He KōreroreroSurviving vs Living vs Thriving

Apr 11, 2012

keriNā Keri Hulme

I am a locavore, an eater of fresh food from my regions.

Of course I eat other things – I’ve got free-range chook and vegetables in the deep freeze because there aren’t any local producers of chook or peas or carrots or corn let alone the more exotic vege mixes in Big O. And I do have at least a bucket (sometimes a pōhā) of birds around for winter.

After the season ends, I normally have frozen ‘bait’: I also keep frozen blue cod (mainly from Moeraki, or at least, south) and both farmed and fresh-caught salmon steaks. And venison.

I don’t eat anything that has been through an abattoir – it’s just a personal thing (it goes back to the time I was a television director, working on Country Calendar. We did an episode covering the effects of new legislation on freezing works, which, naturally, involved filming inside them. I had never encountered mass animal fear before (and yes, I had seen animals slaughtered for food before then).

But nothing can compare with a venison backsteak given by one of the neighbours – shot round the settlement, and carefully hung for a couple of days after beheading and gralloching – or some stewing cuts (I was taught to make venison brown stews by my Nana, with the prime ingredient being shot by one of her sons). Or an Ōkarito flounder, caught half an hour before. Or freshies eaten at Bluff. Or pipi and cockles/tuaki (never called clams, thank you) from the lagoon, and the large tender mussels from rocks off the Bluff beach.

We were partly brought up on Moeraki blue cod and all the other lovelies – greenbone, groper, tarakihi, crayfish, mussels, pāua, and fresh, fresh Bluff oysters. I early associated tītī with winter, and the aroma with warm welcoming homes because my Granddad was sent containers from Kai Mohu. My mother is the family beneficiary for the island now, but none of us have birded it. He also loved eels, and as soon as I tried silver-bellies from the Ōkarito lagoon, I had an epiphany and knew just why he did. Fresh, smoked, or dried – they are such excellent food.

It took me longer to appreciate the virtues of kareko: I came to it sideways after sampling nori in Hawai’i in the late 1970s – and learning that we had a Porphrya species just like nori – only even better. I still collect mine in August on friendly southern sea rocks and wash it and dry it in a friendly southern sun.

My Nanna, coming from a different heritage (Orkney Scots), knew about other seaweeds: she used to collect what she called ‘jelly weed’ or carrageen, a Gigartina species known as rehia to the olds and also used for making jelly (with tutu juice.)

I’ve tried it, very gingerly … hāngī-steamed rehia is delicious. So are fried kelp chips.

Ōkarito has limited supplies of edible fungi – puffballs (including the giant ones), field mushrooms, ear fungus, and pine boletes is the total, but they’re always welcomed. The first time I slept at Ōkarito (in a brother-in-law’s borrowed Landrover)

I awoke to tūī song, sea-roar and sea-mist – and a large field mushroom growing a foot away from the Landrover’s backdoor.

Breakfast! Better than the bread and butter I had readied in the evening before, along with a couple of hardboiled eggs.

I don’t have a vegetable garden (a tub of silverbeet doesn’t count as a garden), but I grow quite a few different herbs in containers – nothing like freshly cut parsley or tarragon or sage, eh?

Regrettably other things like my coriander as much as I do, but the mints and thymes and chives seem to thrive, and there are a couple of good seasonings that grow in the local bush. I have a lemon shrub that produces a small but appreciated crop (there are several other lemon trees around the settlement, with kind owners who share.) And I encourage my pūhā plants to flourish, and pick pikopiko curls and occasionally harvest a rito from my cabbage trees and the odd one or three from local tī kōuka.

I was – provoked is the right word I think – to write about this locavore joy after overnighting with an acquaintance. He kindly provided dinner and breakfast, and I truly appreciated his hospitality.

The snacks with the wine were mixed nuts, and a camembert from the fridge, and little crackers. Dinner was stir-fry rice with peas and eggs. “Still got your chooks, then?” “Nope, gave them to my son a year ago. Can’t be bothered with ‘em now.”

And dessert was tinned Black Doris plums and cream. It was a good meal.

We got to talking about the Christchurch ’quakes and how we might cope with that kind of disaster. I joked about my van being a survivor capsule, with almost everything I’d need for a couple of weeks in it – only, I’d run out of whisky. And mentioned the house had enough food and fuel for me to survive for a couple of months without power or reticulated water. He said, “Come’n look at this.”

“This” was his survival cupboard. He had a huge range of packet foods, and tins of vegetables and fruit and meat, and airtight containers of biscuits and grain wafers. There were a dozen 4-litre containers of water, and all the toiletries and tissue he could use in couple of months. “Got a grab bag by the bed, torch, meds, radio, cell-phone, everything.”

“Very impressive.”

“And you know what? Got a tip from a mate that people stock up and then just forget about stuff and it all goes off … I replace what I eat, once a week. Without fail. I keep a pound of butter and half a dozen eggs in the fridge, and that’s it.”

“No spuds or milk?”

“Nah, I got the packet stuff.”

Breakfast was muesli and made-up milk. But there was a banana with it …