Kim Knight makes the case for morn­ing tea


Kim Knight makes the case for morn­ing tea

They are nicked and scratched and dirty un­der the nails. Worker’s hands. Ac­cus­tomed to cold han­dles and hard labour. They hold sheep for crutch­ing and wire for strain­ing and shov­els for dig­ging. At 10am, they hold sponge drops. Al Brown re­mem­bers smoko on the farm. “Ev­ery­one put down their tools, washed their hands and walked up to the cot­tage.”

Doreen Hay­ward, the farm man­ager’s wife, brewed the tea and baked the cakes.

“From the dusty yards in sum­mer to the cold, wet and muddy win­ters, morn­ing or af­ter­noon tea at Doreen’s made for a ter­rific respite from the crutch­ing, drench­ing or what­ever sea­sonal job was in,” Brown re­calls. Does New Zealand have a na­tional cui­sine? Top chefs rub horo­pito on lamb and rein­vent con­densed milk may­on­naise, with one eye­brow iron­i­cally raised. They smoke ka­hawai for omelettes and stir white­bait into souf­fles. Kiwi food is kai moana, bar­be­cues and hangi. But there’s a rea­son why the Ed­monds is our most fa­mous cook­book — and it’s got noth­ing to do with its recipes for Colo­nial Goose or Sheep’s Tongue Shape.

Morn­ing tea is the coun­try’s in­vis­i­ble meal — and its home-baked, jammed and creamed co­mestibles are the foods that truly unite us.

“Bak­ing and pre­serv­ing,” says Brown. “They’re the two pil­lars. For so long, as Ki­wis, we’ve looked to oth­ers. We’ve been like, ‘Oh, it’s not bouil­l­abaisse or frangi­pane tart with fresh pears.’ Shit, we’re some of the best bak­ers in the world. You can stick your mac­aron; I’ll have a piece of louise cake over your mac­aron any day of the week.

“All that French pas­try and that sort of stuff? I’ve had a good baguette and I’ve had a good crois­sant oc­ca­sion­ally, but a lot of it is sickly sweet and it just doesn’t seem to be ...”

He’s search­ing for the words. “Just the hum­ble good­ness.”

Brown’s new­est book, Eat Up New Zealand (Allen & Unwin, $65), might start with trevally sashimi and ka­hawai ce­viche but, by its end, he’s tor­mented by which baked goods to leave out. One en­tire chap­ter is headed “whipped cream” (think cin­na­mon oys­ters, pas­sion­fruit lam­ing­tons and choco­late swiss roll with quince jam). Brown’s muf­fin is Aunty Edna’s bran, be­cause: “I can’t stand the bas­tardi­s­a­tion of a muf­fin. Rasp­berry and white choco­late? It’s a cake.”

When Euro­pean set­tlers ar­rived en masse, they came to a land of lit­eral milk and honey — and also but­ter, eggs, and cream. They also came to a land where vis­i­tors were fed. Some his­to­ri­ans have con­cluded that the largesse of early Pakeha morn­ing tea ta­bles was heav­ily in­flu­enced by Maori man­aak­i­tanga, or hospitality.

Today’s smoko is just as likely to be a flat white in a pa­per cup in the car on the way to a meet­ing. A pie and Coke. Juiced kale and quinoa bliss balls. It’s a slap in the face of our morn­ing tea tra­di­tions.

In 2008, Michael Sy­mons, a gas­tro­nomic re­searcher, writ­ing in the food his­tory jour­nal

Petits Pro­pos Culi­naires, claimed 1890-1940 was the “golden age” of An­tipodean bak­ing; a pe­riod where more than 30 cakes or bis­cuits unique to Aus­trala­sia were cre­ated. Eleven of those — in­clud­ing “peep bo’s” (small cakes filled

with rasp­berry jam) and “Maori kisses” (date, wal­nut and cocoa bis­cuits) were mainly, or only, made in New Zealand.

“The enor­mous va­ri­ety of recipes in­di­cates culi­nary fer­ment,” writes Sy­monds. “Cooks did not stick slav­ishly to a short canon, but in­no­vated, tested, bor­rowed, im­proved and even, oc­ca­sion­ally, made mis­takes. They then handed around their best re­sults and some­times pub­lished recipes. I am suggest­ing that we must imag­ine not a hand­ful of smart in­ven­tors, but lit­er­ally thou­sands upon thou­sands of them, bak­ing al­most daily.”

In 2011, aca­demic re­searcher Me­gan Wat­son wrote a the­sis on the tea tra­di­tions of 1930-50 Pakeha Manawatu.

“The first thing I learned when I be­gan this project was that there was af­ter­noon tea and Af­ter­noon Tea.”

One might be an in­for­mal fam­ily gath­er­ing on the veranda; the other came with the good china and best linen — a rit­ual that sur­vived wartime ra­tioning and the De­pres­sion. What killed the cer­e­mo­nial stir­ring of sil­ver spoons?

“It seems prob­a­ble that its in­ter­con­nec­tion to women’s work as house­wives, which en­sured its sur­vival through the De­pres­sion and the war, was the very at­tribute which led to its de­cline in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury,” writes Wat­son. “As women moved into the paid work­force, they had less time and less need for Af­ter­noon Tea. Per­haps, too, the new modes of shop­ping and the pop­u­lar­ity of depart­ment stores with their al­lur­ing tea­rooms made it a so­cial ex­cur­sion, rather than a do­mes­tic event.”

