Tacked up and ready, I lead my pony to the gate. Swinging it open, being mindful of speeding cars, I decide to explore the Bridge Pa Triangle. We are both ready for a little adventure and exercise. Hacking off down the road I find myself alert and taking in all the country aromas.
Missy P is Prue Barton, proprietress of Mister D.
This region is famous wine country with vineyards in close proximity to one another. A unique viticulture area with ‘red metal’ gravels, the Bridge Pa Triangle Wine District extends over more than 2,000 hectares on the western side of the Heretaunga Plains.
Today I am on the hunt for the unexpected. The first thing I spy are foxgloves and then rosemary and lavender spilling out from under a hedge. A gangly borage plant with vibrant blue flowers comes into view. It is said that borage gladdens the heart and surely the purple flowers are cheery.
Considered an herb, but often grown in vegetable gardens, borage flowers and leaves taste like cucumber. Freeze borage flowers in ice cubes to smarten up cold homemade lemonade or to perhaps drop into a Pimms (a standard cocktail at polo matches). You can also make a refreshing tea by steeping young leaves in boiling water. Arataki Honey, Hawke’s Bay’s premium honey producer, makes a borage honey noted for its unique herbal flavour and rich gold appearance. Make an Italian panna cotta by simmering together cream, milk, sugar, blue borage honey and setting with gelatine. So easy to make it makes a great companion for roasted peaches or your favourite summer fruit.
The verge now gets greener and I see some wild stinging nettles. These have a similar flavour to spinach when cooked and are rich in vitamins. Soaking stinging nettles in water will remove the stinging chemicals from the plant. Nettles can be used in a variety of recipes such as polenta, pesto and purees. Wilted, they make an unusual soup with a silver green shade. (Historically they have been used to make clothing during a shortage of cotton during World War I, and turn up in many quotations and figures of speech: e.g. ‘to grasp a nettle’, or in Henry IV Shakespeare’s Hotspur urges that “out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safely”.) To pick you need gloves and a pair of snippers so I will be back later to collect them.
In the distance a huge field of sweet corn flutters in the breeze defining acres of country green. Sweet corn production in New Zealand is a large and established industry with production figures of 100,000 tonnes grown from the principal regions of Gisborne/Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough and Canterbury. Our major export markets are Japan and Australia and sweet corn is the fourth largest vegetable export in excess of 25,000 tonnes earning around $50 million.
There is nothing better than eating fresh corn straight off the cob with lashings of melted butter. The addition of a squeeze of lime and chilli will surprise and modernise this humble presentation. Soften butter, add lime zest and some chopped chipotle chilli and mix through. Another easy way of preparing is to barbecue whole leaving on the husk.
This way it steams naturally keeping all the moisture in.
Recently Mexican food has had a surge of popularity with a ‘Mexican Wave’ of new restaurants opening in the Hawke’s Bay. In Mexico street food is extensive and the fast foods prepared on the streets are tasty snacks including tacos, tamales, gorditas, quesadillas, tostadas to name a few, and the majority of this food is based on corn products. Try an ‘elote’ which is simply fresh corn served whole on the cob, coated with mayonnaise and dusted with finely grated cheese, lime juice and condiments such as salt, chilli powder and sour cream.
Remembering that February and March is the time of year for fresh figs, I search them out. Pick plump, ripe figs and eat on the same day if possible however they will store in fridge for a couple of days. Wiped, cleaned and placed individually on trays you can freeze them as well if you have a bumper crop. Birds are the number one enemy of any fig tree so they need net protection if any good crop is going to be harvested.
Roasted figs with blue cheese and prosciutto makes for a delicious lunch. Cut the figs to make a cross on the top. Insert blue cheese into the top and wrap with prosciutto. Fasten with a toothpick and place on a baking sheet. Splash over a little Village Press olive oil and bake for about 10 minutes in a medium oven.
Further out on Maraekakaho Road at Sileni Estate is the home of Village Press Olive Oil. They are New Zealand’s largest producers of extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil. The company was founded by Maureen and Wayne Startup in 1994 when they bought a property near Havelock North where there were already forty-year-old olive trees. In the early days they travelled abroad to study olive oil growing and processing and imported a second hand press from Italy. Other equally passionate shareholders have joined them now and their new state-of-the-art centrifugal olive press is capable of processing up to 1,800 kilos of olive fruit per hour.
A tour and tasting is available between April and July by appointment only. This tour commences at the Sileni Estates Olive Grove and then moves into the state-of-the-art Press House to watch the olives being pressed. It ends with a varietal tasting of the olive oils and some superb Sileni Estates wines. If you get a chance try the textured and toasty ‘The Circle’ Semillon 2010, one of their specialty wines and one listed by the glass at Mister D.
Not directly visible from the roadside I see an old walnut tree. This takes me back to when I was a child as we had a walnut tree at the end of our garden and my grandfather used to collect them when still green and then pickle them. A tradition we continue today.
Pick fresh green walnuts from the tree, before their shells have formed. Make sure you use gloves before you start as the stain is hard to remove and will stay on the skin for weeks. Prick the nuts, brine, dry and pickle. A lengthy process, but well worth it. Pickled walnuts create a surprise ingredient on a ploughman’s platter and pair very well with cheese. In winter they also work well in stews and casseroles adding a nutty flavour.
Towards the end of Ngatarawa Road are the vineyards of Salvare, Bridge Pa, Ngatarawa and Triangle Cellars. There are many various options for lunch along here with fresh local produce and wine tastings on offer. At Salvare I select a 2009 Syrah, which I will tuck away for winter. Perusing the back label it reads “slow down and enjoy the journey”. I certainly have and hope you will.