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Portrait Roger Parker – Wild Food from a Native Forrest in New Zealand

ROGER KIEKIE Fruit

1. Tesi: Dear Roger, You are looking after a native Forrest in New Zealand and harvest wild berries and plans. Can you please tell me more about your work and what drives you forward?

Pius: The primary driver is conservation so young people in future will have beautiful forests. At present in New Zealand a lot of our forests are under threat from invasive species. An example is our Kiwi bird, is a threatened species now as introduced stoats eat their eggs and the young kiwi. The stoats have no natural predator here. We have Kiwi in the forest we look after and trap the stoats, which increases Kiwi survival rates.

As part of this work, my wife and I have learnt a lot about the native plants, including what is edible. This has been for pleasure. It’s just something we’ve been doing, mainly driven by my wife. We’ve read the books on it, talked with the local people including Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand), found the plants and berries in the forest, and experimented with different ways of using them in food and drink.

kl Miro Berries NZ

2. Tesi: Which cuisine is special for your area in Zealand? What is unique about it?

Pius: Quite a lot of the forest plants and berries are unique to New Zealand, as it’s quite an isolated country and has around 70,000 endemic (NZ-only) species, only half of which are formally identified. Some of these will never be farmed even though they are highly prized to eat.

One example is Miro. One of the old Maori delicacies was Kūkupa bird (a large native wood pigeon) after it had been eating Miro berries. The Miro berries put a strong flavour into the bird which Maori today still love and talk about (although it is illegal now to catch Kūkupa as their numbers are too small to support hunting).

When fresh, the berries are about 2 centimetres wide, are bright red to purple, have a strong aroma. The skin has a tangy taste and the flesh taste like Mango, although is unique.

The Miro berries come from a tree which grows very very slowly. The seeds take 3 to 5 years to germinate, a Miro tree after twenty years is only about knee-high and it takes them 800 years to mature. Unfortunately these trees are also a prime target for an invasive species, the Australian possum. In the area we look after around 20% of the Miro trees have been killed by possums.

We’ve tried these berries in a range of dishes and using different techniques. For instance, instead of eating with Kūkupa, my wife has used them as stuffing in roast chicken and planted them under the skin to get the flavour into the meat. The taste with gravy is succulent, a little fruity, tangy and with a depth of something unique that’s kind of meaty. We’ve never tasted the flavour anywhere else. It is beautiful.

That’s the extreme, where it’s amazing to eat, you know it can’t be farmed, it’s native so can’t be found anywhere else, and unless the forest is looked after the Miro won’t be around for long.

kl View inside forest2

3. Tesi: What is your vision for the food you harvest from your forrest?

Pius: To enable people to share the amazing tastes, and harvest from the forest sustainably.

kl Miro on tree

4. Tesi: New Zealand is… (Please complete the sentence so that somebody who has never visited the island can imaging the area)

Pius: A small Island country near the bottom of the globe. The land size is similar to England but it has only 4.5 million people. So it’s got a lot of open spaces, and very different scenery like the native forests and unusual creatures like the Kiwi and Giant Weta.

kl View in Forest

5. Tesi: What does good food mean to you?

Pius: Great taste. A feeling of enjoyment. When it’s shared with others, a very nice time.

Thank you Matthias Tesi Baur

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