That “housewife” who did the bak­ing, who filled the tins, who be­came the stan­dard-bearer of the coun­try’s “ladies a plate” cul­ture?

“It was a cre­ative out­let,” says Brown. “To put some­thing up, and it wasn’t just one sweet, it was open the tins and there was colour, tex­ture, and she was qui­etly pour­ing the tea, go­ing, ‘F***, look at me.’ In the back of our minds, we all want the first empty plate.”

Back at Brown’s kitchen head­quar­ters, they’re prep­ping for a func­tion. Kina cream is be­ing piped into tiny, savoury dough­nuts. Hay­den Scott, bearded and tat­tooed, is deal­ing to a bench-load of raw, meaty racks. “Hey, Haydo,” yells Brown. “Can you cue the sponge drops?”

They are light and creamy, sweet and airy, an ic­ing sug­ared piece of his­tory.

“What do the Ital­ians do at 10 in the morn­ing?” scoffs Brown. 2PM, WOODY BAY RE­SERVE, TITIRANGI. ANNA JULLIENNE, AC­TOR. There is a fly drown­ing in a half-eaten bowl of Coco Pops and an espresso ma­chine in the makeup truck. The tres­tle ta­ble is wired for toast. Spreads in­clude Mar­mite and (this is a transtas­man tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion) Vegemite. Anna Jullienne has just pulled up at Unit Base.

She changes cos­tume. She pops a Vo­gels. She dunks a teabag in a pa­per cup and adds milk. Break­fast was hours ago, but shoot days are a mov­ing feast. Her day al­ways starts with tea, then a cof­fee and, on long shoots, a sec­ond cof­fee. Also: “The more chil­dren I have, the more cof­fee I seem to drink.” Juli­enne plays Katie, the hip­pie-trippy artis­tic one in TVNZ1’s 800

Words. Ben­son Jack An­thony, who plays teenage Arlo, streaks past, shirt­less. The tide is out and blue herons stalk the sil­ver mar­gins. It is a very lovely day at the of­fice. “I learned to make a cup of tea re­ally early,” says Jullienne. “I come from a big fam­ily of women, so I guess tea-drink­ing was al­ways part of my child­hood. A cup of tea with your nana or your grandma. A good chat. When­ever we get to­gether in my fam­ily, you put the ket­tle on.” Do they call it morn­ing tea? Smoko? “We just call it ‘put the ket­tle on’.” 10.15AM, VIC­TO­RIA ST WEST, AUCK­LAND. BRAD MITCHELL, GABRIEL BOWLIN, REECE PARKER, CAIO ASTORINO, DEZHARN TARIPO; CAR­PEN­TERS AND CON­STRUC­TION WORK­ERS ON THE VIC­TO­RIA RES­I­DENCES PROJECT. A high-vis army marches on its stom­ach. Specif­i­cally: pizza, chicken, burger rings, mince and cheese pies, hot chips, a chicken ke­bab on rice, a Cookie Time cookie, an aloe vera drink and a can of Coke. These work­ers started at 7am and will fin­ish at 8pm. Auck­land is boom­ing, grind­ing, ground-break­ing. In April, there were 72 cranes on the city’s sky­line; a cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion of cranes. These work­ers take three half-hour breaks, at 10am, noon and 5pm. Caio Astorino, the man who had a chicken ke­bab on rice for morn­ing tea, says that for lunch, he will have a beef ke­bab on rice. What do they talk about at smoko? “Pay­day,” he says. 10.30AM, UP­STAIRS AT TIME OUT BOOK­STORE, MT EDEN. JENNA TODD, MAN­AGER. Two elec­tions ago, they sold Nicky Hager’s Dirty Pol­i­tics and John Roughan’s John Key, Por­trait

of a Prime Min­is­ter. All piles, at all times, had to be at ex­actly the same height. Down­stairs is par­ti­san. Up­stairs, it’s okay to talk pol­i­tics. Other things that have hap­pened up­stairs: the launch of The Lu­mi­nar­ies, book club meet­ings, and the man­ager’s 30th birth­day. It was a karaoke party. Up­stairs, Jenna Todd drinks cof­fee in a proper cup (down­stairs, it’s usu­ally a take-out be­hind the counter) and lies on the couch read­ing New Zealand lit­er­a­ture, be­cause she’s a New Zealand Book Awards judge. “I read for 15 min­utes, and then I fall asleep for five. I try to read, but then I look at Twitter.” Morn­ing tea isn’t re­ally a thing in re­tail says Todd, but she re­mem­bers when she was at pri­mary school in Dunedin, her mum al­ways made con­densed milk choco­late chip bis­cuits for her morn­ing tea. “And I al­ways ate them on the bus to school.”

Anna Jullienne on the set of 800 Words.

Car­pen­ters and con­struc­tion work­ers on the Vic­to­ria Res­i­dences project.

Al Brown (sec­ond from right) and staff at morn­ing tea. “You can stick your mac­aron; I’ll have a piece of louise cake over your mac­aron any day of the week,” he says.

Jenna Todd at Time Out Book­store, Mt Eden.

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