I wasn’t enthusiastic about attending a circumcision ceremony having walked 24 km to view a volcano the previous day. Three hours later I had no regrets. Torpedo like yams paraded past me as if in a military setting. A bullock was butchered in front of the crowd and a 12 yr old boy killed three pigs . All to celebrate the circumcision of three boys.
Captain Cook’s legacy
The name Ambrym means yam, bestowed on the island by Captain Cook and prominent in the ceremony they were. However pigs provided the main event.
Pigs and kustom
Pigs are the principal objects of wealth in Vanuatu. They are accumulated, traded, loaned, and paid out to resolve disputes. Pigs are central to kustom and are pampered, revered, and sacrificed. Killing a set number of pigs gives a man high status. When the pigs are killed, the killer assumes their spirits, gaining power and prestige among his village.
Circumcisions are a one time thing and the ceremony reflected this. The Ranon community gathered as if partaking in a wedding or a funeral.
It surprised me to see three brands of Vanuatu grown coffee for sale in Luganville. Alongside the well-known Tanna coffee there was a selection from Aore Island and a haphazard collection of different bags branded as Cafe de Vanuatu. I found the origins of this coffee at VARTC ( Vanuatu Agricultural Research Technical Centre ),10km north of Luganville.
The VARTC farm is quite compact and it did not take long to find children on school holidays picking the arabica beans (30 Vatu for 1kg or about 40c NZ ). From picking to roasting, the whole operation is done by hand.
With a new wharf being built in Luganville and more cruise ships visiting it would be an ideal time to package the operation for tourists in a similar way to Tanna Coffee in Efate.
In the meantime you will have to buy the very good quality arabica beans at LCM ( the best supermarket in Luganville ), I just hope the branding gets some love.
Most boutique chocolate companies tell more or less the same story; machinery sourced from all over he world (the older the better), small-scale farmers in exotic places, micro scale production and a vision/passion to make artisan chocolate from bean to bar. With this in mind, how does the average consumer make head or tail of the competition? A tasting is a great place to start.
In a recent tasting with Jo Coffey, prior owner of Wellington’s L’affair au Chocolat I tasted bars from Canada, Holland, Australia and the Philippines, which all used imported beans, and two locally produced bars from Vanuatu and Fiji. The tasting threw up some surprising results.
Without going into too much detail, the favourites were Gabriel 80% Chuao (Venezuela) and Sirene’s Ecuador 70%; someone commented they could eat more of the Fijana 72% due to it’s lack of intensity; the Aelan Chocolate from Vanuatu (made with Santo Criollo beans) competed on flavour but suffered from more than a hint of smoke. The least favoured were Indonesia’s Pipilten range and Australia’s Bahen & Co Brazil 70%.
Getting hold of these bars is not straight forward, some coming from friends (we supplied the two Pacific Island bars) and others from online distributors of which there are at least two based in NZ. Between them they stock some of the highest rated bars made. Amedei is arguably the world’s best and is available at All about Chocolate, and very well regarded American brands Taza and Dick Taylor can be found among others at The Chocolate Bar
How good is good chocolate? We had a group of friends for lunch recently and had the chance to compare a bar of Grenada Chocolate Company’s 60% organic nib with a favourite New Zealand brand’s ’boutique’ range. Despite being stored in a fridge for nearly a year and looking much the worse for wear, the Granada chocolate left the competition in the dust and was ecstatically and unanimously praised.
On another occasion, a friend of ours was determined we would not change her preference for her supermarket purchased, NZ made favourite chocolate. After tasting a selection of bars from Pralus (including a 100%), she spat out the NZ product when asked to compare, saying it now tasted like plastic and berated us for destroying her favourite thing.
For those who want to become chocolate snobs, help is here. The International Chocolate Awards are in their 7th year and have become well-known arbiters of good chocolate. They run regional and international awards each year. NZ made bars have already had some favourable reviews and it would be great to see NZ chocolate feature in the awards some day.
