We watched an old chap panning for gold

On a whistlestop tour of New Zealand we travelled over three and a half thousand kilometres in less than three weeks, searching out artisan food producers, funky restaurants and wine, on both the North and South Islands.
From the tourist’s viewpoint, New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful country with a fascinating indigenous culture, diverse environments and ecological integrity.
The South Island possibly has the edge on the North as far as breathtaking scenery is concerned. The wine industry is exploding, with large acreage of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rheisling, Pinot Noir and the Bordeaux blends being grown. Many of the top wines have screw tops and apart from Europe, Australia and the US, there is a fast growing market in China for New Zealand’s burgeoning wine production.
New Zealand is about twice the land mass of Ireland with the same population. There are no agricultural subsidies, when they were withdrawn there was a painful period of adjustment, which has since resulted in a highly efficient dairy, meat and fruit industry.

All over the countryside there are farm shops and farm stands where farmers and food producers sell directly to the public. Farmers Markets are gathering momentum.
The specialist artisan food production section is also gathering momentum – there are an estimated 2000 in New Zealand as opposed to 280 over here. It was difficult to get exact figures and to ascertain what the definition of a small producer was. 

We flew into Christchurch on the South Island and our first stop was at Dunsandal Store, 45 minutes south of Christchurch. Annabel Graham and her husband decided to transform their excess dessert apples into small varietal juices after a downturn in the apple export market. The apples are handpicked and crushed within 24 hours. They are pressed in the traditional way using acacia wood boards and cloths to form ‘cheese’. The juice is pasteurised to prolong shelf life – presently there are seven varieties in the Camla Farm range. Annabel converted a local dairy into a must-stop café, it is on the road between Christchurch and Dunedin a charming conglomerate – a shop which serves as a local store and post office, a great deli counter with delicious local produce and home baking and a well-chosen selection of top quality dry goods. The café was packed with locals when we called, and to our delight we discovered Sinead Doran cooking up a storm in the kitchen, Sinead had cooked in the kitchen at Ballymaloe House a few years ago. Below are recipes for some of the good things she and Annabel cooked.

We travelled with Margaret Brooker’s Good Food Guide to New Zealand tucked into the glove compartment in the same way as we do with John and Sally McKenna’s terrific Bridgestone Guides over here.

This meant that as we travelled down the coast towards Dunedin, we could find all the best eateries and artisan producers. We were shown around the cheese making plant in Omaru. The owner went into cheese making in 1987 when farming became difficult, and now after much trial and error, he and his 5 cheese makers make 16 different cheeses, including Brie and Camembert types, a feta and a stunningly good Winter Blue (remember Winter is Summer in New Zealand!). There was a terrific little café beside the ‘cheesery’ where people could taste their cheeses and dishes incorporating the cheese.

We continued our drive down past the Boulders, through stunning scenery, lots of memorial halls and monuments to World War 1 & 2 veterans.

Fantastic drive inland – huge landscapes, wonderful ancient trees, New Zealand beech, willow, pines, tree ferns, rolling hills, fantastic cacti, bleached fences, foxgloves, genista and wild lupins all along roadside. Lots of beehives, snow on the mountain tops, sparsely populated and virtually no traffic. Lots and lots of elderflower in bloom – so strange at Christmas. On and on through the chatto creek, past cherry and apricot orchards in the valley, acres of wild roses on the hillside. Eventually we came to the wine area. 

We stayed in Arrowtown, we watched an old chap panning for gold down by the river in the middle of blue and purple lupins, below what must be one of the most charming towns in the south island. We ate a memorable meal in a chic galvanised restaurant called Saffron – the Cappucino Crème Brulee comes from there.
In Nelson we visited the Farmers Market and picked up some great bread, fantastically good local bratwurst, Westphalian ham and beer sticks, boysenberries and rhubarb.
The Museum of Wearable Art and the vintage car museum beside it are not to be missed.

We gathered mussels, oysters and pipi on the little beaches along Queen Charlotte Sound, scarcely another soul in sight, even though it was over the holiday period.

