Almost daily, I trot down the steep hill from the uppermost reaches of Dunedin to purchase something or another from the local dairy. During the slow and torturous plod back up my personal Everest it’s good to find neighbour Noel at home – always ready with a chair and a cuppa. We chat about this and that and always what he has planned for tea – this time: curried sausages.
Which took me back almost 30 years to the time I arrived in New Zealand from the UK with Kiwi husband and toddler in tow, and blissfully ill-prepared for the onslaught of nightmarish fodder laid on for me by well-meaning relatives and friends of my husband. It began in Christchurch where we stayed a night with his old friends before flying on to Invercargill. ‘Twas a hot February day and after being shown his mate’s terrifying gun collection we all sat down to a salad. Plain and pre-plated – 1 slice ham, 1 tomato, cucumber slices, half a boiled egg, and lettuce from memory – so far, so innocuous. “Help yourself to salad dressing”, instructed our hostess. So I did just that, pouring liberally from a large jug and in consequence dousing my lettuce and egg with one the foulest concoctions ever to sully my taste buds.
A stiff upper lip prevailed as I enquired, “an interesting flavour, what’s in it?” We departed from Christchurch the next day after I mentally made a note that whatever items on New Zealand food shop shelves were new to me I would make a point of never purchasing sweetened condensed milk. We arrived at Invercargill airport mid-afternoon and were whisked to my sister-in-law’s “property” in Otatara for a meet ‘n’ greet with the “rellies”. A late afternoon tea saw me eyeing-up, with some suspicion, pieces of rolled white bread with green stuff poking out the ends. Yes, you guessed it, but I didn’t at the time because never in my wildest imaginings back in London would I have hit upon the idea of extracting pieces of soggy asparagus from a can and rolling them in bread. But that’s Kiwi ingenuity for you!
The food shocks came thick and fast after that as, for a couple of months, we stayed with my in-laws before a house became available. My mother-in-law’s first meal in my honour was curried sausages concocted, I believe, from an Edmonds cookbook recipe circa 1950. The sausages cost about nought cents per kilo which I suppose was a bargain as they fair tripled in size once thoroughly pre-boiled. Added to water, a tsp of curry powder, sliced onions and the whole mess thickened with flour… no wonder I took to the sherry bottle for two days.
Then came the beef bone stew which in comparison was slightly more palatable (if that’s the right word) but whatever was left over stayed on the stove for a few days and had things added to it; predominantly leftover cooked bits ‘n’ bobs from ensuing days’ meals. Then we had the “mutton ham” which I didn’t get at all. It’s either mutton or it’s ham to my way of thinking – which has always been literal. An invite was extended to an afternoon at the property of one of my in-law’s old friends. The “he” of the elderly couple had just finished renovating an old steam engine which occasioned a “start it up” gathering (yawn). I was asked to bring a plate. I took three. One for me, one for my husband, and a bowl for my toddler daughter. I naturally assumed it was because they’d be short of crockery…