Meat for the Table


We have been lucky for most of our married life in that we have been able to access cheap meat. For much of our early life we lived in towns where an exporting Freezing Works was located. Then, we were able to buy meat directly from the Company, however sometimes you were required to be a Supplier of lambs to obtain this privilege, but that directive was easily overcome. Many times, carcasses were being rejected as ‘unsuitable for export’ material. This criteria could be because they were too fat, or because the carcass had a bruise somewhere, probably caused while being rounded up and transported. At two dollars for a whole side of lamb it was excellent buying. As well, when we lived in Milton, a side of ‘Mutton’ was only One Dollar Fifty. The down side of this was, you had to do the butchering yourself. These dollar fifty sides of mutton were what was known as ‘culls’ from the local farms, and only one step above ‘Dog Tucker’. So long as you knew how to cook these ‘Mutton’s’, (Long and Slow), they were also cheap eating. I soon kitted myself with all the necessary tools for butchering, such as a Butcher’s saw, cleaver and boning knives. With these I could cope with large sides of meat with ease, all cut up on the kitchen table. I could handle a side of pork or mutton, but had to admit defeat when it came to a Cattle Beast. A local Farmer and I used to slaughter a large Cattle Beast every Winter. We managed this task with the aid of a front end loader, plus our two families pitching in with the cutting up, bagging, and labelling for the Deep Freeze. Not a good idea, for this task you really required the skills of a butcher which we didn’t have as you tended to lose many of our the prime cuts. We also found without skills you tended to end up with too much mince and stewing steak. We quickly realised our limitations and called in the services of a butcher who only charged a few cents a pound.


As a very young man eight or nine years of age, I had been used to hunting, and the taking of wild game. Very soon I was able to dress game out for the table, rabbits, ducks and any other water fowl or game that fell to my gun. All this was a very welcome addition to the family’s larder. Deer and goats came later, you needed a vehicle to get to where they were. So what I was doing in later life with domestic animals, was only an extension of what I had been doing since I was old enough to carry a rifle. I was lucky with my Aunts and Uncles who depended on me and they passed on their skills of how to catch fish, and harvest the sea to provide for the family as a hunter gatherer. One thing I wonder about now, is why we ignored seaweed. This, we only dragged back home for the garden. Our forbearers back in Scotland were possibly crofters, they as well as their animals exploited various kinds of seaweed as they lived close to the sea. As well there doesn’t seem to be any variety that’s toxic and needed to be avoided. Then again when it came to mushrooms that was a different story, you always had to be on your guard. We actually passed over some varieties as we didn’t then have sufficient knowledge.


As a family we quickly learned too that in the country that there is a lot of food that had been forgotten or overlooked. In Queenstown there were many huge walnut trees actually located in the town itself. These we never bothered with, until we had a storm, then the nuts would be shaken from the trees. That was the time to move in. We gathered Asparagus growing wild, and quickly found that it only seemed to grow near water such as a creek. Jim O’kane taught me how to find it by looking up gullies for last years dried fronds. ‘Horse Radish’, not a native, and probably planted by settlers long ago also grew near water, so that’s where I went to look for it. More so, I propagated it as well where there were no animals to eat it. You soon got to know other gourmets as we all knew our favourites spots and often met while out garnering. In Central Otago especially in the ‘back blocks’ there were many abandoned orchards or even individual trees of stone or pip fruit. Small ‘wild’ stands of Raspberries, Black Berries were everywhere. and their existence was noted when out and about for when harvest time rolled around. Unattended, the fruit was not of export quality. but Hey! it’s free.


I never bothered with clams or Cockles in the Otago Harbour. Hundreds of tons were there for the taking. Being filter feeders, and during my youth I knew all the City’s Sewerage was piped untreated, straight into the Harbour, Even then I knew enough not to risk eating them. Strangely, they are only now being exploited, as I see them for sale in the local stores.


Some parts of Central Otago have proved to be perfect growing conditions for some food sources. Rose hips the bane of Run Holders, have taken off and spread since the rabbit and goat population came under control. The popular herb Thyme also likes Central, hundreds of acres of the ‘Central’ Hills are covered by it, many today would drive past not knowing what it was.


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