Article by Belle George (UWCAC, New Zealand, ’14-’16)
“And on Thursdays at 9 we have open house.” We were told by our wonderful (admittedly a little crazy) houseparent during our first week here at AC – which was a week that was also wonderful and a little crazy, come to think of it.
“Open house?” we questioned. From there it was a confusing explanation that consisted of several second years trying to talk over one another to explain what exactly “open house” meant. Eventually our house parent cut in and explained that open house was at 9 each Thursday evening and everyone in the house goes into the house parents’ kitchen/living room and eat food and talk and have a period of laughter and chatting in the middle of the hectic-ness of the week full of the IB, service, activities and workshops that make up our lives here at AC.
Each of the 7 houses does open house a little differently. In some houses one student will cook; in others each dorm will have a turn. In Powys, my house, the house parents supply food unless someone volunteers to cook. And even if a student (or a group of students) cooks, our house parents still supply melon, bananas, bags of Sainsbury’s cookies and usually sausages and burgers. Open house is essentially a second dinner – no one goes hungry on a Thursday night!
Over October break I decided I’d had enough of people asking “What do you, like, even eat in New Zealand?” so upon arriving back I asked my house parent if I could cook up some good old Kiwi kai for the next open house. They were more than happy to supply me with the ingredients I needed and that Thursday at five to nine the kitchen smelt like ANZAC biscuits, lolly cake was on the table and mini pavlovas were hurriedly having the last slices of strawberries and kiwifruit placed on them.
For those of you whose brows are scrunching up confusedly, let me briefly explain what I mean by ANZAC biscuits, lolly cake and pavlova.
ANZAC biscuits were one of the staple foods the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the ANZACs) ate when they fought at Gallipoli in World War 1. The biscuits are made from oats, coconut, golden syrup, etc., and – if you make them right – come out smelling like heaven and are soft in the middle. However, when the ANZACs ate them in the war, they would sometimes be so hard they would break their teeth!
Lolly cake is more of a slice than a cake. Made from Arnotts malt biscuits crushed up to powder and Eskimo lollies (neither of which you can buy in the UK, I soon discovered!) stuck together with melted butter and condensed milk and rolled in coconut, it’s sold in any halfway decent NZ bakery, supermarket and dairy (what we Kiwis call convenience stores). One thing that shocked me was my housemates asking me what a “lolly” was. Lollies?! Any Kiwi or Aussie kid knows what lollies are! Here I was assuming it was an international word, but I now know that sweets and candy are what everyone else seems to think is the “normal” word for one of everyone’s favourite childhood treats. Oh, the things you learn at UWC…
And finally, pavlova. We often abbreviate our national dessert to simply “pav”. A crunchy meringue shell filled with a marshmallow-like centre, slathered in cream and topped with summer berries and, of course, kiwifruit, it sits in the centre of many family tables for Christmas dessert, or simply at a summer barbecue (of which there are countless). It was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who visited New Zealand in 1926 on her world tour. There has always been a rivalry between Australia and New Zealand over who created the dish, but for everyone in NZ, there is no question – pav is ours.
I loved being able to eat some food that tasted like home, but it was how much everyone else enjoyed the food that was a highlight of last Thursday for me. Food really does bring people together, and I know feel like I’ve shared a bit of Kiwi culture with the lovely people with whom I sleep under the same roof. Open house is one of the hundreds of little things that make AC so special for me – where else would I have get to see teenagers from every corner of the world so excited over what to me is a simple batch of ANZAC biscuits I’ve been baking every April 25th since kindergarten?