Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

Lauraine’s blog

6 July 2020

GORGEOUS SMOKED KAHAWAI

It really pays to keep your eyes peeled and to take a sense of curiosity with you when you shop. Farmers markets are generally the best places to find new and exciting food – food that is easy to make connections over as the grower/producer/forager/artisan is right there and able to proudly discuss and help with any exciting new foods and ideas that you may come across. Food you will purchase, take home knowing just how to cook it and love, with the same enthusiasm those farmers and food producers want to share.

It’s not quite so easy to feel connected to food in the supermarket. You may be lucky enough in a Foodstuffs store (Pak’nSave, New World, 4 Square) to get to know the buyer or owner, but with Countdown’s centralised buying it’s unlikely to be able to reach out to any individual who has had any part in the decision making of what’s stocked. Of course there are occasionally some passionate foodie minded supermarket workers, especially amongst deli staff and the butchery, but they are few and far between.

Consequently any curious cook is usually on his/her own while shopping yet almost every week something new and delicious will make an appearance in the store or supermarket. It’s tough for these new products as no-one takes the time to display an attention seeking sign on the shelf that proclaims, “New Product.” Larger stores might attract a food demonstrator to cook and sample new products. That sort of support can be vital but you probably need to shop between 3pm and 5pm towards the end of any week to catch them.

This week I was at my local supermarket buying fish (yay, by the way, they’re now stocking freshly caught fish with skin on!!!) when I spied that magnificent smoked kahawai pictured above. I had to have it, but when I enquired where it was from, the staff had no clue. I posted that pic on Facebook and Nichola Apatu of Apatu Aqua in the far north claimed it. As I have long admired the work she and her fisherman husband do, it was such a thrill to know the source and to know the fisherman!

We have had warmed kahawai sandwiches on 4and20 country sourdough, a magnificent smoked fish pie topped with potato put through the potato ricer, and some excellent fishcakes that we shared with friends over a wine on Saturday evening. Superb eating, local food and all from just one 1.5 kg fish.

I only hope that my New World continues to stock such amazing fresh smoked fish. I will be asking every single week. You can too.

21 June 2020

MATARIKI CELEBRATIONS

Today is the turning point of the year. We will have a mere nine hours and forty one minutes of light today, and the longest period of darkness and chilly cold weather. We begin the celebrations of Matariki and to mark this I invited good friends over to share in a festive dinner with top notch New Zealand produce.

It’s a little in advance, as the first day of the month-long observance, when the first crescent moon appears after the reappearance and rising of the cluster of stars known as Matariki (Pleiades) will officially fall in July. However here in Tāmaki Makarau, the city is hosting events from today.

There are seven stars in the Matariki constellation, and Māori foragers, farmers and food gatherers throughout the country will carefully observe the brightest of these to reset the Maori calendar, shaping food customs, planting and fishing and hunting for the coming year. The most important stars are Tupuārangi, signifying food from the sky, Waitī, fresh water, Tupuānuku, food grown in the earth and Waitā, the harvest of the coast and ocean.

I looked back through my old Listener food columns that had been dedicated to this important date on the Māori calendar. My favourite was written after I’d attended a fundraising Matariki dinner in Martinborough at the Hau Ariki Marae.

I wrote, “The members of Ngati Kahungungu welcomed us onto the marae; a tidy, sprawling complex bordered by fields of vines on two sides. Before our dinner we were entertained by school children singing lustily and assisting their elders in the traditions and performance of heartfelt hospitality.

The feast was held in the adjoining Nga Waka a Kupe dining hall where tables were beautifully set, speeches were interesting and brief and there was lively music. I expected a hangi-style feast but the meal was sophisticated and tasty, prepared by three jolly cooks in the modern kitchen. The starter of smoked eel, shrimps with an eggy mayonnaise, and a small bowl of creamed paua was accompanied by a light puffy ball of deep fried Maori bread. Roast pork complete with crunchy crackling and roast vegetables followed, all washed down with some fine local Martinborough pinot noir and syrah. Nga mihi.”

