26 Dec 2023

Kiwi Kookery with Ray McVinnie

From Bon Appetit, 6:15 pm on 26 December 2023

Simon Morris presents a new show about food – what we eat, why we eat it, where it came from and when we started trying it.

In this episode about New Zealand cuisine, chef and food writer Ray McVinnie declares that dry-roasted kūmara – sweetened up for an hour in a 200-degree oven – is his favourite.

Roasted kumara on a white plate

Photo: Lisa Bryan

"Jus clean the kūmara, give it a wash, put it on a tray, stick it in a 200-degree oven for about an hour until you can push a small knife in there and it's completely cooked all the way through, split it down the middle and eat it with your other favourite foods. It's just delicious."

New Zealand chef and food writer Ray McVinnie

New Zealand chef and food writer Ray McVinnie Photo: Supplied

McVinnie, who contributed a chapter about the kūmara to 2009's Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, says the sweet potato is a taonga that, thanks to the brilliant navigation skills of early Māori sailors, we are lucky to have here.

It's believed that kūmara was first cultivated in Peru and Bolivia, and scientists have found evidence of it growing in New Zealand soil back in the 15th century.

For early Māori, who stored kūmara in deep pits, the sweet potato was a very high-status vegetable because it was extremely labour-intensive to grow, McVinnie says.

"It was always, always a highly prestigious ceremonial food."

Three rua kūmara (kūmara storage pits) used at Ruatāhuna, Urewera in 1930

Three rua kūmara (kūmara storage pits) used at Ruatāhuna, Urewera in 1930 Photo: Albert Percy Godber / Alexander Turnbull Library


Kūmara recipes in the RNZ collection

Recipes by Ray McVinnie in the RNZ collection

An exploration of the whakataukī (Māori proverb) The kumara does not brag about its own sweetness

Science meets Māori knowledge at an ancient kūmara pit

What kūmara reveals about Māori settlement