After 28 yrs of Vanilla production in Vanuatu Pierro Bianchessi has left for Italy, his homeland. An organic chemist, Bianchessi arrived in Vanuatu in 1987 and found the perfect climate for growing vanilla.
He established Venui Vanilla and by 1991 demand had increased beyond what he could produce on his own land. Growers were contracted and trained from northern islands in Vanuatu, processing 2000-2500 tons of vanilla each year at the peak of production. Certified organic from 1997, Pierro marketed the vanilla himself at food shows in Europe, NZ , Australia and New Caledonia. Venui Vanilla quickly became Vanuatu’s premiere artisan food producer.
Vanilla needs a dry coolish winter of 7-8 weeks for successful pollination and although this was possible initially the amount of vanilla being processed has now dropped to 2-300kg per year. Bianchessi states this is a direct result of climate change.
Venui Vanilla now also produces peppercorns, turmeric, chillies and ginger and to reflect this has been rebranded Venui Vanilla – Spices of Vanuatu. Venui would have to process five times the amount of peppercorns to replace the value of the declining vanilla crop according to Bianchessi.
New Zealand has strong links with Venui. An Auckland based graphic designer created the cool looking soft packaging and New Zealand’s BioGro Organic Certification was achieved in 2013. This certification also covers the 200 small farmers who supply the company.
A new manager has been found and the company has been sold to LCM, a very established grocery business based in Luganville. A new cold pressed centrifugal coconut oil processing facility is being built as a result of the new investment.
Although departing, Bianchessi was optimistic the organic ethos of Venui will continue. He believes Vanuatu has a good future with food production as it remains naturally organic, the last of the Pacific Islands to be in this state.
Getting seeds back in the ground was an urgent need post Cyclone Pam. I was asked by UN Women to photograph one of the seed distribution events at Marobe Market in Efate. Being immersed among two hundred women patiently waiting for their allotment of seeds is something I will not forget in a hurry.
Every person given seeds had their name recorded one by one and Alice Kalo showed amazing patience and resilience to complete the job, writing each name by hand. Some of the seeds were handed out to individuals at the market while others decided to wait until getting home.
The allocation per person was 23 pumpkin seeds, 9 pawpaw seeds, 8 watermelon seeds, 30-40 sweetcorn seeds and approx 35 dwarf bean seeds.
Lap lap is a traditional Vanuatu dish wrapped in leaves and cooked above ground on hot stones. Mangaliliu Village has a strong heritage in making lap lap and this was seen when staying in the village recently.
Starting at 6 AM (photography in this light was a treat) the lap lap was made on Sunday morning by the women and children from the extended family for lunch following a session in Church.
With no fridge available two chickens were freshly slaughtered for the occasion and were plucked by the children. Aside from the lap lap faol seen here (chicken), other versions are dakdak (duck), fis (fish), mit (meat), taro, maniok (cassava), yam and banana. There are also regional variations.
Kombucha, booch and SCOBY are new words in my vocab after a visit to photograph the GoodBuzz soft drink factory in Wainuiomata.
The GoodBuzz process combines sugar, tea and water (from the Te Puna Wai Ora artesian aquifer in Petone) with the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and turns into an effervescent, healthy, non-alcoholic drink.
In the short time GoodBuzz has been operating they already have five kombucha brews in more than 60 cafes in Wellington, Christchurch, Hawkes Bay, New Plymouth and Nelson, and recently have been included in Auckland’s Nosh outlets.
The drinks come in five flavours – Origins, Green Jasmin, Lemon and Ginger, Jade Dew and Feijoia. A new brew made with coffee cherry (the outer red skin of discarded coffee beans from Go Bang in Petone) with an amazing light apple flavour is coming soon.
Each brew takes 8-10 days to ferment and another 7-10 days of bottle conditioning before heading out the door. The best before date is four months unchilled (a bonus when there is space restrictions in the fridge), and can be extended to nine months if refrigerated.
