A vegetable that evokes in us some misty memories of a wonderful childhood has been given its own festival.
We grew up on the Southland Swede. The maroon banded yellow swede that has been livestock fodder since farming began in the south is also a welcome addition to the southern dinner plate.
However, our favourite memory of eating swede was not at the kitchen or dining table, it was in the paddock. As kids we grew up on family sections cut from my Grandfathers farms. So as soon as the sun rose we would be off over the fence to our playground. In the cool months of swede growing we would grab our ponies chuck on a bridle and head to the swede paddock armed only with a pocket knife.
Every kid had a pocketknife.
Then we would wander the swede rows to find a good sized one - not too big or too small and haul it out of the ground. Then we would rub the sticky dirt off on the nearby frosted grass and sit down and carefully peel off the hard outside layer to get at the sweet frost crisped inner glory of the swede and we sit and chomp on it as we would plan our day.
If we did forget our pocket knife we would peel the outer layer off with our teeth. And sometimes the frost rendered our fingers useless for welding a pocket knife so teeth were the only solution.
Our favourite accompaniment to muttonbirds is a baked spud and a big mound of mashed boiled swede seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper and crowned with a big dollup (actually a massive amount) of butter. You need to make a wee well in the swede mound fill it with butter and when its all melty fold into the mash and eat the sweet swede meat.
They also enhance mashed spuds - a dish combining both is known in Scottish parlance as "Neeps and Tatties"
There is nothing like a southland swede even though it is a culinary favourite elsewhere in the world often known as rutabaga - it yumminess probably has something to do with the rich southern earth and hard frosts. We have tried the northern varieties from the supermarket but they are dry and woody and lack the crunchy moist texture of our beloved southland swedey.
So good on Mataura for paying hommage to such a wonderful vege that has played a very significant part in the agrarian landscape of the south.