Thursday, April 19, 2012

pohutakawa trees and tuatua fritters

Yesterday our pohutakawa tree's were trimmed in front of our property. They become a bit bothersome overgrown, getting tangled in overhead lines and such. It is illegal to cut one down anywhere in New Zealand, even on your own property. They are beautiful and love having a good hack to keep them healthy. 

Its returned a lot of light as well to my room, where I sit at my desk writing this post and staring out the window view again. Today there's a huge blue sky and deep blue ocean, all the way to the horizon . Its a beautiful day here and after the cold and blustery day yesterday, and the miserable winters we can have, the sunshiney warmth is most welcome. Its the last day of the holidays and it feels like God is smiling on us. I found my youngest lying in a pool of sunshine on the floor this morning, sun bathing in the lounge. My heart did a happy sigh.

I salvaged these unopened blossoms from yesterday's pruning of our front trees.

The pohutakawa tree (metrosideros excelsa) is also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree. Around December/January in the upper North Island, on the coast, these are seen everywhere in their resplendent beauty. I love them and cannot wait to plant my own one day. They are part of the myrtle familyand their flowers consist of a mass of stamens. Maori know that when those flowers start blooming, its diving season. The kina and paua are fat, creamy and ready to be eaten (my mouth is watering as I think about it) and the tuatua  (similar to pipi) are ready to be gleaned from the shores of the Ninety Mile Beach.

There is a revered tree at the very top of the North Island. Te Rerenga Wairua or Cape Reinga as it is more known, is a spiritual place for Maori. There at the uttermost tip of New Zealand stands a lone pohutakawa tree where legend has it that spirits make their final leap to return to Hawaikinui, their ancestral home. If this was possible, what a beautiful place to enter heaven on your final spiritual journey home. 

When you stand on the cliff top there is one of the most amazing sights I've ever seen. The meeting of two oceans, the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. There you see them colliding in this big wash. Its incredible. When we were small, we would frequently make the trip to Te Rerenga Wairua, taking visitors who had come to the Far North on the journey. Like mountain goats, we'd slip under the safety barriers and scurry down the side of the cliff (as a mother, I would have a heart attack, as a kid it was awesome) to get to the strip of beach at the bottom. 

The trip back down the 90 Mile Beach on grandad's landrover was always a bit fierce too because you havd to race the tide and if you get caught out, you're a bit stuffed. There are many buried, rusted cars that had to be abandoned on incoming tides. The Ninety Mile Beach is a registered highway. Don't forget to take a bucket, get your toes out in that low tide, and get digging for tuatua's (pronounced 'two-ah two-ah') in the sand. They make delicious fritters .
Tuatua Fritters

Here is my basic approach to making tuatua fritters. 
  • Sit the shellfish in a bucket of water for an hour at least, overnight is better so they spit out their sand. 
  • Shell them. The easiest way is to steam them slightly til they just open but not too long or they get too cooked and tough.
  • Mince or chop the shellfish finely. I kinda like it chunky so you know you are definitely eating tuatua.
  • Then add finely chopped onion, flour and egg. Some people make a beer batter which you can google. I like the taste of my kaimoana and so don't do this but it is also a good option. The right batter is a personal thing. I only like mine thick enough to hold it everything together but not to make a tuatua cake. 
  • Shallow fry in fry pan and hot oil. 
  • Lightly salt for flavour. 
  • Serve with a wedge of lemon, garden salad and a bit of sweet chilli sauce, (if you're a Kiwi, chances are you smother them in tomato sauce), and a cold beer or glass of white. Yum.
  • They are also nice cooked with a bit of butter, garlic and some Shipwreck Bay sauvignon blanc, a happy chance discovery while I was up North.. Of course you can also drink the same wine with your dinner. Its perfect. And you can cook most shellfish this way like mussels and cockles etc. Its delicious.
If you are headed north, there are safari buses that depart daily from Kaitaia, that will deliver you safely to your destination. They also head up over the sand dunes and kauri gum fields. 

I have to say that I have been feeling a little homesick lately for the Far North, its warmth, the large stretch of beach, the hibiscus and my green eyed Maori relatives up there. Its been awhile since I was home (read here and here). However home now is where we live in Wellington, and the sound of my children in the next room, the sight of those trees out front and the view of the ocean beyond help settle this nomadic girl from Ahipara for now. 

A tuatua shell I collected from the beach last time we visited Ahipara. It was wintery and cold. I had a baby and a seven year old by myself. The spring tides were all wrong for harvesting tuatua. So this is the closest I got to one. Next time though, we will eat ourselves silly. I have a holiday house there that we can stay at. I look forward to heading up there next summer fingers and toes crossed. 


