Down Under Delight

New Zealand’s delicious "national fruit" -- the kiwi -- makes a tasty pickled preserve

In 1991 my partner, Peter Maxwell, and I left Ireland aboard Mithril, our Van der Stadt 50 steel ketch, to see as much of the world as was practicable by sailboat. One hundred thousand miles later, we still haven’t seen half of it! In New Zealand we were about as far from Ireland as it is possible to get, but we found a surprisingly familiar landscape: rolling green hills and small fields dotted with sheep and hedged with yellow gorse.

North Island is well known to cruisers -- its popular Bay of Islands and Hauraki Gulf on everyone’s itineraries. South Island, on the other hand, is generally avoided by yachties due to its reputation for being too cold and too windy. This is a pity, as some fabulous cruising and unique wildlife can be found there. Dunedin has the most accessible breeding albatross colony in the world. Huge Royal albatross with wingspans measuring nearly more than three meters (about 9 feet) nest in areas that are within minutes of the city. At Akaroa on Banks Peninsula, we swam with Hector’s dolphin, one of the world’s rarest cetaceans. Stewart Island, off the island’s southern tip, gives visiting cruisers a wonderful opportunity to see New Zealand’s national symbol, the kiwi bird, in its natural habitat. The normally nocturnal kiwi feels so secure here it can even be seen in the daytime! With its long, sword-like bill, it probes the forest litter and the seashore kelp for grubs and that enemy of all beach-lovers — the sand fly. As a national symbol it’s certainly memorable, a plump little fellow with high, rounded rump, coarse, hair-like feathers, and no wings at all. Few New Zealanders have actually ever seen one in the wild.

Arguably, an equally famous New Zealand national symbol is the kiwifruit. Its global popularity is surely a testament to its promoters’ skill. With vivid green flesh and an inedible skin, it seems initially to be a messy and unappetizing confection. One taste, though, and you’re hooked for life — if you don’t want to be bothered peeling and slicing it, just slice off the top and eat it with a spoon, like a boiled egg.

Finding kiwifruit for 20 cents (N.Z.) a kilo while in New Zealand, I just had to have some. Later, of course, I had to face the problem of exactly what to do with five kilos of kiwis!! Fortunately, in a library I found a New Zealand “country woman’s” cookbook, with a splendid recipe for pickled kiwifruit. I adapted it for what was available in my galley. It’s delicious with cold meats, especially roast lamb — serendipity or yet more cunning marketing?

Pickled Kiwifruit

2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon cloves
1 tablespoon allspice
1 cinnamon stick
15 to 20 kiwifruit

Make a syrup by boiling together the sugar, vinegar, and spices for about five minutes. Peel and thickly slice the kiwifruit. Strain the syrup and discard the spices. Return syrup to pan. Add the kiwi and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Cool slightly, remove kiwifruit with a slotted spoon, pack into jars, and pour syrup over. This makes one, one-liter jar of preserve.