In other columns I drew inspiration from the young queens of Māori cuisine, Kasey and Karena Bird, and the undisputed leader of inspired restaurant fare, Monique Fiso. The refinement of Māori cuisine and the use of indigenous and unique New Zealand ingredients over the past five years has been the most important development I’ve witnessed in my food writing career. Believe me, it will continue to influence the food we eat over the next decade as talented chefs like Vaughan Mabee at Amisfield, Ben Bayly at his new venture Ahi and many others showcase the best of our amazing local food.

So for our dinner last night we feasted on local oysters and of course, since we live in Kutai Lane, delicious greenshell mussels to start. Then we had the most delicious organic NZ farmed pork, cooked porchetta style (recipe in the Recipe section of this website) and a kumara bake, steamed potatoes and cabbage lightly cooked in stock and served with wakame and apples. And to finish, a fresh seasonal fruit salad made with winter fruit from the local farmstands around here, with delicious New Zealand creamy grass fed yogurt.

"He kai kei aku ringa"- There is food at the end of my hands (Māori Proverb)

1 June 2020

SKIN PLEASE

If there’s one mystery about delicious fresh fish, it’s the inability of the industry and retailers to offer fish fillets with the fish skin attached.

I’m extremely lucky as much of the fish I get to cook is fresh catch delivered to my kitchen by my very keen fishing husband. He’s been hard done by over the past eight weeks of lockdown as there was the largest sequence of perfect fishing days in row in living memory. He’d high hopes that some sensible rules would be set in place, such as two boats venturing out side by side, keeping close to the shore, in calm waters with perfect weather, would have been allowed. But no, rules are rules, and all he could do longingly was gaze at the balmy calm seas.

There have, however, been just two ideal fishing days since he’s been allowed back on the water and yesterday he returned with four medium sized snapper and a kahawai. He scales and fillets his fish neatly, always leaving the skin attached. Those snapper will last us for a few days, and will also feed others.

Immediately I seized the kahawai fillets and smoked them. Friends came over and devoured half of this savoury, tasty fish while it was still warm and juicy – a simple snack. All that’s needed is a quick and liberal coating of sugar and salt, ten minutes in a little portable smoker and then some accompanying mayonnaise with a teaspoon of wasabi paste stirred through. Serve with hot toast. The remainder I made into smoked fish cakes.

But back to the skin on fish. By keeping the skin on any fish, the flavour and moisture are retained in the cooking process, and if it’s a slightly fatty fish, the thin fat layer between the skin and the flesh melts and enhances flavour too.

If I purchase fish it’s generally in the supermarket and apart from John Dory fillets and whole flounder, I have yet to find any other fish offered with skin on. I ask, and I ask, and I ask, but to date it’s made no difference. It can’t be that hard. The skin must be cooked to a crisp for best results. The photo above is not particularly attractive, but serves to illustrate just how to pan fry fresh fish.

Dust the fish fillets very lightly with flour on both the upper side and the skin, shaking all excess off. Add a little salt and pepper. Heat the frying pan with both good olive oil and a knob of butter until hot. Place the fish fillets, skin side down and cook for three to four minutes until the skin is crisp and golden and opaque around the edges. Flip the fillets carefully with a fish slice and immediately turn off the heat if you’re cooking on a gas hob, or remove the pan from the element. It will cook enough to be almost rare but truly delicious, and importantly, still very moist.

Have everything else ready, place the fish on a warmed plate and serve at once. And please start asking for your fish supplier to LEAVE THE FISH SKIN ON THE FILLETS!

