Wednesday in The Catlins is freight truck day and, this week, I can't wait! That's because I'm expecting a carton of fresh quinces, produce from the orchard of a Queenstown friend whose summers are hotter than ours and who doesn't battle possums in the same way that we do. Her huge old quince tree produces far more fruit than she can ever hope to use and, aware that each fruit tree we have must be kept espaliered and netted in order to avoid possum and native pigeon attacks, she generously keeps us in mind come autumn. When next I'm up her way, I'll drop off a couple of kilos of our bush honey as thanks.
A little later in the year, we'll be looking forward to another carton of produce – this time from family in Auckland who are swamped by feijoas. Gooseberry and bayleaf jam is the trade-off, and some King Edward new potatoes freighted up in time for their Christmas dinner. Between the quinces and the feijoas, dear Rangiaroa friends remember us with their annual gift of fresh basil (I grow a few little plants on the window ledge but our friends have it coming out their ears!). They've perfected the art of pulling it from the ground, roots and all, wrapping it in wet newspaper and posting it the same day. It arrives with us in near-perfect condition and is immediately used fresh with the remainder being made into pesto.
This swopping of home-grown produce isn't unique to New Zealand. One of the biggest concerns I have when travelling in buses in the north of India (after the very real possibility of tumbling off the side of a mountain road, that is!) is that a sack of potatoes or onions will tumble from the overhead storage compartments and land on my head! In Greece, the same is likely to occur except it's oranges you need to watch out for – or plastic bottles of home-made wine or olives.
Where ever you are in the world, you'll come across friends and family conveying their home-grown produce to those in the city who have none of their own or who don't live in a climate that comes up with the same goods. It's something that's gone on for centuries and it makes sense. I long ago gave up trying to grow my own lemons. Lugging my poor specimen of a tree into the glasshouse each autumn and covering it with frost cloth, only to drag it outside again for our brief summer, never produced any more than three lemons in a season. Novelty aside, it just wasn't worth the effort, not when our Christchurch holiday neighbours arrive each winter with a big bag of citrus which they happily trade for our carrots and cabbages!
It really is possible to enjoy exotic fruit and vegetables that you can't grow yourself, without heading to the shops. The secret is in cultivating friendships with those who live in different climatic or pest zones who are happy to swop their surplus with what you grow best. The cost of freight is nothing compared to supermarket prices and it's so much nicer to be eating fresh produce when you know who's grown it.