“A good land, a land of oil, olives and honey, a land wherein thou may’st eat bread without scareness, away then, farm labourers, away, New Zealand is the promised land for you” Labourers’ Union Chronicle, 1873
Filling the tins has always been at the heart of the New Zealand tradition of hospitality since Scottish and English migrants brought their love of baking and sweet foods with them in the 19th century. New Zealand’s first known cookbook “Dainties; or how to please our lords & masters” was published in 1887, while the iconic Edmonds cookbook, started by Thomas Edmonds in 1908 as a way to sell his baking powder first appeared as a 50-page booklet of recipes in 1908. A free copy was sent to every couple who announced their engagement in the newspaper – and to housewives who applied for one in writing. By the 2000’s more than 3 million copies had been sold, making it New Zealand’s best-selling book.
Maori tracks wove their way through the Forgotten World for many years before early pioneer farmers ventured into the valley, the sea and the forest seen as the two food baskets of traditional Maori hospitality. Pātaka (storehouses) were still in existence in the area in the 1950’s. Large quantities of food were dried, fermented or sealed in fat, then stored or kept in underground pits. After the pioneer farmers brought potatoes to New Zealand it was discovered they were much easier to grow than kūmara, and pigs could be fattened quickly, so the boil-up - pork, pūhā and potatoes became a new favourite.
For New Zealanders who lived through the Depression and wartime rationing, the main concern had been getting food on the table in the first place. Preserving was such an important element of domestic food production that during the Second World War, when sugar was rationed, an extra ration was allowed during the bottling season.
The 1948 edition of Aunt Daisy’s cookbook had 42 pages of recipes for bottling and preserving.
Many migrants also swooped on a ready supply of beef and sheep. Eating meat at every meal was the height of 19th-century aspirations, particularly on farms. The amount of meat consumed was remarkable, a visitor to New Zealand in 1897 was reported as saying that New Zealand hotels served too much meat and it was his firm belief that “New Zealanders eat more meat and drink more tea than any other people in the world”.
Pigs and potatoes introduced by Europeans were also used as currency – in 1820, a musket cost 200 baskets of potatoes or 15 pigs. In the 1840s, the price of a horse was 40 pigs. From 1814 to 1827, the price of a musket fluctuated from 150 baskets of potatoes and eight pigs to 200 baskets of potatoes or 15 pigs, finally settling at 120 baskets of potatoes or 10 pigs. One schooner in the Bay of Plenty cost 500 pigs.
“Ah, and you couldn’t beat the smell of food back then, in the shops almost nothing was packaged, so there was the smell of fresh bread—and cheese, which the grocer would cut from big rounds with piano wire. And the smokey smell of the bacon. It must have been well cured, because the rolls hung there for months. There were bins of flour and sugar, and drawers which had tapioca and sago and spices in them. In the bigger stores they used to sprinkle the spices on the floor, so when you walked in you’d stir them up and get hungry.” David Burton, NZ Geographic
Settlers planted familiar vegetables on their arrival, cabbage, carrots, onions, cauliflower, beetroot, peas and beans. As well as hefty mutton roasts, boiled vegetables, gleaming jars of preserves, and cake tins jam-packed with home baking, the country’s natural larder included wild deer and mushrooms, crayfish at five shillings a pound, and fillet steak two shillings and three pence (46 cents a kilo). Maori breads, Paraoa, Rewana and Takakau were the perfect accompaniment to any meal.
‘Jane Maria Richmond wrote in 1853. 'When my pantry shelves are scrubbed, and it contains ... a round of boiled beef, a roast leg of pork, a rhubarb pie, 15 large loaves and 8 pounds of fresh butter ready for Sunday and the bush party, I feel as self-satisfied and proud as a mortal can” - Charlotte Macdonald, 'Women and men - Colonial beginnings: 1840s–1880s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
And the dairy, Matiere’s dairy factory, the Kaitieke Co-Op Factory was well known and for years took cream from all around the district. In 1923 it was estimated the dairy factory was producing about 340 tonnes of butter a year and they twice won the King George Challenge Cup for the top butter in New Zealand.
By 1901 there were 95 butter factories in Taranaki alone and 31 cheese production facilities. The export of butter to Britain needed suitable packing materials, Kahikatea (white pine), the tallest of New Zealand native trees was milled by the Egmont Box company on the Matiere river flats, its fine grain and tanninless chemistry perfect for this role.
Following the completion of the Stratford to Okahukura line, brick maker Lou Margan exclaimed “If I can make bricks I can make bread” and turned his hand to breadmaking, delivering loaves around the district on a dram pulled by two horses, eventually expanding his King Country empire to include a grocery.
Large farms employed their own cooks and cooks’ assistants known as ‘slushies’. At shearing or harvest time the cooks tripled their quantities of cold or hot mutton, potatoes, home baked bread, salt and pepper. Smoko breaks were sweetened by the Kiwi ‘brownie’ – made of dough, mutton fat, brown sugar and sometimes currants. Bread or brownie was doled out along with large amounts of tea served in tin pannikins.
During the First World War a one-pound Bell Tea tin was exactly the right dimensions to be sent to troops overseas at a special postal rate. Friends and relatives bought the tea, emptied the tins, and packed them with food and other small items to post away. Bell struggled to keep up with demand and New Zealanders on the front line left a trail of Bell Tea tins behind them.
Alongside our national obsession with a cup of tea, the meat pie has a special place in New Zealand cuisine. There are regional variations that go far back into New Zealand’s colonial past like the mutton pie, which has long existed throughout Southland.
66 million pies were sold in 2019 – 14 for every Kiwi
Between 1942 and 1945 United States servicemen left a legacy of fried chicken, hamburgers, ice creams on sticks, sourdough bread, doughnuts with a hole in the middle and the idea of serving fresh, tossed salads with every meal.
But the most pivotal moment in our gastronomic history and in the way we shopped and ate came in 1958 when New Zealand's first supermarket opened in Ōtāhuhu, causing what was probably the country’s first traffic jam.
To gather, hunt, fish and farm, or to bake, whisk and preserve, food brings us together, and tells the story of where we are from. Sharing meals and food with visitors is a New Zealand tradition, Manakitanga, one of our most important concepts of hospitality.
The team at Forgotten World Adventures prides itself in sharing this history - the flavours and the tastes of the Forgotten World, and of course Jan’s famously delicious home baking.
Click below for a few of Jan's Favourite Recipes!