13 May 2020

BEST EVER MEATBALLS

It’s not often that a cookbook moves me to tears. A couple of weeks before lockdown I was sent a review copy of ‘Falastin’, Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley’s enchanting collection of modern recipes from Palestine. The recipes are wonderfully aromatic, fresh and savoury, inspired by Sami’s lifelong obsession with contemporary Middle Eastern cooking (he was raised in Eastern Palestine, cooked with Ottolenghi and co-authored Jerusalem ) and Tara’s adventures in the Ottolenghi London kitchens and travels to the region. But it was the stories placed throughout the book that made me pretty emotional.

Those stories are moving, transporting me to the heart of modern Palestine while subtly and sensitively describing the troubled day to day life there. But they also rejoice and celebrate the way that the people cook both at home and in restaurants often under extreme difficulty, and explore the connection to each other and the world through colourful and often spicy food.

I have been inspired to cook several lovely fragrant dishes, despite many of the ingredients being out of reach in this rural area. So I often turn to a little improvisation and substitution while trying to stay true to the intention of the recipes.

If I have one standout meal I cooked during this entire weird and wonderful period of lockdown life, it is a riff on a Falastin recipe for chicken meatballs with molokhieh, garlic and coriander. I didn’t have molokhieh, (Jerusalem spinach – a vegetable with almost slimy texture, like the texture of okra), nor do I eat garlic but I managed to make a feast that was truly outstanding. In the Falastin recipe the meatballs sit in a vivid green soup-like stew with the aforementioned molokhieh, so I substituted spinach from my garden which I braised in chicken stock. And because that turned a rather unattractive grey colour even though it was delicious, I added peas along with parsley and coriander to make it bright green.

It was the lightness of the meatballs that truly won me over. Mix 50g soaked and squeezed sourdough breadcrumbs with 500g minced chicken in a bowl. Add 2 cloves crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon each of cumin and cardamom, ½ teaspoon allspice and chilli flakes, 1 tablespoon each of chopped coriander, parsley, and mint leaves, zest of a lemon and salt and black pepper. Mix very well, oil your hands with good olive oil and shape the mince into about 16 balls. Heat some more oil in a frying pan, brown the meatballs on all sides and set these aside while you make a sauce.

The sauce can be made in the same pan. Don’t rinse it out unless you have a lot of dark residue. Add a couple of cups of chicken stock, lots and lots of chopped spinach or silverbeet and gently stew this with garlic, lemon juice and a little ground cinnamon. When it is cooked and aromatic, season to taste, add the meatballs to reheat with some peas if you wish, and some more chopped herbs. Serve in shallow soup bowls. Delightful!

More lovely Palestinian recipes, stories and photos can be found in Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (Ebury Press)

9 May 2020

A MINISTRY OF FOOD

Here’s a story I wrote last week for New Zealand Food Writers’ Digest. As we emerge from our Covid Lockdown, many in the food industry are aware that the pandemic has highlighted the breakdown of our food systems and know that NZ has a once in a 100 year chance to completely overhaul the way we think about the bountiful delicious food we produce. But we need a strategy. Now. And to oversee it we need a Minister of Food.

The Ministry of Food is not my idea. I first heard Kate Fraser, food writer for the Christchurch Press suggest it back in 2006. I heard it again at a government sponsored conference in 2008, 20/20 Food Vision, again in Christchurch. It’s a debate that has been ongoing but has never come to fruition. Three years ago NZ Food Writers held a dinner in Auckland and invited strategic speaker and former MP Steve Maharey to speak. His brilliant speech addressed everything that’s wrong with our food systems but since then very little different or innovative has happened on the food scene. The need for centralising everything to do with food has never been more timely than the present.

At the start of Lockdown Stuff carried a story about two Pukekohe growers, Bharat Jivan and Harry Das, having to plough thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of perfect vegetables back into the paddocks. Vegetables specially grown on premium soil for the hospitality industry which had all but closed down. The coronavirus pandemic had far reaching effects that nobody could possibly have predicted. What was more tragic was food banks around the country were crying out for food, with no way to connect the two. If we had a dedicated Minister of Food, the situation could have found a happy resolution. A central government agency dedicated to food could link the dots, overnight actioning purchase of the food and reassigning it to those in need.

