Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Eel Drying

Eel Catch, Rapaki. March 2009. Ajr
It was a perfect, sunny, early autumn day in Christchurch today, so I drove over the hills to check out building progress on the new Rapaki Marae – more on that in a day or two. When I got there I was delighted to find local Maori woman, Marianna Phillips busy preparing her eel catch down at the very cute Rapaki jetty. Once she had washed and gutted the eel, she strung them up by their heads with a strip of harakeke (flax) and suspended them from the jetty. Local Maori have been doing that for decades – the old nails are still in the jetty timbers to prove it. They’ll be left to dry for a couple of days before she starts the next part of the process – filleting them and re-hanging them.

Everyone has different ways of drying tuna (eel) but there’s no question that the salting and curing of them is a long and involved process. Generally, once the tuna had been hung up their tails were cut off to help them bleed before they were left to dry further. Once they had been filleted, salt would be rubbed into the flesh and they’d be re-hung. The tuna would be rolled every day and hung out again. Depending on the weather, that process could take two weeks. After that the rolled tuna would be boiled for about ten minutes, laid out, unrolled and left to dry for the last time. Many Maori made a tent-shaped manuka whata under the trees and the tuna would hang over the manuka rails for three to six months – or until they had all been eaten. Other people kept them in a pataka, or a store room of some sort. For Rapaki locals though, the jetty has always served as the ideal whata – and these juicy specimens are destined for the modern-day freezer to reappear at the opening celebrations of Te Hapu o Ngati Wheke’s new marae in November.

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