I am always surprised where my rambles take me. From chopped down trees to making tuatua fritters to the shores of the Ninety Mile Beach. I just write what's on my heart. Some days its a wander through a junk shop searching for treasure, down a country lane in my head, or like a tumbleweed flying away down the beach on a gusty day. Thank you for all your messages on facebook, email and the few who have managed to comment here over the past few days. A few of you have written me that its impossible to leave a comment. I don't know what's up with that, but thanks for taking the time to make contact however you could. I have been a bit blown away to find out how many people do visit and who you all are. I am discovering people I didn't even know existed. Its a bit exciting to see where you all come from, how you connected with my little old self, and its a privilege and honour to hear that some of you find joy here. 

I started writing online at art school, to help journal my progress and its continued into my online life journal. I hope it stands for a decent season so my children and grandchildren might have a record of their whakapapa. The past few years have also seen a brief interlude where posts were sporadic with a new baby in our home and times where I didn't want to contrive material just to make a noise. I'm back again with the ever pressing desire to write and share again. I also have the time to indulge in this habit of mine, now that the youngest is in kindergarten a few precious hours a week. 

I know some of you come here specifically for making/art/craft things and its an honour for me that people would. Please, let me be honest. With three sons, I squeeze bits in here and there, a knitted hat, a banner, a stitched bit of this and that. I've found it difficult to find the amount of time I need to develop my work as I see it could be. This has however become a great incubator for me. All that thinking time and frustration at not being able to have at it, has got me sitting longer with ideas and developing them in my mind. I have some incredible ideas and I know I have to wait a bit longer because my commitments currently are not in this particular sphere. Conceptually speaking, its a bonus for me as I'm an intuitive maker but think my work is stronger when the two sides both heart and mind can collide and make music. It means I'm not just shooting straight out there all the time into things but having to be really intentional. 

Making stuff ... art, design, craft can be selfish in that it can consume me and at this time in my life with a family and being actively involved in our community, that's just not an option. Growing my kids and loving my husband, being a good friend, and growing in my faith as a Christian who can serve and love others, those are my priorities. 

Art is a powerful and valid form of expression, as is music and any other kind of talent. However it does not define me as a person. I am not the sum result of my work. I am the sum result of the people around me, the God I serve and what He says about me, and each day as it comes. How I treated the people in my life, how quick I am to forgive and to give and to extend grace. Those are my daily challenges.

This period of time is about growing people, my kids, myself, my friends. Being a cheerleader, an encouragement and an inspiration. I am not perfect. I have a pretty hard time keeping on top of anything and my house always looks scruffy. I am nearly always late and have random ways to go about things. I always do things with good heart, give my best and care for those who live in my life. I start things and I'm committing to finish many of them, including raising my boys in a healthy and stable home. 

I do have some make-y things coming up with Handmade 2012. In fact its part of why I do those things, so I can get in the zone by setting that time apart. It combines my love of making things by hand while making meaningful connections with others.

I'm off to eat feijoa's. What are feijoa's? They are yum. I shall tell you about them tomorrow. ;)


Marianne Hall said...

OH, Rachelle.......I am stunned that I turned on my computer and up popped your link.......serendipity! On my last day in Aotearoa....gosh it's been almost a year and a half now! new friends in the north of the north island treated me to a picnic in a grove of heart sings with the memory and the almost chance of meeting you....I love your blog entry....this is the time to live our full lives.....lucky to have soft notes of creativity entertwined with the are blessed!

india flint said...

once again you write about things dear to my heart.
my bestest knife [hand made by a knifesmith up on the Coromandel coast] has a handle made from reclaimed Pohutukawa and some of the most wonderful dyes come from that beautiful plant's leaves. and words fail me when it comes to describing the magic that is possible from combining the fallen flowers with cloth.

as for kaimoana, i'm very fond of fish tacos but even better is chowder, made from whatever fish/shellfish is to hand, good potatoes, garlic, onions, cream and a chili or three. we ate that here last night.

Te Araroa said...

Hi Rachelle, I'm a Kiwi living in the USA and your post about pohutukawas brought a tear to my eye. I'm from the Auckland area where those beautiful trees abound, we had one in our front garden and I do miss them, along with the salty air that they tolerate so well. I miss feijoas as well, hope they were delicious!

Miss Smith said...

I love your fritter recipe, it reminded me of collecting the mussels off the rocks when we went on Sunday trips to the rocky beaches around my home town, Dunedin, and Dad leaving them in a bucket at the back door to spit out the sand before making very musselly fritters later that night. It's a sweet memory and it makes me miss my family- you write a very lovely blog!