Fortunately we had booked the ferry to the North Island, its certainly risky to leave that to chance. In lovely weather this is a spectacular trip up through the sound, on the grey and misty day we crossed over we opted to watch Bridget Jones instead and then raced into windy Wellington to The Tasting Place to get a table before closing time – a really happening spot but not terrific food. The L’Affarre coffee shop on College Street and the Moore Wilson Market opposite are definitely worth checking out.

The red Pohu Tuk Wa Christmas trees were just bursting into a mass of bloom. We made a detour to visit Graham Harris of Wellington University who has amassed an impressive collection of Maori potatoes about which I will write more in another piece. Meanwhile, here are recipes for some of the delicious things we ate at Dunsandel Store, with special thanks to Sinead Doran for sending along the recipes to us.

Dunsandel Spiced Pumpkin Salad

Sinead says this is the most popular salad at the store, she can’t keep up with demand when the pumpkins are in season.
Large pumpkin, peeled and cubed
2 cups red pepper, finely sliced
3 spring onions, chopped
1 cup sweetcorn
lots of chopped parsley
salt, pepper
1 red chilli, chopped
olive oil

Roast pumpkin in lots of olive oil, don’t let it get mushy. 
While still warm add rest of ingredients. Taste and correct seasoning.

Dunsandel Pasties

Makes 8 pasties
500g (18oz) pork mince
125g (4½ oz) bacon, diced
1 cup (2oz/50g) breadcrumbs
1 large apple, diced
1 medium onion, diced
200g (7oz) boiled potatoes, diced (if the potatoes are new, leave the skins on)
1 egg
2 spring onions
salt and pepper
quatre epices (pinch)

Shortcrust pastry made with 1lb (450g) flour (you may have a little spare).

Sweat the onions in a little butter until soft but not coloured. Cool.
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Fry a little piece of mixture to taste.
Correct seasoning if needed.
Roll pastry into circles 20cm (7½ inch) diameter, 5mm(¼ inch) thick.
Put 150g (5oz) of mixture in the centre of circle.
Egg wash the edges, bring together on top of mix. Seal, crimp edges, put 4 holes in pastry, egg wash. Repeat with rest of mix. Cook for 20-30 minutes at 180C/350F/gas 4.

Ginger Crunch

210g (7½ oz) butter, melted
210g (7½ oz) brown sugar
½ teasp. ground ginger
pinch salt
410g (14½ oz) flour
½ teasp. baking powder

Topping:

120g (4½oz) butter
1 cup (120g/4½ oz) icing sugar
4 tablesp.golden syrup
2 teasp. ground ginger

Mix dry ingredients. Add in melted butter. Press firmly into baking tray. 
Bake for 15 minutes at 160C/325F/gas 3.
For topping – melt butter and sugar together. Add icing sugar and ginger and stir well.
Pour over base while biscuit is still warm, and spread evenly.
Portion while still warm.

Passion Fruit Slice

180g (6½ oz) butter
¾ cup (175g/6oz) sugar
2 eggs
1 teasp. vanilla essence
½ cup (2½ oz/75g) plain flour
1 cup (5oz/150g) self raising flour
½ cup (4fl.oz/125ml) passion fruit pulp

Icing:

80g (3oz/75g) butter
1 cup (4½ oz/125g) icing sugar
¼ cup (2 fl.oz/50ml) passion fruit pulp

Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs gradually with essence.
Fold in sifted flours and passion fruit pulp. Put into greaseproof lined trays, spread evenly.
Bake for 20 minutes at 180C/350F.gas 4 or until cooked. Cool before icing.
To make the icing – soften butter, beat in sugar and passion fruit.

Saffron Crème Brulee

350ml (12 fl.oz) cream
125ml (4 fl. oz) milk
75ml (3 fl.oz) coffee
75g (3oz) sugar
6 eggs
2 tablesp. Kalua

Whisk the eggs and sugar together. Bring cream, milk and sugar to the boil, allow to cool to10 degrees.
Add coffee and pour onto sugar and eggs and whisk.
Pour through a sieve into ramekins and cook in a bain-marie for 45-60 minutes at 160C/325F/gas 3.
Sprinkle a layer of castor sugar on top and caramelise with a blow torch.