New Zealand produces an abundance of food. Every single person should have a belly filled with nutritious food every single day, with plenty of food available for export to eager markets around the world to feed others with the clean, fresh food and innovative value-added food products they cry out for. Currently food administration is spread across myriad government departments and ministries. In a single day a food producer who exports might be in contact with MPI, MBIE, Health, MFAT, Worksafe, Transport, and more. We need to have a one-stop central agency to link, promote, assist, co-ordinate and make it easier for every step of food production and distribution without the endless administrative detail and disparate approach presently required. Is that too much to ask?

There’s no need to disband much of the work now being carried out by various ministries and government departments, but rather implement some very smart overarching thinking and action, streamlining of all food towards a common goal of making this the very best food country in the world.

We have much to celebrate about our food but we’re also in danger of losing the joy. Celebration of food has been the domain of the hospitality industry and closer to home, food writers. The success of both is under threat. Fine work has been done in many regions and especially in Wellington with their exemplary Wellington Culinary Trust, and by organisations like Garden to Table, Eat NZ, Everybody Eats, Kids Can, and other food charities and food rescue groups, using volunteers and donations. In the immediate future and recession there will be less financial support for them, and less celebration. New Zealand needs to get excited about food, to make food a priority and to create a national pride so that farmers, suppliers, food producers, cooks and consumers feel useful, valued and successful.

Recently Daniel Eb, of Dirt Road Communications and part time farmer, suggested it’s very timely as this conversation is also taking place in the agriculture industry circles he’s part of, a coalition stretching across many fields. He says, “Watching the food system bottle neck at the supermarkets and seeing so many small producers struggle is the wake-up call we need. It will take a cross-section of likeminded Kiwis to make this happen. But we’ll get there.”

Research shows countries with a lot of local food resources or complex food management systems (UK, France, India, Norway and Pakistan for example) already have a co-ordinated approach across all sectors of food.

Daniel Eb also explained, “UK has launched The National Food Strategy initiative, the first full review of their food system in 75 years. I particularly like this part in the principles “Addressing the whole system: To tackle the issues we face, we need to understand not just the supply chain (the linear movement of food from farmer, through processor, to retailer and consumer), but the wider network of our interconnected food system, and the outcomes it produces for our environment, our health and well-being, our jobs and livelihoods, and our families. We will be looking at the role to be played by all actors: citizens, businesses, non-governmental organisations, and government.”” Sound good?

Academics around the country are concerned about the coming food insecurity in the world after the effects of Covid and are proactive in voicing their worries and solutions. As Dr Elaine Rush a professor at AUT explained, “We often forget where food and drinkable water comes from – land, sea, soil, water and that with climate change, increases in population and business long term outcomes are not considered.”

We’re going to need a uniquely New Zealand strategy and we need that to encompass every aspect of food and the streams that play into our food supply, starting with soil and water and following the braided river beds of growth, production, distribution right through to the end consumer.

Food writers may feel a little helpless right now but as we move into our reset world, there will be opportunities to amplify our stories and find ways to get involved in the food scene. We must make New Zealand excited about food. We can volunteer our time and knowledge, as often that will lead to the creation of new food jobs. We should recognise and amplify the good ideas and work of other food writers. Use social media, write to your council and your MP. Join a food organisation. Spend time reading and thinking. Learn about the traditional indigenous food ways of Aotearoa. Lobby whoever will listen for a Ministry of Food to be established if you think it’s a good idea. Understand it’s imperative to support anything and everything that’s local and good about food as we build help to this country become the exemplary food nation of the planet.

