Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Food of Norfolk Island.

Sometimes, while searching online for a specific piece of information, something serendipitous happens, and a completely unrelated – but extremely interesting - topic turns up. This happened to me recently. I forget what the original subject was, but the unexpected, unrelated, but delicious find was about the food of Norfolk Island.
Many of you may not be aware of Norfolk Island. It is a tiny (35 km2 or 14 mi2) island in the Pacific Ocean about 1400 km (877 miles) due east of the coastal town of Evans Head, in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales. The island has a resident population of less than 2,500. It is an external territory of the Commonwealth of Australia, and as such enjoys a significant degree of self-governance.

Nofolk Island was inhabited intermittently over the centuries by Polynesian folk, but things changed irrevocably due to the infamous Mutiny of the Bounty in 1789. In 1790, the mutineers, with the Tahitian men and women who accompanied them (a total of fifteen men, eleven women, and one infant) made it to the isolated Pacific island of Pitcairn, and scuttled the Bounty. By 1856, Pitcairn Island could no longer support its much enlarged population, and 194 people - almost the entire population - were re-settled on Norfolk Island.  Norfolk Island had been claimed as a British colony in 1788 and was used as a penal colony for two periods of time (1788-1814, and 1825-1855). The re-settling of the island with the Pitcairn islanders when the penal colony was finally abandoned must have seemed a perfect win-win situation at the time.

Norfolk Island is paradise. It is incredibly beautiful. And how many other places in the world have no traffic lights, where no-one locks their cars, where the cows have right of way (except in the town, which has only one main street anyway,) and the speed limit is 50km/hr (31mi/hr) except in the town, where it is 40km/hr (24 mi/hr.) and the booze is duty-free?

All of which brings me to the serendipitous find I mentioned several paragraphs ago – an article in The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW) of 2 January, 1939, which I give you in its entirety:

Some Norfolk Island Recipes Gathered by a Traveller.
One of the countless interests of travel is the variety of food to be met with in different countries. Without being a gourmand, one may find pleasure – sometimes a fearful pleasure – in tasting the unknown dishes placed before us.
Possibly many Australians are not aware that in their own Commonwealth there is one place where they may eat food that is not only different from the general, but has the advantage of being very delicious. To those who do not know this, and who like variety in their menus, let me suggest a visit to Norfolk Island, where they will find dishes which have come into being through the geographical isolation of Pitcairn, which was once the home of the Norfolk Islanders. The productivity of the soil on Norfolk Island gives the inhabitants practically all the fruits of the earth, and from them, and from fish, they have evolved certain dishes which might grace any table.

In addition, the Norfolk Islanders are wonderful cooks, and with a good cook and good material at our disposal one can go to bed happily conscious that –

“Fate cannot harm me, I have dined tonight.”

Let us suppose that it is dinner time. The meat course arrives. On our plates there will be either beef, lamb, pork, or chicken, cooked in the ordinary way. But with it will be a variety of unusual vegetables. Perhaps baked bananas, kumeras, taros, and yams. Or suppose that instead of baked bananas we have a banana pilihi. If you have not tasted a pilihi you have missed something. It is not always  made of bananas. There is a tasty pilihi which is made of kumeras or sweet potatoes, and the Norfolk Island kumera is a very special kind of sweet potato, very superior to the usual kind known in New South Wales. Then you may for sweet have poo-oo plun pancakes.

For tea there are many delights. Banana bread, which is, of course, buttered. With ordinary bread you may have guava jelly or loquat jelly. Guavas grow everywhere; you may gather them for yourself when you go a-walking. As well as using them for jam, the large yellow ones are often stewed and served with cream, while the red ones topped and tailed are strong rivals to strawberries and cream.

Now here are two pilihi recipes:

Kumera Pilihi.
Six kumeras.
Peel and grate them and then mix well. Bake in a shallow pan lined with banana leaves for one hour.

Ripe Banana Pilihi.
Four cups mashed bananas, 1 cup flour, ½ teaspoonful bicarbonate of soda.
Add the flour and soda to the mashed banana and mix well. Bake for one hour.
These pilihi may be divided into small cakes and each one rolled around in a banana leaf for baking.
The next is a pancake recipe, and I am giving it in English first and then in the Norfolk Island language, which is derived from English and Tahitian. Norfolk Island generally is a spoken not a written language, and therefore you are not likely to have seen it in print.

Green Banana Pancake.
Peel 6 bananas. Grate and mix well with pepper and salt. Fry in boiling fat until pale brown.

Poo-oo Plun Pancake.
Tek 6 poo-plun peel et. Yoller et den mitti mitti et gut een some salt and pepper. Den fry een boiling fat tull yaller on both side.

The banana leaves are used a great deal in cooking. Fish is wrapped in them. Somethings taro leaves are used instead, and I can assure you that any of these leaf wrappers are better than the paper we sometimes employ.

Now for a cake:-

Ripe Banana Cake.
One cup sugar, ¾ cup butter, 1 cup mashed bananas, ½ cup milk, 1 ¾ cups flour, 1 egg, 1 teaspoonful bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt.

Cream the butter, sugar, and bananas, then add the unbeaten egg. After that add the milk with the soda dissolved in it. Mix in the flour and salt. Bake for one hour.

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