Jade Temepara is no stranger to getting things done. Her initiative Hand Over A Hundy gave families resources and mentoring to start home gardens. She told me about a corporate office that approached her and wanted to create a garden of their own. They had set up a committee and began scheduling a series of meetings to discuss their plans. When they told Jade that they might be able to start on the ground in a year, she excused herself and left. “I need to go start a garden right now, on my way home.” Her current space on Peterborough Street took more than an afternoon to set up, but I watched her team transform a vacant rubble lot into Kakanō Cafe and Cookery School within mere months. Here she talks about indigenous cuisine, the importance of food in community, and Kakanõ Cafe and Cookery School.
Taste Transfixed: What is indigenous food?
Jade Temepara: Indigenous food is what Maori people were eating pre-European settlers. A lot of it isn’t available anymore because they killed it and ate it all. Or because the environment has changed. A lot of the knowledge about preparation and preservation has been lost. But really it’s just the simplicity of what’s around seasonally, and knowledge from different parts of the country where they were traveling. They had to trial and error a lot of food that would have made them really sick until they learned how to use it properly. Lots of seafood, tree ferns and roots. One example is the cabbage tree, the inside was stripped down and boiled and eaten. Different berries and birds, especially for the tribes inland.
”[In Maori culture] we honour and respect food. Everything has a mauri/life force. People were very intuitive and connected to the whenua/land, they felt it on a more physical level than just seeing the plant, they felt that essence that it was carrying as well.”
There were lots of things that they ate, but the preparation was very simple. It would be stone cooked or in a hangi (buried and pressure cooked) or raw, or fermented. And that’s why our health was so amazing, because we just had it as naturally as it comes. They used to ferment lots of berries and tap roots and corn. That’s known as kaanga pirau, or ‘rotten
corn’. It smells pretty disgusting, but it is really good for you. And one thing I really love about our people and how we honour and respect food is that everything has a mauri/life force. People were very intuitive and connected to the whenua/land, they felt it on a more physical level than just seeing the plant, they felt that essence that it was carrying as well. And that’s something that’s not even thought about now, on that deeper vibrational level, some people would say instinctive level.
TT: I remember the ferns that you served at the Greening the Rubble opening, can you tell me about Piko Piko?
It’s just a small fern and as the shoot starts emerging you can eat it, it’s known as Maori bush asparagus. It tastes quite similar to asparagus and it’s crunchy when it’s raw, it was a real staple. There’s a common story that you’ll go out to harvest it and you’ll miss it because they’re a bit sneaky and tricky, but then you’ll turn around and it will be staring straight at you when you’ve already looked there. It’s known as a friendly plant as well, sometimes it will wave out to you. It’s really versatile, you can steam it, eat it raw, dehydrate it and use it as powder. It always gets people talking about it and its full of anti-oxidants and nutrients, it’s really good for us. A common recipe is called ‘toroii,’ its mussels taken from the sea with piko piko chopped into it and then it’s left to ferment, for months sometimes, and that’s one of the old ways of using it.
“There’s a common story that you’ll go out to harvest piko piko and you’ll miss it because they’re a bit sneaky and tricky. But then you’ll turn around and it will be staring straight at you when you’ve already looked there.”
TT: This is the only place in town to get tītī/muttonbird, can you tell me about where they come from?
JT: They’re harvested between April and May each year on an island south of Stewart Island. The birds migrate from the Atlantic to Japan to California, to Chile, then to NZ to lay their chicks, which they put in burrows under the ground. The chicks are what we harvest, just at one time during the year. They’re a real delicacy, there’s lots of work that goes into plucking them, gutting them, preserving them in a salt brine, and then transporting them. Our family has been going there since the 1700s, so quite a while. It’s not often that you talk about cultural heritage in New Zealand for that long. My family goes every year, its a part of our tradition that we love to celebrate. That’s probably the first thing that got shoved in my gob when I was a baby,
a muttonbird. It has a customary title, you can only go there if you are a descendant of chiefs in the region. We keep track of how they’re doing as a species to make sure its sustainable for us to be able to take them. It’s one of the last customary traditions that we have.
“Our family has been [harvesting muttonbirds] since the 1700s. It’s not often that you talk about cultural heritage in New Zealand for that long.”
TT: Can you talk about the set-up of the garden at Kakanō?
JT: Pre-European days, if you’d seen the old set-up of a Pa (Maori village), there was always a big garden out front, like how we’ve done it at Kakanō, with a palisade around it. No one would just walk onto a garden, it was tapu/sacred. And whoever worked in that garden was considered tapu as well. You could actually get killed if you just walked onto a garden without asking, because it was the essence of the tribe, it was their food security. It was worth warring for. It had a huge place in people’s lives at that time, and we’ve just forgotten about how important it is. And not to make it the central focus or idolise it, but just remember how it feeds us. Maori people are renowned for their manaakitanga/hospitality, it’s ingrained in us to extend it out.