5 May 2020

INTO THE FUTURE

After 43 long days of cooking dinner, without a break, I finally got to eat “out” even if it was eat “in” this past weekend. You may well ask why hasn’t my husband cooked? That’s another story but suffice to say he’s been working hard from home, playing the piano (see my instagram posts) or exercising. On Saturday we had the dining bargain of the year, slowly braised lamb shoulder with chimichurri and all the trimmings from the Farmers Daughter at Omaha Beach - $45 for two. Sunday was crisp beer battered fish with chips and a shaved fennel salad from Rothko at the Sculptureum -$40. Both places were set up with safe systems for collection, yay!

(I also tell a small lie. One night about four weeks ago there was a knock on the door and some lovely neighbours left a tasty lamb and chickpea stew on our doorstep for us. Thanks Slavka and Metin Yildiz, who happen to be co-owners with Simon Gault of Giraffe in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin. So that meal and those two takeout meals I enjoyed on the past weekend have really become the high points of Lockdown food.)

As we move into our uncertain future, there are both clear messages and some roadblocks ahead for the food industry. There’s so much to do, so many dilemmas to address. We can grow and produce enough food to sustain every single Kiwi year round but right now it’s not getting to the right places. The undernourished and disadvantaged numbers will rise and our food systems need to find a way to get more good food to them, each and every day.

At the same time, our fine restaurateurs and café owners are burning after many weeks of closure so we need to support them. It’s easy to say get out and purchase meals from them but how many takeout meals are going to sustain their businesses? I would take a guess that currently, even when they sell out like many of them have over the past week, many are barely or not even covering their costs. And the number who can actually afford to eat out constantly is diminishing rapidly.

My heart also bleeds for our artisan producers, the farmers and the growers who have struggled with nowhere to sell their amazing food over this seven week stretch. Food has been spoiled, thrown out or lost, and current and potential customers disconnected. Like the hospitality industry, it’s the impact the business has on others that is equally worrying. It’s like the house of cards; whip even the least value card from the bottom of the pack and the resultant chain reaction causes collapse. Everyone from the workers and suppliers to possibly the landlord goes down.

I am in love with the current campaign to Buy Local. That will help. Businesses will have to shift tack. We need to help them where we can, support and buy their food, and offer any innovative ideas we dream up. We will be forced to make changes in the way we shop, eat and drink. We are the most vital link in the food system, albeit at the end of the chain, as consumers. Make every dollar spent a dollar that counts and helps someone else. If you thought this past seven weeks was tough and one of self-sacrifice, think again. The coming months will be more important, and this time it is our choice to help each other.

Sustainable businesses can survive, but they need assistance, love, care and support. And as for our charities that help to feed the hungry, bless the little cotton sox of everyone involved in the good works they do and the threads they pick up when other systems fail.

28 April 2020

OUTSTANDING LOCAL PRODUCTS TO SUPPORT

There it was. A golden chicken, straight from the oven, roasted unadorned with nothing more than a smear of olive oil and some salt. The panel of three judges working on the ‘paddock’ section of entries of the Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards sniffed the aroma, prodded the skin and grabbed a sharp knife to carve into the bird before them. The dark leg meat and slices of white breast meat were devoured with gusto. They raved. “Outstanding flavour, succulent, great texture and truly delicious.”

Held in the week before lockdown, winners of the awards were announced last week. It is a total privilege to serve as Head Judge of these awards. I spend a whole day moving around the many teams of expert judges – food writers, small business owners, chefs and teachers - observing the tasting, answering questions and adding opinion when asked. The food is judged blind – no branding or link to the producer or grower as an entirely different panel marks the sustainability, and the brand story to add to the total marks.

That wonderful chicken, an organic whole chicken from Hawke’s Bay Bostock Brothers, won the Supreme Champion with almost perfect marks. The business owners, two young brothers are a fine example of our country’s innovative and energetic food producers. They identified a niche market, put in endless hours of hard work to get these birds into our supermarkets and it was a thrill to see them come out on top. Congratulations Ben and George!

