Back in my early days that were spent in New Zealand, every Sunday morning we would go to church. Most Sundays we would come home to a roast that had been put in the oven prior to us leaving for the 9am service but occasionally, we would be squashed into the Holden and driven to Waikanae where my mother’s parents lived.
It was such a long car trip and I hated the length of time I had to be confined to the car. It was hours of torture; or so it seemed. Because in reality, Waikanae is only just over an hour from where I lived in Wellington. It was a very scenic drive that winded around the edges of the Cook Strait and on a clear day you could see all the way across to the South Island.
Waikanae is a small but pretty town on the Kapiti Coast that with its beaches and bushland and pretty scenery is where many older New Zealanders like to spend their retirement years. My nana and grandad lived in a tiny house that was built up near the road but behind the house was an acre of land they had turned into an incredible edible garden with an amazing variety of vegetables and fruits.
As soon as we arrived I would greet nana and grandad then run with my sisters down to the bottom of the garden and see what was growing. There were fruit trees to inspect including feijoa, tamarillo, lemon, lime, orange, apple, pear, plum, apricot and peach. There were vines with grapes, passionfruit and kiwifruit; there were berries like loganberries, blackberries and strawberries; there were vegetables that grow on vines like beans and peas; and there were vegetables that grew in the ground like carrots and potatoes.
Em and I would climb the trees to eat all the fruit then pick fresh berries and eat those too. We’d ask nana if she needed us to harvest anything and knowing we’d be so disappointed if we couldn’t pick anything, she’d usually ask us to bring up some peas or tomatoes and dig up a few carrots.
When lunch was ready we’d have to come inside and sit up at the table for lunch. I still remember my grandmother’s table setting and her brightly coloured place mats. The food would be laid out on the table in bowls of varying sizes and then Grandad would say ‘grace’. After bowing our heads we’d begin our lunch and most of it would be from their garden, apart from the leg of lamb. Homemade mint sauce would be poured over the lamb, roasted root vegetables served with it as well as pickled beetroot and fresh salads.
After the main course nana would bring out her famous meringues. All her grandchildren still talk about them and we all wish we had the recipe. I don’t know what it was that gave them their magic, perhaps it was the splash of malt vinegar. They were crisp with a good crunch on the outside and extremely chewy on the inside. These would be served with plenty of hand-whipped cream with sprinkle of icing sugar and their own fresh berries.
As the sun was beginning to set it would be time to climb back into the Holden for the very long trip home. It would be dark by the time we arrived and we’d be given a light dinner of spaghetti on toast or mince on toast before climbing the stairs to bed.
My grandparents stayed on that property, working their garden everyday, right up until their 90’s. They enjoyed good health that could have been the result of their insistence on a ‘no drinking/no smoking’ lifestyle, but I think it could have had a lot to do with the satisfaction and enjoyment they gained from living a sustainable lifestyle.
Meanwhile, unlike the restrained lifestyle my grandparents lived, Carl has opened a bottle of 17-year old whiskey.