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SPCA in a Pickle Over Wildfoods Festival

February 17, 2006

SPCA in a Pickle Over Wildfoods Festival

Every year, Hokitika forester Ross Jackson and wife Carol, the region’s SPCA Inspector, go bush, get in a pickle over pungas and need to take a deep breath and swallow a few tasty punga “slugs” to fortify themselves.

And it’s all because of the award-winning, annual Hokitika Wildfoods Festival and an old bush survival book.

Their neighbours are accustomed to seeing the Jacksons working feverishly in their kitchen late at night in the days before the festival cooking pickled and honey-marinated black mamaku tree fern delicacies.

The Jacksons also stew raw pieces of punga in water which then begin to ooze long strings of slimy jelly. These are the punga “slugs”: revolting to look at but surprisingly mild on the palate.

They developed their punga recipes after reading a survival guide that Ross had when he was in the Boy Scouts: How to survive in the bush, on the coast and in the mountains of New Zealand, written in 1962 by Flight Lieutenant B Hildreth.

The Jacksons’ punga dishes - especially the “yuk” factor “slugs” - are downed with great relish by the adventurous diners who arrive in their thousands to enjoy the taste challenges of the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. The 17th festival is being held this year on Saturday March 11 with about 18,000 patrons expected to attend.

It’s fair to say that, after seven years of heading into the bush to fell two mamakus, chopping them up and bringing them home to the kitchen, that the Jacksons have become connoisseurs of the punga as a food.

“It’s a good carbohydrate source,” said Mr Jackson who knows his trees, being Timberlands West Coast planning and protection supervisor. “It has a crunchy apple-like texture and a mild taste which can only be described as punga.”

Like many other West Coasters involved in community organisations, the Jacksons have devised their unusual wild food treats for the wildfoods festival to raise funds for a local project that might otherwise wait years for completion. Over the years, the Festival has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for community projects.

“The stall is helping us build up a fund to redevelop the SPCA shelter which has had bits added on here and there over the years,” Mr Jackson said. “We would like to upgrade our existing facilities for the animals.”

Aptly for people who are dedicated to rescuing animals, mamaku is a non-meat dish.

“No animals are harmed in the making of this treat,” Mr Jackson says.

And there is no problem about conservation because black mamaku is a plentiful resource.

“We use the young fronds and the crown of the plant for raw nibbles and for soaking in a honey marinade. The inside part of the top of the stem is pickled for next year’s festival so it is ready to melt in the mouth by the time the jar is opened.”

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival organiser Mike Keenan believes the Jacksons are typical of the inventive nature of West Coast gourmet wildfoods specialists.

“All West Coasters enjoy food from the wild and appreciate its value as a means of survival,” Mr Keenan said. He says he is surprised year after year at the inventive ways locals present huhus.

The diners at this year’s wildfoods festival will rediscover all the staples of the festival that have delighted palates in years past: the signature huhu grub, fast and slow snails, whitebait, eels, smoked or slippery, mountain oysters, those woolly delicacies from the nether regions of the sheep, wild pork including oink sauce, venison, farmed and feral - the whole gamut of what the bush, rivers and sea of the West Coast can provide.

In fact most of what featured in Animal Farm will be fried, curdled or zapped at the Festival.

New foods and drinks will add to the choices from the 80 stalls set up in Cass Square in the 3300-residentHokitika which annually opens all its front parlours to welcome around 18,000 patrons each March. Steamed fish eyes, ostrich swamp patties and cicada and pistachio Wild West icecream are just a few of the new offerings.

Entertainment this year ranges from the country to the sophisticated and includes the famous Topp Twins, the Nairobi Trio and the Brazilian Dancing Group. In the evening, two concerts in separate parts of the Square will be held - jazz country/rock concerts.

The Hokitika Wildfoods Festival and its innovative offerings have won several national awards including major Tourism Industry Awards in 2003 and 2005, the most recent being the Innovations in Events Category Award last year.

Mr Keenan said tickets were selling steadily through the Festival website and Postie Plus stores round the country. Indications were that the tickets, capped at 18,000, would likely sell out before the Festival. The website is

New rules governing downtown Hokitika activities will ensure visitors and locals mix and mingle in “an atmosphere that fully reflects the West Coast’s famous reputation for friendly hospitality,” said Mr Keenan.


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