This post is very different from my normal ones. It’s not a recipe, and it’s not about traveling or hiking. This one is more personal. I grew up on a sheep farm in the Northern part of the North Island of New Zealand. To get there, you turn inland at a town called Whangarei, and for nearly an hour you wind your way through countryside scattered with cattle and sheep. The road gets steadily narrower. It turns from bitumen to gravel, and finally to gravel with grass growing down the centre of it. You keep on driving until you get to a dead-end. That’s where The Farm is. You may have noticed that there is a capital “t” in “The Farm”. That’s because “The Farm” is what my family calls it rather than its official name, and to us, there’s only one farm.
It was only once I grew up and moved away from The Farm that I realised that I had had a very unique childhood, in which fishing for eels, building play-huts out of bales of hay and having pet lambs were everyday activities. Each year that my sister, brother and I were at Primary (Elementary) School, my father gave us each an orphan lamb off the farm. We would feed them milk from a bottle, teach them to walk on a leash, and come to us when we called them. Sheep can make great pets, except for the fact that they can’t be house-trained. Hand-reared lambs often think that they are human, so as soon as someone left a door open, they would run into the house and unintentionally cause havoc and leave small black pellets where-ever they ran. The crowning moment for us every November was the school Pets’ Day. Competitions were held to see which lamb was the wooliest, the fattest, and which ones had had the best training. The scene always become very chaotic when 10 or 20 children called their lambs all at the same time. Some lambs would just sit down and eat, others would run off in the opposite direction, and a few would actually run to their owners. The photo below was taken of me and Pepper when I was 8 years old. Pepper wasn’t a very clever lamb, and didn’t win me any prizes as he just stared at me when I called him. He was great at playing football though (which unfortunately you couldn’t win a prize for!). He would butt the ball with his head when we kicked it to him, then he and the other pet lambs would chase after it. Sometimes they would play football in the middle of the night and start bleating loudly when they ran around the house and got separated from each other. One of us would need to get up and go reunite them again so that everyone could go back to sleep.
It was a big deal for us to go into the nearest town, nearly an hour away, on the coast. We kids would get to go three or four times a year. Mum would make us put on our good clothes. The car trip was always very exciting. We would sit on the bench-seat in the back of the Holden Kingswood, with my brother in the middle (I don’t think he ever forgave my sister and I for never letting him sit near the window), staring gleefully out at the passing farmland, knowing we would soon be in a place where there were so many wondrous things to look at! One of the highlights of going to town was having a ride up and down THE escalator in the middle of town. I don’t even remember if we ever went to what-ever was on the second floor of the building. It was all about the ride! Who needs a fairground when you have an escalator? If we were really lucky, Mum would let us eat at a café for lunch. It was always a magical place for me. The one we went to had a strange smell of stale cigarette smoke, and old coffee, and was in the dimly-lit basement of an old brown and yellow building. I always had the feeling that it was some kind of secret place in which anything could happen: clandestine meetings between spies, criminals striking deals, world leaders convening away from prying eyes. I would eat my mince pie and yoyo biscuit while covertly looking at all the people to see if I could spot something going on. If we were very unlucky, Mum would pack a picnic lunch of sandwiches for us to eat in the park. That was always such a huge disappointment!
When I was younger, we had a black and white TV and one TV channel. I still remember the awe I felt when I was around 6 years old and my parents bought a colour television! The only show for children I remember being on then was Sesame Street. But, that was OK as we spent almost all our time outside running around the farm. There was a pond in the paddock (field) behind the house where we used to go fishing for eels. The eels were enormous and kind of scary to catch. We always had great plans to bring them home for the cat to eat, my my mother was surely very glad that we didn’t manage to do that very often. Our cat didn’t mind either. During the night, when the eels would slither up onto the land (who knows why!), she would hunt them and drag them back to the house before eating them. That was pretty revolting!
Each school morning we would catch the red school bus that came to our gate and wind up and down gravel roads picking up children from far-scattered farms. The local school had one school room with children from 5 years old up to 11 years old and one teacher (a little bit “Little House On The Prairie”). During blackberry season, the bus-driver would stop on the side of the road on the way home and let us get out and gorge ourselves on wild blackberries. We used to go picking blackberries in a wild part of the farm that my father has since tamed. There were so many, that after filling buckets and gorging ourselves on the huge blue-black fruit, there were still plenty left to have blackberry fights!
So, the point of this post is that, while I was down on The Farm in July, my mother gifted a very old recipe book of my grandmother’s to me. It’s falling to pieces and some of the writing is so faded, that you can hardly read it. It’s a wondrous book full of recipes gathered from her neighbours, friends and family over many years. Some of them come from my great grandmother. Some of them were written by my mother when she was little. Most of them have someone’s name attached to them, such as Mrs Rawnsley’s Sponge Cake. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some of these forgotten dishes and posting them for you to try out yourself. Maybe, with the power of the internet, I may even be able to find out who some of the people are who made the original recipes!
By Lisa Watson