I’m finding it hard to love winter, but am hoping to keep interested by thinking of all the books I’ve read with winter in the title. First up is Winter’s bone, a bleak yet somehow inspiring book that was made into a great indie film last year or the year before.
It’s the story of Ree Dolly, who lives with her methamphetamine cook father, her catatonic mother, and her younger brother and sister. Dad has disappeared after posting the family house, such as it is, as bond in order to get bail. If he doesn’t show up for his trial the family will lose their home.
Ree sets out to look for him but the code of silence is as strong in the Ozarks as it is in Sicily (if all the books I’ve read about the Mafia are to be believed, and why wouldn’t they be?).
“That’s the way to get et by hogs, or wishin’ you was” sums up the attitude towards questions about where Ree’s dad may be or what he may have been up to.
Sounds like just the ticket to cheer up a desolate winter doesn’t it? Well it is guaranteed to make you think life among the potholes and the portaloos is preferable to life among the mountain folks and Ree is a truly memorable character. Do you have any favourite wintry reads?
One of the themes of Matariki is kai – and whitebait (inanga) is one of New Zealand’s top tastes.
Every school holidays we’d load up the Commer van and head to some remote part of the South Island to a camping ground that was usually no more than a clearing in the bush, and where the long drop was dug by Dad on our arrival.
Fishing rods, nets and spares would be in tow depending on the season and where we were headed. August holidays were spent at Anatori on the West Coast in the hope that the whitebait were running. After setting up camp we’d find an unoccupied spot on the side of the Anatori River, put out our spotters, nets, deck chairs and empty buckets then just sit and wait. And wait. And wait some more.
When the whitebait ran it was very exciting, but you had to be quiet in case you frightened them away. Once they swam into the net, Dad would carefully empty them into the bucket estimating our catch. That night we’d feast on whitebait patties cooked on the open fire, mixed with eggs, fried in butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. Yum!
Whitebaiting has been the pastime of many generations, and for local Maori it was an essential part of their local food gathering. This is reflected in the many important mahinga kai sites around Christchurch where a large variety of food was gathered. Inaka (whitebait) were found at many settlements along the Ōtākaro (Avon) River as well as the Opawaho (Heathcote) River.
The history and conservation of whitebait and whitebaiting is actually quite fascinating. Did you know that traditionally nets were made from flax?
Dad still goes whitebaiting every year and although the catch isn’t as plentiful as it was in the early 1980s if I’m lucky I still get a meal when I go back home to visit. Do you have any of your own childhood whitebaiting stories?