A Piggiebillah postscript……..

…..talking of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle……. …..Brunyfire, along with Jetsetvagabond and family, have just returned from their Aotearoa (New Zealand) sojourn where the hedgehog (evident in the numerous roadkill we spotted in the South Island) highlights the debate about introduced species as pests to this once predator free environment.  Foe or food???  Brunyfire ‘shooting’ hedgehog on the road to Queenstown – roadkill stew for dinner tonight….

If the only good hedgehog is a dead one, then perhaps cooking and eating them should once again be considered – a topic that usually generates heated debate from animal lovers.  But we Brits shouldn’t be so squeamish – hedgehogs were definitely on the menu as evidenced in an academic quest to identify Britain’s oldest recipes.

According to medieval experts, a hedgehog would have had its throat cut – be singed, gutted, trussed like a pullet and baked.  If it was unobliging enough not to offer its throat by not unrolling, then it was tossed into hot water until it did!  Once dispatched, it would have been wrapped in long grass and boiled – seared on hot coals and served with nettle pudding!! Either that, or it was packed in a clay blanket and baked in the camp-fire’s embers.

Cooking hedgehogs (or Hociwici) and traveling Romanies was a vision inspired by this gothic monster, spotted at Maruia Springs en-route to the west coast from Kaikoura.  Not your usual form of campervan transport, but equally as cumbersome as the caravans, Winnebagos, Spaceships or Kombis that we often got stuck behind on the narrow, winding roads and single lane bridges.Having learned from friends that hedgehog evidence was pretty well everywhere – I was on the look out and started seeing them in unusual places, in quite a few guises…………These two examples were just two of what remained of Hokitika’s celebratory annual Driftwood and Sand 2012 competition – a creative community driven project devised and executed by local artist Donald Buglass a decade ago. The West Coast beaches of New Zealand’s  South Island are famous for the gnarled driftwood scattered over its wild shores.  The wood is typically the native flora that’s been flushed by heavy rains from the bush-covered region’s remote depths and battered into submission on its journey to the sea.

But the event that really puts Hokitika on the map, is its Wild Food Festival…..

…..and much to my dismay – we would be missing it!  Very bad planning…..

The Hokitika Wildfoods festival is held annually in early March and is billed as an extravaganza of gourmet bushtucker.  Based on the West Coast’s natural food resources – the Festival’s emphasis is on wild food that is ‘novel, tasty and healthy’.  The ‘Wild’ tag, I was later to learn, needed to be taken with a dose of salt – and would best be described as ‘extreme cuisine’ rather than ‘wild’, ie. foraged.  Many of the foods seemed designed to shock – try horse semen shots, beetles in jelly, wasp larvae ice-cream and crickets on satay bread for starters.  Despite the novelty hype and the desire to dress up in silly costumes, the images I have managed to glean do give an intriguing glimpse into some of the Kiwi wild foods that I wished I’d been able to try.

A favourite tidbit amongst festival goers it would seem, was the Huhu (image on the left courtesy Not Quite Nigella) – the larvae of New Zealand’s Huhu beetle and a well-known delicacy of the Maori.  The Huhu is pretty well identical to Australia’s own witchetty grub, also a large, white wood-eating larvae – usually from the cossid moth.

Both the huhu larvae and the witchetty grub are said to taste similar, probably because they have similar wood-eating habits. Edible either raw or lightly cooked in hot ashes, they are sought out as a high-protein food by indigenous Australians and Maori’s alike.   The grub featured on the right came from Bruny as a result of chopping up rotten logs – I just wasn’t game enough to eat it though….This year’s festival offered free samples of Pukeko (Porphyrio melanotus), the New Zealand native ‘swamp hen’ from a cull of the on the West Coast, where they are considered a pest by some farmers and landowners.  The bird cannot be farmed or sold but festival organisers were able to offer about 120 birds as free samples.  Apparently it tastes like a cross between a very gamey lamb and venison – another missed opportunity!!

Pickled Punga fern (images again courtesy of Not Quite Nigella‘s site) was another item I would dearly have loved to try.  ‘Punga’, I’ve now discovered, is the Kiwi word for the mamaku, or black tree fern (Cyathea medullaris) that is common throughout Aotearoa.  But the correct name for the punga fern is the Māori word ‘ponga’.  Ponga was a staple food often cooked in hāngi, or earth ovens and its centre, although slimy in texture, is supposed to taste sweet, rather like coconut.  However, it is the tightly furled fronds found in the crown of the Mamuka that have become used more widely in contemporary New Zealand cuisine.

A Māori chef by the name of Charles Royal (check out his book in the ‘library’ sidebar) is rapidly gaining an international reputation for putting the traditional foodways of the Māori into a contemporary context.  His signature dish uses the Pikopiko or fiddleheads of the hen and chicken ferns in his dishes – a delicacy reminiscent of asparagus.From the perspective of a food junky, obsessive about cooking on an open fire with foraged and found foods with particular reference to incorporating clay, (either in the raw or with traditional earthenware cooking pots), the culture of hunting, fishing, foraging and cooking outdoors seemed a traditional pastime in Aotearoa.

I found the combination of down to earth friendliness, old-fashioned politeness and a fierce sense of place by indigenous Māori invigorating and inspiring.

So here follows a few short stories – from Kaikoura to Hokitika – Queenstown to Dunedin.  From Wellington to Napier, Rotorua and Auckland – a smorgasbord of fire, food and clay……

7 Responses to “A Piggiebillah postscript……..”

  1. What about the the whiting patties?

    P.S. I know a recipe for Pukeko.

    Throw bird in pot with 6 river stones.
    Boil for 6 hours
    Remove and bin the bird
    Eat the river stones (as they will be more tender).

  2. Waaah! You ate wichetty grub! I’ve always wanted to taste that! Great pic of Hokitika too.

  3. Hi
    I don’t know if we have met during your visit to the West Coast of New Zealand. My name is Juergen (www.localcolours.co.nz or http://www.wildernessgallery.co.nz). You are using two of my photographs (scanned from the postcards?) in your blog. Please respect copyright and delete them. Cheers. Juergen

    • Dear Juergen

      I should have known better than to use your images without your consent! Please accept my sincere apologies and note that I have indeed deleted them. I decided to post your comment and my reply as an abject lesson to others not to be so cavalier. Again, my apologies – I admired your work, and am afraid, took advantage.

      Best wishes


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