Its Xmas holidays and outdoor blokes find an irrepressible urge to escape and provide food for the extended family. Despite the fact there is enough food around here to feed Africa more food must be gathered.
An easy way where the whole family can be involved is collecting pipis. Mudflats are a great place for city kids to engage with nature - muddy water that hides crabs to bite small toes, plenty of sharp shells and small wriggly fish. All adds up to lots of squeals, oohs and yuks.
The humble pipi is one of those strange life forms that some of us find a delicacy. But unless exposed to shellfish as a child, most people are turned off by their weird shape and plainly visible intestines. "DISGUSTING" is the classic uninitiated teenager response to watching seafood lovers gorging on a pipi feast. All the more for those who love them, I say.
Pipis and cockles were standard holiday fare at my grandfather Bill James's bach at Tameterau on the Whangarei harbour. My grandmother, Mary, would boil a great pot full and empty them into a large bowl on the table. Bill would hold a stick and no one dared move until he said "GO" and the feast would begin. We ate them plain with a little vinegar but bread was a compulsory accompaniment to stop us kids eating too many.
From that childhood grounding, whenever I moved to a new place in later life one of my first tasks was to locate kaimoana. And it was Maori who often led me, either by direct invitation or my surreptitious observation. The West Coast is not notable for extensive shellfish beds, nor do many locals seek them. The pipis in the Okarito lagoon are hard to find because they are surprisingly mobile. They prefer moderately loose fine sand with not too much glacial silt. This habitat moves with every flood and the spring tides, as do the pipis.
I'm always a bit cautious about gathering after a flood or fresh in the river because of the risk of food poisoning even here at remote Okarito. While we have relatively few farms or septic tanks in the catchment (95% native forest), there are wild animals in the bush so it pays to be cautious.
Debbie's recipe for pipi patties.
Ingredients: Throw into the blender; two eggs, one chopped onion, cup of herbs to taste e.g. parsley, basil, chives and some coriander (whatever you've got), salt and black pepper to taste, three tablespoons sweet chili sauce, teaspoon of crushed ginger, teaspoon of crushed garlic, two cups of pre-cooked pipis.
Mix and fold in approximately half a cup of flour until the mixture is firm. If there is not enough flour the patties will not hold together. Fry in olive oil in moderately hot pan being careful not to blacken. Pipis burn easily.