A couple of months after my dear aunt died earlier this year (just short of her 100th birthday), we gathered to scatter her ashes. After meeting up at the farmhouse where Liz had lived right up to her death, we drove for miles up a steep, deeply rutted track, way up the back of the farm to a wild rocky promontory surrounded by snow tussock. People took turns to speak about the influence of this amazing woman in their lives, the love she had given them, the safe haven she had created in their lives. Those who chose to took a handful of ashes and cast them to the wind. The dust swirled and eddied through the air like a murmuring of starlings. We drove about half an hour back down the track and hiked out to a lone kowhai tree to share a picnic. Sitting out in this remote place sharing this simple meal, I felt this deep sense of connection — to the bloodlines of my family, to nature, the earth, the farm and this extraordinary woman who was my aunt.
It got me to thinking about Matariki and how lucky we are to have this special celebration here in New Zealand. Māori have celebrated Matariki for centuries and its revitalisation offers a means to anchor our collective response — to the whenua and to each other. It's a chance to say thank you to the environment, farewell and honour the people we have lost over the past year and get together and celebrate friendship and family.
Professor Rangi Matamua is acknowledged for revolutionising our understandings of Māori astronomy, and has lead the reintroduction of the Matariki ceremony across New Zealand. He has written a fascinating book, Matariki, The Star of the Year and, on his social media pages and YouTube channel Living with the Stars, he takes us on a journey of understanding about Matariki (as well as how to find it in the sky) through a series of fascinating lectures.
Traditionally, Matamua tells us, the hautapu was the final ceremony of Matariki when it appeared in the sky. A special hāngi would be made before the dawn, containing foods to honour each of the four stars which are related to four of the elements in the environment: fresh water, salt water, gardens and forest. As the hāngi was opened, the steam from the food would rise up to the heavens to feed Matariki.
This year Matariki will be celebrated between June 19 and July 11. Eat New Zealand are raising awareness between food and Matariki and on their website (eatnewzealand.nz/feast-matariki) you will find a number of events that people can attend around the country.
As we welcome Matariki this year, gather friends and family and head to the great outdoors for a picnic to celebrate our own unique New Year.
Smoked Salmon Paté
This yummy paté is a long-time favourite of mine when I need a special dip in a hurry. It can be made with any kind of hot-smoked fish. I like it nice and tangy but use less lemon juice if you prefer.
Ready in 5 mins
Makes about 2 cups
200g boneless, skinless hot-smoked salmon or other smoked fish, roughly flaked
250g light cream cheese
¼ cup lemon juice
Ground black pepper, to taste
A pinch of cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp finely chopped dill or chives
Place half the salmon in a food processor with all remaining ingredients, whizz until smooth, then stir in the remaining salmon. If you don't have a food processor, place all ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork. Check seasonings and adjust to taste, you shouldn't need to add salt.
Store in the fridge for up to a week or freeze for up to 3 months.
Watercress and Feta Picnic Pie
You can make this pie with any kind of greens- silverbeet, spinach and rocket all work well but, if you can lay your hands on some fresh watercress, it adds a lovely spicy bite.
Ready in 1 hour
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with ¼ tsp salt
2 spring onions, white and greens finely chopped
1 big bunch watercress (about 400g), tough base stems removed, leaves chopped
30g butter, melted
10 sheets filo pastry
Zest of ½ a lemon, finely grated
1 cup ricotta or cottage cheese
1 cup chopped mixed soft herbs, such as dill, parsley, mint
2 tsp fresh oregano or ½ tsp dried
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
100g feta, crumbled
Oregano leaves, to garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 180C fan bake. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Gently fry garlic and onion soft but not brown (about 5 minutes). Add chopped watercress and about 2 Tbsp water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves have wilted and all the liquid has evaporated. Remove pot from heat and allow to cool.
While filling is cooling, brush the insides of a 23cm-diameter oven-proof frying pan or springform tart tin with a little melted butter. Brush a filo sheet with melted butter. Line the pan with the sheet, leaving the excess to hang over the edge. Give the pan a quarter turn and then layer in another buttered filo sheet. Repeat, making a quarter turn with each sheet of pastry until you have used 8 sheets of the pastry to evenly line the pan on the base and sides.
Add eggs, lemon zest, ricotta or cottage cheese, herbs, nutmeg, salt and pepper to the cooled watercress mixture and mix to combine.
Pile into the pastry case and spread out evenly. Crumble feta over the top. Brush the last two sheets of filo with butter and place on top of the pie. Fold over the overhanging pastry, trimming if needed to form a tidy edge. Brush the top with butter.
Bake until golden, (about 45 minutes). Garnish with oregano leaves, if using, before serving.
The cooked pie will keep in the fridge, covered, for 2-3 days and can be reheated.
Kūmara Orange Honey Muffins
You can also use grated pumpkin or carrots for these tender, moreish muffins. It's a great way to sneak some vegetable goodness into a sweet treat. If you want to make them gluten-free use gluten-free flour and add 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder.
Ready in 35 mins
½ cup neutral oil
¾ cup soft brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey
1 medium kūmara (about 200g), peeled and coarsely grated
1½ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
¼ cup orange juice
1 tsp baking soda
1½ cup chopped walnuts or sultanas, optional
Preheat oven to 180C. Line bases of 12 muffin tins with rounds of baking paper and grease the sides.
Mix eggs, oil, sugar and honey until evenly combined. Mix in grated kūmara. Stir in flour, cinnamon, ginger and orange zest to just combine. Mix orange juice with baking soda and stir into the batter until smooth. Mix in walnuts or sultanas if using (do not over-mix).
Spoon into prepared muffin tins, allowing about ¼ cup each. Bake until golden and springy to the touch (20-25 minutes). Stand for 10-15 minutes before removing from trays.
These muffins are best eaten the day they are made or can be frozen.
(Smoked Salmon Paté)
No.1 Family Estate Assemblé NV Brut ($32)
Pronounced "assom-blay", it's lovingly crafted by New Zealand's first family of fizz, Daniel and Adele Le Brun. It's a blend of 60 per cent chardonnay, 35 per cent pinot noir and 5 per cent pinot meunier that's delicate, creamy and edged with soft, biscuity layers and beautiful baked apple notes. Complete with chalky, citrus-laced loveliness, it also boasts finely tuned, cashew characters in the mid-palate and it's absolutely salubrious with smoked salmon anything.
(Watercress and Feta Picnic Pie)
Astrolabe Kekerengu Coast Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($30)
Sometimes those huge, kick-in-the-chops sauvignon blancs and their squinty acidity, grassy intensity and passionfruity pungency can be way too big a beast for any kind of kai. Whereas this new vintage from Astrolabe is an exercise in subtlety with soft lemongrass, bruised basil, a lick of lime zest, creamy peach, whispers of white pepper and pillowy, prickly finish.
(Kūmara Orange Honey Muffins)
Giesen The Brothers Late Harvest Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($27)
Any time is a great time for sipping something decadently delicious, right? So why wait 'til pudding time? Just knowing this incredible wine is still available fills me with joy. Bursting with orange marmalade, candied citrus, apricot brulee and passionfruit curd characters, it's a jawdroppingly sexy thing to sip. Having scooped multiple gold medals and trophies over the years, it's magical with Annabel's muffins.