It’s that time again! The kotukutuku (native tree fuchsia) trees are fruiting and I’m getting ready to harvest the berries. Actually, they seem to be a bit later this year – usually they fruit in February but this year I didn’t notice any berries until March. But to make up for the tardiness they seem to be extra fat and juicy this time round.
Dad and I took a Tuesday morning trip out to our usual foraging spot near the start of the Nichols Falls track. We found the situation as expected – not much fruit was visible until we peeked under the leaves to find the hidden treasure underneath.
We loaded up our bags and then moved on to the gravel road that constitutes the start of the Morrisons Burn track. We found a good haul here too as we followed the track all the way up to the 1930 weir which replaced the old 1906 one slightly lower down, after it was destroyed in a 1929 flood.
By this stage I figured we had enough, and so I busied myself trying to figure out what they would become this year. Two years ago I had made an ice cream, which tasted nice but had a weird slimy texture. And last February I had made a slightly munted pie, which both tasted nice and had an appropriate texture. But I was keen to extend my repertoire, and I mentioned to friend Megan that I’d like to try a jam like the early settlers had done, but I didn’t feel confident with the technique – especially since I wasn’t sure if I had enough berries to make up a full recipe-worth.
That was when Megan told me that she often made jams, and was used to adjusting her recipes to suit odd amounts of fruit. Little did she realise that she had just volunteered to become my jam-tutor and now had the responsibility of designing the first ever modern konini-jam recipe.
The main problem, she told me, was trying to figure out how much pectin the berries naturally contained, as that would affect whether we had to add any to get the jam to set. Unfortunately her googling yielded only a single even slightly relevant result which told us nothing we didn’t already know, mostly because it was my pie from last year. We were going to have to guess.
Our first step was to cook the berries to break them down, which we did in the microwave. Alarmingly, they came out looking unappetisingly grey. The skins remained pretty much whole, but that was okay with me because I don’t mind the odd skin in my jam. It adds authenticity.
Ploughing ahead despite the icky colour, we decided to go the one to one route, adding an equal weight of jam setting sugar (containing pectin) to our steaming berry gloop.
Then we returned the mix to the microwave for ten minutes to boil nicely. Unfortunately when we took it out, it seemed we’d cooked it too long and made konini toffee! We frantically added some more water to the mix to thin it out a little. Soon it returned to the more familiar slimy consistency and had also become a much more appealing deep purple-red.
We scraped it into the jar and slapped on the lid, hoping that as it cooled it would become an acceptable jam.
But how to judge my creation? The only possible answer was to hold a tea party! So I rounded up some friends, squeezed some fresh apple-rhubarb juice, and made a bold attempt at baking some scones.
The guests all gathered and we dug in. Somebody had supplied me the missing word I needed to describe the flavour – “like rose petals”. And indeed, my jam was quite unlike anything you can buy off the shelf. But it also looked good and worked remarkably well as a spread. I was also relieved to find that the consistency was properly jammy after the toffee scare, and perfectly unslimy.
The votes were in and I had hit upon a success! It was deemed “my best attempt yet” and the empty jar spoke volumes about my many happy guests. Frankly I’m not sure why this ever went out of fashion, and next year I’ll probably do the same again – that is, if I can beat all my converts to the kotukutuku trees!
A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand by Andrew Crowe