The Awards team each year invites all New Zealand food and producers to enter, from tiny start-ups to well established businesses. Products are judged in various categories; Paddock, Dairy, Water, Drink, Earth. Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are awarded including champion awards for the best in each of these categories. Also awards are bestowed for the best in sustainability, best new product, best new business, and an award for the ever growing area of “Free From” to recognise products which cater to dietary issues and special allergies.

Champions for 2020 were Ahia’s freshly smoked kahawai with manuka honey (Water), Pure Ice Cream’s boysenberry ice cream (Dairy), Fix & Fogg’s Everything Butter (Earth), Forage & Ferment’s wild kefir with ginger root (Drink), and Bostocks chicken (Earth.) Additional winners were Clevedon Herbs and Produce, Raglan Food Co, Blue Frog porridge, Zaroa smoked beef brisket, Foundry Chocolate. The public voted Otago Farmers Market as the most popular market and Fernglen’s pure sheep milk as the outstanding food producer.

As we venture out and about shopping for delicious food it will be well worth looking for all the products displaying gold, silver and bronze medals. These outstanding products need our support in the worrying times ahead. Some are not easy to find but many can also be purchased online. For a full list of winners and many amazing products go to the Outstanding NZ Food Producers website.
Visit the Outstanding Food Producer site for details.

21 April 2020

GENEROSITY IN ABUNDANCE

Love in the Time of Cholera was a fantastic book. Every time I think of that I imagine writing a new book, Food in the Time of Corona. But there are too many interesting novels out there, hundreds of great cookery books and what’s more important most of the publishing houses wouldn’t bet on me, and sadly won’t be accepting any new work for a while.

We have all learned a lot about ourselves in the Time of Corona, and even more about many folk we know. I don’t want to dwell on the dark side (mostly occurs on Twitter or facebook.) I would rather celebrate the amazing generosity that everyone has shown in our little country at the far end of the world. Especially in the food world. Folks in foodbanks have been overworked but keep on feeding and worrying about the hungry, and it’s been easy, locked safely away to donate online to help them out.

Personally I have been sent some special tasty treats, had neighbours offer to do shopping, had a tasty lamb dinner left at the door, flowers and herbs have arrived and there’s been a steady of lovely phone calls from foodie friends and family. At times it’s overwhelming.

When I have been cooking something nice, I make sure there’s enough to slip a little plate to my next door neighbour who lives alone and has no-one in her bubble. Food is comfort, food people are without exception generous and there’s so much pleasure in every bite of lovely baking, in tasty savoury food and in fresh food cooked with love.

This week the lovely people at Cloudy Bay clams generously sent me a box of their clams. Like many other small producers they mostly supply the hospitality industry so their business must be suffering. One of the generous things we can all do is to support the small artisans and growers like them and where we can buy from them directly online.

The dinner I made with those clams was truly delicious. I chopped a carrot, an onion and a courgette into fine dice and cooked them until soft in some good olive oil. I then added a can of chopped tomatoes and let that bubble away with fresh herbs. At the same time I boiled a handful of linguine in salty water, and placed some green beans in a steamer over the top.

Once the tomato sauce was thick and scented, I added the washed clams in their shells and immediately they opened I added the drained pasta and beans and tossed everything well. Served up with extra parsley and some black pepper it was perfect. Enjoy!

16 April 2020

TIME ON MY HANDS

I have always scoffed at the idea that folk don’t cook because they haven’t enough time. Maybe I was wrong, as cooking in the pandemic has proven to be a huge success. Time is the new ingredient and everyone has plenty of it.

Previously Instagram feeds were filled with restaurant food – it was a sort of “look at my meal,” “am I not lucky to be eating this amazing food” and “omg, the chef is my hero!” Now the very same people, who if you asked them what they were making for dinner would probably have replied “a reservation” are posting pics of their proudly made sourdough bread, homemade hot cross buns, cakes and focaccia. No wonder our supermarkets are out of flour.

