When you start scratching the surface of what is in your back yard you come across some hidden talents, and that was the case last week at our monthly slow food event.
Our group of intrepid Marlborough Slow Food foodies were privileged to visit Uncle Joe's hazelnut and walnut factory (I won't even mention that they won Oil of the Show Canterbury two years in a row or a top 10 Artisan Cuisine Award) and Annies Marlborough, followed by a hot glass of mulled wine at the Grovetown Country Hotel.
While I knew that squirrels hoarded nuts over the winter, I had no idea that Malcolm and Jenny's Uncle Joe's orchard would produce such a multitude of nuts, and that their gathering skills would see them become the caretakers for many tonnes of nuts in their Grovetown premises, for eating and cooking as well as for processing into walnut and hazelnut oils and pastes.
The fact that Uncle Joe himself is the legend that sat around the fire cracking nuts with a hand cracker conjures up product integrity.
Leaving the warmth of the nuttery, we travelled in convoy to Annies, where Graeme Giles, enthusiastic as ever, talked to our group about the highs and lows of his business as well demystifying the human digestive system.
After 20 years of Annies products and establishing the standard for healthy fruit bars around the world, there is not much that they have not encountered, and it makes you wonder, where to next?
Well, if you know Graham, he is already looking at the next mountain to climb (which is really no different to selling into international supermarket chains do it one step at a time).
It was time for our group to move on to our last location, the Grovetown Country Hotel. Here we were met by the publican and a hot brew of mulled wine that ended an informative and interesting tour of all things foodie in Grovetown. It never ceases to amaze me what is in Marlborough's backyard.
I am now in Palmerston North. Here is another community in New Zealand looking for information on how to establish a successful farmers' market and food network in its backyard. I wonder what its people will uncover when they start scratching the surface in their region.
Recipes from Uncle Joe's:
MERINGUE FRUIT CAKE
5 large eggs, separated
Cup caster sugar
250gm Uncle Joe's sliced hazelnuts
125g best-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
250g dried apricots, sliced
125g fresh dates, stoned, chopped
Icing sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 120 degrees Celsius. Line a 24cm-diameter cake tin with baking paper.at the egg whites until they just hold soft peaks and no more. Beat in the sugar a little at a time until all is incorporated Fold in the hazelnuts, chocolate and fruit. Pour into tin, smooth the top and bake 1 to 2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven, cool and serve dusted with icing sugar. Serves 8-10.
Delicious and super easy
175g ground or chopped Uncle Joe's hazelnuts
2 Tbsp cocoa
75g melted butter
Pinch baking powder
Mix ingredients together and bake 30 minutes at 150C. Just top with blueberries or any other berries (fresh cherries if you are lucky!). Cover with whipped cream and grated chocolate.