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The Moa-Hunters of New Zealand: Sportsman of the Stone Age

Appendix II

page 252

Appendix II

Mr. ElsdonBest, in The Maori, Vol. I, pp. 416, 417, gives the following description of the Polynesian type of cooking ovens:

The common mode of cooking [among the Maori] was a steaming process, carried out in a manner that seems to have been world-wide in ancient times; it was universally followed by the Polynesians. The food was cooked by steam in a small pit scooped out in the earth, a steaming pit, or steam oven. The Maori called these steam ovens hangi, umu, kopa, hapi, and by a number of other names. The size of the pit depended, of course, on the quantity of food to be cooked, still they were seldom made very large. When a considerable number of people had to be provided for, then a number of ovens was utilized. An ordinary oven for family cooking is a circular pit about two feet in diameter at the ground line, and some sixteen or eighteen inches in depth. When a meal is to be cooked a fire of dry fuel is made in this pit, the wood being in short lengths and piled up about the ground line, the necessary stones being placed on the top of the fuel. By the time the fuel is burned out, leaving naught save some embers, those stones are extremely hot. While the fire has been burning the cook has been busy preparing the various food supplies to be cooked. She will now clear out the pit, raking the heated stones to one side and taking out any embers that are in it. The hot stones, or some of them, will be arranged on the bottom of the oven. If a large quantity of food is to be cooked, or perhaps some article that requires much cooking, then some of the stones will be taken out and placed on top of the food when arranged in the pit. The stones at the bottom of the pit are covered with a page 253 generous layer of green stuff, leaves or fern fronds, whatever is available, and on this layer the articles of food to be cooked are placed. Supposing that potatoes, greens, and meat, or fish, or birds, are to form the meal. The cook arranges the potatoes on the layer of green stuff, then the greens on the potatoes, and then places the meat, fish, or birds on the top of the whole. In permanent ovens a woven band of long leaves of Astelia or Phormium, termed a koronae, or koropae, is employed to line the sides of the oven with; it prevents the intrusion of particles of earth. The arranged foods are now sprinkled with water somewhat copiously, which water percolates through to the hot stones and so generates the necessary steam, and the oven is now rapidly covered in. Another layer of leaves, called rautao when used for this purpose, is arranged so as to cover the foods, and over this are laid certain closely plaited mats, called taka and ritaka. These, again, are covered with a goodly layer of earth, which is beaten down so as to consolidate it; this is what retains the steam. In some cases the food is placed directly on the hot stones in the bottom of the pit without an intervening layer of leaves, in which case a little water will be sprinkled on the stones in order to wash off any ashes adhering to them. Such is the steam oven of Polynesia, and such was the mode of cooking employed by the Caledonians, as you will see noted in Ossian's poems, in the battle scene.