More than 3500 heads of garlic, wired into swirls to dry, hung triumphantly above the terrace table - the garlic harvest was almost done. The garlic gods had blessed us with days of hot Canterbury sunshine. It had been perfect picking weather.
When David Turner and John MacKenzie moved south to establish their homestay, called The Port, it was not necessarily part of their plan to become produce purveyors to the Cheviot area.
Ploughing up a few beds to establish a vegetable garden to supply the house proved fruitful; their garden flourished.
Soil enriched with seaweed gathered from the bay below, neighbouring farm manures and a temperate microclimate resulted in some green-thumbed success.
One thing led to another. Each year another bed was cultivated and each year, among the salad leaves, herbs and artichokes, more garlic was planted.
The plump, sweet garlic bulbs have their heritage in a strain which David has been growing for years. Now friends, locals and local food markets eagerly anticipate its harvest. Even the not-so-perfect bulbs are sought out by a home-based Worcester sauce-maker further south.
A week before Christmas some friends married at The Port. We decided a good way to repay the hospitality we had enjoyed at this magic place was to return to help with the garlic harvest.
From its hilltop position The Port has sweeping views up the Kaikoura Coast. Below it is Gore Bay, a well-known surfing spot. It's a nice place to hang out.
The garlic bulbs need to be lifted carefully from the soil and handled gently to prevent bruising. Carried back to the "processing area"(a lean-to by the side of the house to protect pickers from the sun) the bulbs are washed. Handed on, they are stripped of their outer layer and rinsed again, removing all soil from the leaves and roots. Once on a sorting table, they are graded, gathered into bunches of 20, fanned out and wired. Hung to dry in the air and sun for several weeks, the garlic is then plaited and bulbs are stored ready for market.
Over the extended harvest weekend, the volunteer labour force cheerfully plucked, pulled and processed the bulbs. Many hands make light work and it wasn't all hard toil. Big lunches were eaten under the hanging garlic bunches and dinners were had on the deck with music courtesy of an in-house DJ (one of the pickers). There were lots of laughs and a lot of wine. A tradition has begun.
New-season garlic is special stuff. It's strong and sweet in flavour and mellows beautifully with slow cooking. It makes the best roast garlic and a hot, sharp aioli. Search some out and try these garlic treats.
Here are some great garlic recipes to try out:
The Port is at Port Robinson on the coast out from Cheviot, North Canterbury. The area has changed a lot over the past years. From a petrol stop on the way to Picton from Christchurch, Cheviot now calls you to attention with galleries and cafes. Major grape plantings are developing and the neighbouring Waipara region is well established on the wine map.