Growing up on a farm in North Germany, Nicole Horstmann knew at four years old that she wanted to travel overseas. She packed her little bag, but no one would take her! She had to wait patiently until she had grown up.
Her son was the catalyst that made her dream become reality. He struggled to fit into German schools, she correctly thought he might do better elsewhere.
Her first move was to Australia, but alas, it was too hot for hubby. New Zealand was the Goldilocks country that was just right. Ten years later, she now considers West Auckland home. Her grown son puts his German to good use, working with tourists in a rental company.
Nicole runs a dairy in New Lynn and has made cakes for the German Christmas Market in Green Bay. I had to fight off several Germans to write this story. Nicole’s culinary delights are highly sought after.
Nicole misses her birth country the most in December, with snow, festive treats and Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets). Who wouldn’t want to sip mulled wine in the snow, while shopping for gifts and ornaments, surrounded by fairy-lit, historic architecture? All to the sound of live music. Sign me up immediately. Have ugg boots, will travel. Christmas is very obviously deeply entrenched into the German soul.
New Zealand, however, is the land of the summer barbeque. Nicole’s recipe for six-layer salad is perfect to take along to Kiwi get-togethers.
She loves the combination of flavours. Sweet pineapple, salty ham, creamy cheese, and the crunch of tart apple. It is a taste sensation. I had two generous helpings to make sure. Her Mother originally made the salad with pickled celeriac as the seventh layer, however this can be difficult to source here.
Salad would accompany meat and sausages, at a typical German-style barbeque. Her Mum made the salad, her Grandmother grew the leeks.
Nicole believes her ability to cater to large crowds came from her Mother. Her Mum cooked for a family of farm workers from an early age. Watching gave Nicole confidence.
German barbeques have the same quintessential elements as a New Zealand barbeque. Friends, meat, salad, and alcohol. That is however where the similarity ends.
A German barbeque is totally catered for by the host. None of the guests bring food or alcohol. The table is central, none of the Kiwi haphazard seating arrangements.
It has taken Nicole years to be able to eat, perched on the arm of a chair, with her dinner on her lap. A moment of lost concentration results in salad slippage. Before you know it, your favourite shirt ends up beetroot stained.
In Germany, guests very sensibly sit around the table. The host has made sure every guest has a place set for them. Games like Uno and Pig Run are played.
There is still the odd intoxicated guest that falls off their stool and into the hedge, but that happens after the meal.
Farm animals provided meat and sausage. Nicole has fond memories of making blood sausage on the neighbouring farm, aged nine years old. You might just have to be born on a farm and/or in Europe to enjoy filling an animal’s intestine with blood! I nearly fell off the arm of my chair thinking about it.
New Zealand sausages are mild, compared to the wonderful flavour of German ones. Nicole still has not recovered from the traumatizing disappointment of her first Bunnings two-dollar banger. It smelled good, it looked good, but it wasn’t good. “Be gone, boring budget sausage!” says Nicole. “Aufwiedersehen, you foul imposter.”
Kiwi bread is also a world away from the sour dough of her youth. “Too much air, not enough flavour,” she firmly declared. I have to agree.
A farmhouse breakfast of raw mince, with onion rings and pepper, sitting on top of a crunchy bun, is something she misses immensely. I am not sure NZ is quite ready for raw mince on our Vogels.
In recent years, New Zealand Artisan bread and sausages have evolved and improved. There is more care, love and expertise going into our food baskets. Kiwis travel and bring back ideas. Immigrants who settle share their culture. Nicole recommends Fresh Choice Glen Eden as a place to buy a good loaf. She enjoys sausage from Black Forest. (Hot tip: You don’t have to wander into the Black Forest, throwing sour dough breadcrumbs behind you, to safely find your way back out again. Black Forest is a Gourmet butcher in Albany.)
Although Nicole misses her German village, situated halfway between Cologne and Hamburg, she has chosen West Auckland as the place to live her life. She feels that Kiwis have allowed her to become who she is. She feels a freedom here and is not pressured to conform.
As I enjoyed a cup of tea in her dairy, I sensed there was something different about Nicole. I saw customers, and children from the nearby Arahoe School, greet her like a friend. She has a coffee table for those needing a moment to sit and rest from their busy lives and classrooms.
Her business has given her a platform to engage with the surrounding community in a way that I don’t see often in a big city. Nicole knows more secrets than a hairdresser, and she is not telling. She works long hours, but was happy to donate her recipe and time to our project.
Her advice to new immigrants is to be careful. When you are trying to make a new life, it is not easy. When money is short it is tempting to make wrong decisions, leaving you vulnerable to be taken advantage of.
On the whole, however, she finds the majority of Kiwis are warm hearted and happy to help. She loves the people here, even though we sometimes frustrate her with our lack of planning. I too think Kiwis could learn a lot from German efficiency.
Nicole particularly loves Māori and their culture. The title of ‘Aunty”, from children she isn’t related to, warms her heart.
I think there will always be a place here, for someone like Aunty Nicole. There certainly is a place for her six-layer salad as well. Try it, it is delicious.
Written by Jann Ross
Sechs Lagen Salat
(45 minutes to prepare, make the day before serving)
1 large finely sliced Leek (or 2 small)
4 grated apples (Braeburn or Granny Smith)
Crushed pineapple (439g tin)
200g finely diced ham
100 g grated cheese (Edam works well)
6 hard-boiled eggs (sliced or quartered)
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
Layer the ingredients into a large, see through, glass bowl.
Start with leek, followed by apple, then pineapple (save the juice). Cover apple quickly to prevent browning.
Layer on ham.
Cover top completely with grated cheese.
Decorate with egg.
Mix pineapple juice with mayonnaise, and dress the salad.
Keep covered overnight in the fridge, to soften the leek.
Mix salad layers together, just before serving.