Caramel Walnut Slice
200g (7oz) butter

225g (8oz) sugar
1 teasp. vanilla essence
350g (12oz) flour
1 teasp. baking powder

Topping:

100g (3½ oz) butter
2 tablesp. golden syrup
1 can condensed milk
walnuts for sprinkling on top

Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy
Add vanilla essence
Fold in flour (sieved) and baking powder. Put in tray, keeping back 2 tablesp. of mix.

Topping:

Melt butter and sugar, mix in the condensed milk. Pour over base. Sprinkle with walnuts and rest of base mix.
Bake for 35 minutes at 170C/325F/gas 3

Chocolate Crunch

210g (7½ oz) butter, melted
175g (6oz) sugar
2 tablesp. cocoa
260g (9½ oz) flour
1 teasp. baking powder
6 Weetabix, crushed

Mix dry ingredients in bowl. Add melted butter and mix well. Press firmly into baking tray.
Bake for 15 minutes at 160C.

Chocolate Icing:

1½ cups (6¾ oz/195g) icing sugar 
1 tablesp. cocoa
enough butter melted to bring icing together.
Desiccated coconut for sprinkling

To make icing – sieve icing sugar and cocoa together, add enough melted butter to bring together.
Ice tray bake while it is still warm and sprinkle with coconut. 
Portion while still warm.

Foolproof Food

Country Rhubarb Cake

The first lovely pink spears of new season’s rhubarb are in the shops now.
This delicious juicy Rhubarb Cake based on an enriched bread dough was made all over the country. Originally it would have been baked in the bastible or baker beside an open fire. My mother, who taught me this recipe varied the filling with the seasons – gooseberries, apples, plums …
Serves 8

12 ozs (340g) flour
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar
a pinch of salt
½ teaspoon breadsoda
3 ozs (85g) butter
1 egg (preferably-free range) 
egg wash
5½ fl ozs (165ml) milk, buttermilk or sour milk
1½ lbs (675g) rhubarb, finely chopped
6-8 ozs (170-225g) granulated sugar
castor sugar for sprinkling

1 x 10 inch (25.5cm) enamel or Pyrex plate
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4

Sieve the flour, salt, breadsoda and castor sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter. Whisk the egg and mix with the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in most of the liquid and mix to soft dough; add the remainder of the liquid if necessary.

Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface, turn out the dough and pat gently into a round. Divide into two pieces: one should be slightly larger than the other; keep the larger one for the lid. Meanwhile dip your fingers in flour. Spread the smaller piece onto the plate. Scatter the finely chopped rhubarb all over the base, egg-wash the edges and sprinkle the rhubarb with sugar. Roll out the other piece of dough until it is exactly the size to cover the plate, lift it on and press gently to seal the edges. Make a hole in the centre for the steam to escape, egg-wash and sprinkle with a very small amount of sugar.

Bake in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the rhubarb is soft and the crust is golden. Leave it to sit for 15-20 minutes so that the juice can soak into the crust. Sprinkle with castor sugar. Serve still warm with a bowl of softly whipped cream and some moist, brown sugar.

Hot Tips 

Congratulations to Sean and Dorothy Walsh and all the team at the Village Greengrocer in Castlemartyr on winning the Bord Bia Best National Green Grocer Award in Dublin - all their customers who enjoy and appreciate the excellent service and produce from the shop are delighted they have received this well deserved recognition, and wish them continued success in the future.

Pink Lady apples with their crunchy flesh and sweet taste make the ideal dessert ingredient during the romantic month of February – but of course may be enjoyed all year round – look out for their heart-shaped logo and enjoy – for recipe ideas visit www.pinklady-europe.com 

ICA/SLOW FOOD EVENT WITH DARINA ALLEN
Friday 4th March – 7-10pm at Schull Community College, Colla Rd. Schull.
Meet the local producers – have tastings – bring your shopping bag as you will be able to buy from the stalls. Meet local well known chefs. Darina will talk about the opportunities available in producing local food – this may be your opportunity to hear how you, or a family member or a neighbour, could turn a hobby into a lucrative small business.
Admission €12 by ticket only – contact 028-28433, 028-28227, 028-28231