth century.
Among some Christians, Hell is a place of torment. There does seem to be some disagreement about the finer details of the place, including such trivia as who ends up there, why, and for how long. However, those Christians who do believe in the existence of such a dreadful place (approximately 10% of NZ Christians, or less than 5% of all Kiwis) agree that it is somewhere that is best avoided at all costs, and that they should attempt to save others from ending up there.
For most societies where the Christian concept of Hell is or was prevalent, Hell lives on in a metaphoric sense, being a place or event that causes one extreme anguish or distress. So one can talk about a job from hell or a hell of a town, and everyone knows what is meant.
That concept of hell is understood by most Kiwis, and of course, it’s also used to add emphasis such as in Hell, yes! or Hell No! and Bloody hell! But for most Kiwis HELL is a real place we like to visit from time to time, and if we can afford the extra cost, have HELL come to visit us instead.
I’m a fan of HELL and have an account with them. According to their records (I just checked on their website), I have visited them three times this month, where, among other things, I have purchased some of the seven deadly sins: Gluttony, Envy (twice), and Lust. I have also tried Greed, Wrath and Pride, but I’ve never seen Sloth listed, so I haven’t been able to try it. I’ve also tried Pandemonium, Mayhem, both of which I enjoyed, but their description of Mischief doesn’t appeal to me. There is access to HELL in 66 locations throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, and the closest one to me is only 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) away.
The last time I visited HELL, I was given a voucher, which meant I could order my sin of choice and whatever else I wanted, and they would deliver it to my front door. Today I didn’t feel like leaving home to partake of a sin (a case of Sloth?), so I took advantage of that voucher, and had a small serving of Gluttony delivered to my home. Just in case you find it difficult to accept my word that HELL delivers, I’ve included a copy of the receipt somewhere on this page.
For those of you who still believe HELL isn’t real, have a look at their Website hell.co.nz. Unfortunately they only deliver a short distance from an entrance to HELL, so those of you not fortunate to live in Aotearoa New Zealand, you’re just going to have to take my word for it that HELL is absolutely divine!
Growing up, I was not particularly fond of seafood. Although I tolerated the taste of most fish, my ability to catch fish bones in my throat brought me much fame in the whānau, and considerable discomfort to myself. It didn’t matter how careful my mother was in de-boning fish, I was sure to discover a bone by choking on it. Typically no one else could find any bones for want of trying.
I didn’t enjoy shellfish at all with the one exception. And that was paua. For those unfamiliar with the word, pāua are members of the abalone family endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand, commonly found just below the low tide mark around most of the country. Blackfoot, the most common species has a black body and the shell has a beautiful peacock-like iridescence. With friends of my parents regularly diving for these delicacies, they found their way to our table frequently.
My father was a keen surf-caster, and most weekends when the weather was good, the entire family would squeeze into the car for a short trip along the coast to one of Dad’s many fishing spots. While Dad looked after two, three or four fishing rods, Mum would keep an eye on us kids while we dammed streams, explored caves and rock pools, and risked life and limb climbing cliffs.
It would be a very exceptional day if Dad didn’t catch enough fish to provide a meal or two for six people with a little left over to give to friends. From what I remember, Dad always prepared the fish, but both he and Mum took turns at cooking it.
In those days, the selection of food in NZ was very limited. Most vegetables came from home gardens as it did in our case. Roasts of mutton and hogget were by far the cheapest form of protein, with beef and lamb some distance behind. Smaller cuts such as steaks and chops were too expensive to have more than once a month, and pork and chicken were so expensive, that we had them only on special occasions such as Christmas. Fish, if purchased was also expensive. So free protein fresh from the sea was really appreciated by all the family except for myself. The fish I most enjoyed came in cans and never contained bones to choke on; Tuna, salmon, herrings and mackerel.
When we were children, meal times a were special time where food, experiences, thought and opinions were shared. They will always be fondly remembered by me. However, the only food I really loathed was one of my parents’ favourites – mashed carrots and parsnips. I still feel ill when I recall its taste and texture. Disgusting!
My wife’s background was very different. For her family, sea food was the primary source of protein and in such a wide variety of forms, that it still makes my head spin. When she first arrived in NZ she longed for the variety of food found in Japanese supermarkets. She had no idea how to cook roasts – Japanese homes don’t have ovens – and the smell of sheep meat cooking made her physically ill. Most of the food and ingredients she was familiar with were unknown here.
Over the four and a half decades since her arrival, New Zealand has undergone a food revolution and our choice of fruit, vegetables and proteins has increased many times over. Our choice of foods will never match the likes of Japan or Europe or (I assume) North America as we are a relatively small country physically with a tiny population, and a very, very long way from other markets. But it’s a marked improvement over the days of my childhood.
Since those log ago days, the relative prices of many foods have changed drastically. Chicken, once very expensive, is now the cheapest form of protein, while beef and lamb (why is all sheep meat now identified as lamb?) is the most expensive. Pork and fish lie somewhere in between. Which finally brings me around to point of this post.
My wife has educated my pallet to truly enjoy a wide variety of food styles, but what I realised recently is how drastically my protein of choice has changed. Where once I preferred red meat, today I much prefer red or pink fish. To be specific, tuna or NZ farmed salmon in the form of sashimi. Salmon is around half the price of good steak, and tuna is somewhere in between. If, fifty years ago someone told me that one day I would enjoy eating raw fish, I would have laughed at such a ridiculous statement. How wrong I would have been!
Long gone are the days of “meat and three veg”. Here are some recent examples typical meals lovingly prepared by my wife.