Despite what everyone else is doing, I certainly haven’t spent any extra time in the kitchen, I honestly have not pulled out a single cookbook, nor have I trolled google for ideas for dinner. What is new to me however is cooking from the freezer. I am on record as saying the only things in my freezer are frozen peas (Murray’s favourite vegetable), ice cubes for my gin and tonic, and ice-cream. With this lockdown in a rural setting, our freezer was filled.

My neighbour gave me a load of of free-range chicken before she headed back to the city (thanks Tracey!) and I stocked up on fish, salmon, steak and some whitebait (keeping that for my birthday on the auspicious date of 22 April when we may move to Level 3.) So our meals have been familiar and simple ways with those items, supplemented by fresh produce from the farm-stands around here.

The big breakthrough has been that Murray has been really happy to eat meals composed of any leftovers, and now actually asks me before even a chicken bone goes in the bin (no, keep it and any other good scraps for stock.)

If we’re eating rice with a meal I cook one cup of basmati rice, and find that covers two meals. So here's an easy idea for you to do.

Fried rice can be anything you want and the best lunch to date was rice cooked in oil and butter until crunchy, with a 2 egg omelette cut into strips, a handful of fresh beans (frozen peas would do) and a diced tomato. Season well with salt or soy sauce, freshly ground black pepper and some chopped herbs. We topped it with some lovely sardines, but feel free to add your own favourite touches. Enjoy!

11 April 2020

JELLY GOOD

Each of the past eighteen years, our Easter has been spent at our bach. We have always tried to leave our city house early to get ahead of the massive traffic build-up of holiday traffic heading North to grab the last of the summer. This year we have enjoyed an endless summer and so we’ve only spent 25 nights of the last 110 in the city. All that usual frantic getaway was avoided as we’re now living in lockdown near the beach.

It’s weird as most of the nearby homes are tightly closed and there’s never more than about 20 folk walking on the beach at one time. Our rural community is a great place to be as it is filled with small farmers and growers who have honesty stalls at their gate, artisan producers who will drop off their fabulous seasonal produce and products, and an exceptionally well stocked independent superette which is being managed with respect and care.

Like the rest of New Zealand I am cooking, secure in the knowledge that there’s plenty of healthy food on our table every night. I plan my meals around what’s in the fridge and freezer, or on the local farmstands but am steering away from baking as there are only two of us, plus a lovely neighbour who is on her own, to eat up the goodies. I am determined we do not eat more than we need.

Having written about food for more than 30 years, trying really hard to get people into the kitchen, I never envisaged that it would take a pandemic for Kiwis to learn cooking skills and take pride in making dinner from scratch. I bet there are a ton of us who are now googling recipes daily and making delicious food nightly. I only wish all those folk had bought my cookbooks, or clipped lots of recipes from my Listener columns!

In the first of my Easter columns, exactly nine years ago, I shared my recipe for guava jelly. As I wrote back in 2011, “All over New Zealand wind-fallen cherry guavas (and feijoas) are nestling into the grass of our back lawns. Sometimes they’re jokingly called ‘lawnmower fruit’ as the smaller fruits are often left to be gobbled up when the lawn is cut. It’s such a pity that these late season fruit are abandoned like this, as both are so fragrant.”

It’s serendipitous that we had to make a quick trip home this week (for the medically- advised- by-no-less-than-the-wonderful-Dr Ashley Bloomfield 'flu shot) so I quickly gathered ripe guavas from the lawn and right now the bach is fragrant with the scent of guavas as they simmered away. It is so easy to make.

Sterilise your jars. Wash the guavas and slowly bring them to a simmer in a large pan. When they’re soft let them cool, tip them into a jelly bag (or some cloth gathered at the top) and leave the juices to drip into a large bowl overnight. Don’t squeeze the bag. Place the juice in a clean pan with an equal amount of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Bring to the boil for about 15 minutes until it starts to thicken and wrinkle when a teaspoonful dropped onto a cold plate. Pour into hot jars. Enjoy!