Local food treasure

By: Calum Hodgson

Hokey Pokey is a Kiwiana gem. Conveniently available everywhere and celebrated in every town and province, it’s a foodstuff with a proud legacy and generations of family food experience behind it.

However, the only true regionally protected dish in New Zealand is from the south – the cheese roll. Sniffed at by food snobs, the cheese roll’s construct and delivery can be argued at length – much like poutine (that’s another column).

‘South Island Sushi’, as it’s known, is fiercely protected by the south, and largely unknown and not consumed in volume outside its territory. It’s almost like blasphemy to even try reproducing it in the North Island, with very bad culinary karma to the person that attempts to defy the grilled cheese gods. Cheese rolls are a cultural icon and, importantly, an icon of place.

So what of the culinary taonga for our region? Is there a dish representative of these bays of whales? I’m pleased to report from my foraging that this area is certainly an abundant giver of many wild and introduced edibles – a veritable smorgasbord. Foraging on the Hibiscus Coast, it dawned on me the concept of a regional edible offer from here should utilise the hibiscus, which is beautiful, plentiful and has been synonymous with the marketing of the region for years.

We could be the Hibiscus highway for real – offering hibiscus cordial, sorbet, syrup, tea, popsicles, cookies, marshmallows, even pavlova!

My Mr 5 and Miss 7 (team foragers) have made a concerted effort to explore the area seeking food adventure – of the wild kind. We propose that the Hibiscus flower is representative of this area and tastes delish. Join us?

Hibiscus Syrup
2 cups water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup dried hibiscus flowers
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 (1/2 inch) piece fresh ginger root,
Zest of 1 lemon

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sugars dissolve and flowers soften – about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and steep the syrup until flavours combine, about 5 minutes. Strain syrup into a container through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing solids with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids. Use the syrup as a mixer with your favourite tipple; as a drink topped up with water, or with fruit salad. Can be frozen in cubes and put in drinks.

Important note: • Dried Hibiscus flowers are available online, and in specialty food stores and Farro Fresh. • Never eat any plant unless you know for certain what it is, and do not pick your own to consume unless you can be sure the plants have not been sprayed.

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