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What we ate: “Meat and three veg”…
The first New Zealanders lived entirely off the rich resources of the land, sea and rivers. Then, beginning in the mid-1800s, a new wave of settlers from Europe introduced an entirely different diet, and one that would dominate our tables for the next century.
The 19th century New Zealander was likely to be used to hard physical labour, whether at home, on the farm or in the factory. Such exertion demanded hearty meals, typically “meat and three veg”. Not surprisingly, this country inherited many of its traditions from Britain, including a solid if somewhat unimaginative approach to cooking. Our heavy economic dependence on the sheep extended to the table, typically served up as boiled or roast mutton.
Alternatively, there was bacon and eggs and roast beef, whose essential ingredients were always close at hand, if not home-grown. And between meals there were endless morning and afternoon teas and suppers, all noted for their fresh buttered scones, sponge cakes and copious cups of tea.
After the Second World War, the kitchens of New Zealand began to enjoy all the benefits of electrical appliances. They soon had “fridges” and freezers to stock frozen foods, the new wonders of the age. Everything was now prepackaged for convenience. Once the friendly corner grocer had sliced cheese and bacon on the spot, but now it came already cut and sealed in plastic packs. For busy cooks, self-raising flour and cake mixes guaranteed perfect results with a lot less fuss.
Another time-consuming kitchen ritual, the bottling and preserving of fruit, was also on the way out. When fruit trees in the back sections of New Zealand provided a bounty of produce, nothing was wasted. Fruit was cleaned and stoned and placed in Agee jars and boiled in syrup – using crystal sugar for best results – and put aside for dessert treats later in the year.
…Boiled into submission!
New Zealand cuisine may have reached its lowest point in the 1950s with the arrival of the pressure cooker, whose contents were likely to be boiled into submission. But there was help at hand, for new immigrants and service personnel returning home after the Second World War brought alternatives to our traditional diet. Delicatessen shops began to open, and New Zealanders were now able to dine out at restaurants.
Back home, the arrival of the television set challenged the formality that once ruled the dinner table, and there was an increasing range of fast-food options for those who didn’t want to cook. As the country became more urban and sedentary, it no longer needed the big meaty meals of the past. However, this is not to say it didn’t occasionally hanker after the once obligatory pavlova, lamington or fully fledged roast dinner!