Another buzz emanating from the factory came from discovering owner Alex Campbell and I grew up in the same small Northland town – Kaikohe. This is where Alex’s first memories of kombucha came from – his grandmother Amy made what she called Manchurian Mushroom tea in the 1970’s. Kaikohe Kombucha – who would have thought?
Every year in August Ruth Pretty’s commercial kitchen gets into the mid-winter Christmas spirit. It’s the start of a festive ritual which ends with more than 4000 Christmas cakes despatched for celebrations far and wide by the special December day.
The never-published Christmas cake recipe arrived hand-written after Ruth asked her staff for contributions for end of year client gifts. Thirty five other recipes were tried but fell short of the magical combination.
Long-time Ruth Pretty staff member, Carla Carkeek bakes 74 cakes a day several days a week from August until December. One year 17,000 Christmas cakes were made as staff gifts when two banks merged (Carla had extra help for this one). The cake won top prize in Christchurch’s 2007 Royal A&P Show commercial bakery section and at least one cake a day heads offshore, delivered mainly to expats in Asia and as far as soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The fruit is first soaked in sherry and after the cakes are cooked they get doused in brandy, ensuring a long life.
One cake in 36 is cut and tested, with the slices then devoured by visitors to Ruth’s shop. Made by Carla’s steady hands, the testing seldom finds errors. Although one year the team did pick up a change in the potency of Hansell’s essences after the company changed hands.
Watching her handle 23 different ingredients to make 74 cakes and prepare mis-en-plas for the next day’s 74, it’s easy to see why Carla is referred to as the Christmas Cake Queen.
The French flag was flying again at PukeKaraka Marae in Otaki where guests assembled for Ruth Pretty’s “Casssoulet and Karaka Trees”, a Wellington on a Plate event.
Fr. Jean-Baptiste Comte, a French Roman Catholic Priest founded the mission at Pukekaraka 170 years ago in 1844 and brought with him a typical French passion for food.
Together with local Maori, Comte built a flourishing community with three flour mills, maize, wheat and food crops that supplied shops in villages from Otaki all the way to Wellington. Was this the first Wellington on a Plate?
After a formal welcome onto the marae by Ngāti Kapu and an appropriately crowing rooster, guests were invited into ‘Hine Nui o te Ao Katoa’ which translates into ‘Mary, Great Woman of the Whole World, Woman of Light’.
Guests dined on baked potato and eel rillettes before the much anticipated cassoulet was served with a salad of pear, walnut and perennial greens
A walk up the ‘Cavalry ‘ was needed after the wholesome lunch where Rawiri Rikihana gave a short history of the area.
St Mary’s Church provided a fascinating backdrop with both local custodian Irene Mackle and Mary McLeod (Martha’s Pantry) giving an intimate account of the beautiful interior. Restored lovingly in the early 1990’s it was easy to see why this Church has the highest Historic Places rating. Built in 1859, St Mary’s is the oldest Catholic Church that has been in constant use in New Zealand
Fr. Comte flew the French flag to signify feast days for special prayers. As champion of harmonious relations between Maori, Europeans and Priests I am sure he would have had no hesitation hoisting it once again for Ruth’s “Cassoulet and Karaka Trees”
Mushy peas or curry sauce with your Fish ‘n’ Chips? Quainton, a very cute English village of about 1200, located just north of London, gets visited every Wednesday evening from 5.30 – 8 by a mobile fish and chip van.
Howe and Co have been delivering fish and chips from “coast to door” for more than 80 years, currently making hundreds of stops to more than 90 villages in a 50km radius. New Zealand does not have the same mobile service with fish and chips (although Mr Whippy hints at this) but we do at least have a mobile butcher.
The mushy peas certainly add a fresh colour to the golden tones but the quality of the fish ‘n’ chips did not match the high standard of service. Maybe I am spoiled by the excellent quality easily found in New Zealand.