Lauraine Jacobs

Food Writer and Author of Delicious Books

Lauraine’s blog

27 June 2022


I have been watching the fantastic Matariki Celebrations around the country with envy. Damned Covid has prevented me attending some feasts including the spectacular Tohunga Tumau dinner in Wellington on Thursday. The best I can come up with is to retell the story, with Matariki recipes I wrote in the very good (and now lamented) The Hobson magazine last July. In that publication I also wrote a more extensive story about Ngati Whatua’s Te Pourewa Gardens in Orakei mentioned below below - those too are a sad story for me as I so wished to join the community planting there on Saturday but am locked up! From The Hobson: There’s a food celebration on the horizon. Matariki (Pleaides constellation) rises at the end of June in the north eastern sky signifying the commencement of Maori New Year. The pinnacle event on the Maori calendar, Matariki is a time of traditional celebration and opportunity to plan for the year ahead. Gatherings on the marae, around the family table and special events will provide an exchange of stories, performances and most importantly, feasting together. New Zealand will recognise this event with a national holiday from next year, our first public holiday to recognise Te Ao Māori and its long held custom to mark Matariki.

The first day of the month-long observance which begins in June is when the first crescent moon appears after the reappearance and rising of the cluster of stars known as Matariki (Pleiades.) Of the more than 1000 stars in this cluster, only seven are visible to the naked eye, with four of them signifying connections to food. The brightest of these four observed on that first day will be used to shape food customs, planting, fishing and hunting for the coming year. The four stars guiding this are Tupuārangi, signifying food from the sky, Waitī, fresh water, Tupuānuku, food grown in the earth or Waitā, the harvest of the coast and ocean.

All Matariki feasts (in fact all Māori feasts) include kumara. On a recent visit to the newly created Māra Kai (food gardens) on the Ōrakei Te Pourewa gardens in Kepa Rd, it was interesting to learn that more about the plantings of their first food crop of this root vegetable. It is much loved by Māori and one of the tāonga or treasures of traditional cuisine. Widely accepted that kumara was introduced to New Zealand in the fourteenth century from Polynesia, it has been cultivated in the northern climate ever since and local iwi Ngāti Whātua, who run these gardens, harvested 3 tonnes of delicious kumara in their first growing season. In addition over 3000 kg of other vegetables crops were harvested there and distributed last season.

The gardens provide an opportunity to feed the needy and hungry with a range of traditional native and colonial vegetables planted according to the knowledge and science gleaned from the stories and experience of the whenua and those who first cultivated land on the Auckland isthmus. Native puha, kamaho and watercress, much loved in traditional diets will be grown in 2021 along with five varieties of kumara and a sophisticated electronic-controlled composting system will produce copious quantities to nurture the two edible native mushrooms, tawaka and harore.

It’s time to mark this new custom in our homes and our suggested menu for a feast for this month involves the kumara. The creamy kumara gratin was inspired by Monique Fiso, the young Wellington chef who has led the way in the revival of Māori food practices with her spectacular menus at Hiakai her restaurant, and in her book of the same name which won overall Book of the Year in the 2021 Ockham NZ Book Awards. When I asked her for a recipe suggestion she told me to use cream “because everything tastes better with cream and butter.” Perfect fare for Matariki celebrations, especially when paired with a crisp and tasty pork belly roast, all tempered by another prized Māori tāonga, spicy fresh watercress salad with new season’s oranges.

Kumara gratin with horopito pepper and cheese

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 100ml milk
  • 300ml cream
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1.5kg red-skinned kumara
  • 2 pinches horopito pepper
  • 50g parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Butter a deep ovenproof dish, around 25 cm x 20cm. Bring the milk, cream and bay leaf to the boil in a saucepan. Leave on a very gentle simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, then remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Finely slice the kumara and layer this in the gratin dish in neat layers. Cover with the hot cream and horopito and shake gently to distribute the liquid. Sprinkle the top with parmesan, cover with tinfoil and bake for 50 minutes or until the kumara are tender when a skewer is pushed into them. (Tip. It is a good idea to put a tray under the dish as it cooks as the cream can bubble up and spill over.) Serves 6

Crisp roasted pork belly

  • 800g piece of pork belly with skin attached and scored
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 sage leaves
  • ½ cup white wine

Score the surface of the pork belly skin with a very sharp knife or a clean Stanley knife. Pound the fennel seeds, salt, and pepper together with a mortar and pestle or in a spice processor until finely ground. Rub this mixture well over the pork surface and the skin. Crush the garlic and sprinkle this over the pork with the grated zest of the lemons and the sage leaves. Leave, covered so the flavours to permeate the meat for at least two hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Heat the oven to 220˚C and place the pork in a roasting pan with the scored fat sitting upwards. Cook for 15 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 160˚C and continue cooking for another 60 minutes. Take the pork from the oven, place on a carving dish and cover with foil. To make a sauce, deglaze the pan with the wine and the juice of one of the lemons and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer, reducing by half. Strain this sauce, season to taste. To serve, carve the pork into neat slices and serve with the sauce, kumara gratin and a freshly tossed watercress and orange salad. Serves 6