Bush Tucker Feed

Bunya nut bounty: How to process and cook Australian native bunya nuts

How to shell bunya nuts. Little eco footprints

Bunya nuts would have to be one of the most under-appreciated Australian bush foods. I’ve been enjoying an abundance of bunya nuts and have been surprised by how delicious and versatile they are. I’ve eaten bunya nuts every day for more than a week and thanks to a stash in the fridge will continue feasting for a few more weeks.

The fruit of the Bunya pine tree is full of edible and nutritious nuts. Little eco footprints

Feasting on the fruit of the majestic Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii) is nothing new. Thousands of Australian Aboriginal people would gather in the mountains of south-east Queensland during bumper bunya nut seasons. Tribes came together from afar to feast on the nutritious nuts, exchange stories, trade, socialise, and resolve issues.

Tribes would leave nourished and connected after feasting for many weeks.

The last great bunya gathering was in 1887. The tradition was revitalised in 2007 and the Sunshine Coast Bunya Dreaming festival is now an annual event. I love the idea of feasts being used to build community and revitalise culture.

Despite growing naturally only in Queensland, huge old Bunya Pine trees can be found in parklands across the east coast Australia.  The ornamental qualities of this majestic giant, which can grow up to 45 m tall, saw it planted in many parklands and botanic gardens.

Jorge Tlaskal shelling bunya nuts from a tree he planted 25 years ago. Little eco footprints

Twenty-five years ago, Jorge Tlaskal planted a couple of Bunya Pines in his garden at Bulga in the Hunter Valley. He waited 24 years for his trees to produce nuts. I was fortunate to help Jorge collect and process the last of this season’s cones. 

Foraging australian native nunya nuts. little eco footprints

In late summer Bunya Pine trees drop huge cones the size of a bowling ball – and almost as heavy. So it’s best not to loiter under trees when gathering cones.

Gathering bunya nut bush tucker. Little eco footprints

How to open bunya nuts

To get at the nuts you need to pull the cone apart and peel the tough husk away from the seed. It’s best to do this as soon as you can as the husk becomes harder to remove as it dries.

The nut is encased in a super-hard shell. Nuts within intact shells can be stored in the fridge for weeks. The longer you store, the sweeter they become. Aboriginal people would store them in dilly bags placed in running water and would also ferment or sprout them by burying them in holes covered in mud or dirt (a nice overview of Australian aboriginal storage and uses can be found here).

Bunya nuts opened by boiling in water until the shell softens and splits. Little eco footprints

Opening the hard shell is a challenge. You can gently crack the shell with a hammer or rock and roast in the oven or on coals until the shell splits in two. Or you can boil in water until the shell softens and splits (pictured above).

Or there’s Jorge’s ingenious method:

Opening bunya nuts using a pair of garden loppers in a vice. Little eco footprints

Jorge quickly and easily cuts the shells in half using a pair of garden loppers held in place using a vice.

Bucket of bunya nuts. Little eco footprints

Within minutes we cut through a bucket of nuts.

Bunya nuts being removed from their cut shell. Little eco footprints

The nut can then be easily removed from the shell with a teaspoon.

Opening bunya shells with a pair of sharp garden secateurs. Little eco footprints.

A pair of sharp garden secateurs works just as well, but is a little more time consuming.

Bunya nut cotyledon. Little eco footprints

I've read one mention of the cotyledon in the centre of the nut (pictured above) not being edible. Most sources claim the entire nut is edible - which makes sense as there is no mention of the Australian aboriginal removing the cotyledon during preparation. Indeed, they presumably preferentially ate the cotyledon (which becomes the first first leaves of a seedling) when they sprouted the nuts. 

I removed the cotyledon the first few times I ate bunya nuts. Then I ate them with the cotyledon - and noticed no noticeable difference. I no longer bother removing the cotyledon. 

The nuts are safe to eat raw but are much tastier cooked. 

They have a unique flavour and texture, similar to white sweet potato or chestnut.

There’s a myriad of ways to cook bunya nuts

Stir-fried bunya nuts cooked with garlic. Little eco footprints

I like eating them simply stir-fried in olive oil with loads of garlic and a sprinkling of salt. Or boiled and served with a dollop of butter.

They can be baked in pancakes, biscuits, breads and cakes.

Bunya nut flat bread pikelets. Little eco footprints

I made delicious flat breads - influenced by how they were traditionally eaten by aboriginal people: ground and made into a paste which was roasted in hot coals to make a bread. To make these mini flat breads I processed raw nuts to a fine paste, added a little yoghurt, and fried small patties of the mix in a cast iron pan. Served with loads of honey they were delicious.

Buckwheat and oat groat porridge with bunya nuts. little eco footprints

Bunya nuts are also a delicious addition to porridge. I soaked the nuts overnight with buckwheat, oat groats, dates and spices and cooked briefly in the morning. Delicious. The bunya nuts reminded me of macadamia nuts. 

They are also delicious snacked on as pesto or with dips.

Or used in pasta sauce, casseroles, soups and stir-fries.

Bunya nuts served as a pasta alternative gnocci style. Little eco footprints

Bunya nuts are particularly good boiled and served as an alternative to pasta - juts like you would serve gnocci. 

Pan roasted vegetables and bunya nuts. little eco footprints

Eggs with a side of bunya nuts. Little eco footprints

They are also a great addition to a quick meal of pan roasted vegetables or as a side for eggs. 

Planting Bunya Pines as a perennial food tree

The bunya nut is so versatile I’m considering planting a few Bunya Pines - kind of like an extreme permaculture perennial food forest. I can imagine the family feast 24 years from now.

Bunya pines can live for an amazing 500 years.

I like the idea of my descendants 17 generations from now – enjoying fruit from a tree I planted. My great great-great-(you get the picture)-grandchild could collect nuts from my tree.

That’s a dream worth having.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 9th March 2015.


Connecting with your wild side - Wildcraft Australia bush skills courses

Wildcraft Australia bush survival courses Hunter Valley Australia. Learn how to start a fire without matches. Little eco footprints.

I’d like to take my connection with nature to the next level and learn a few bush survival skills. My hunter-gatherer aspirations must be contagious because Little Eco also wants to “learn how to survive in the wild”. So I was pleased to discover Wildcraft Australia – a Hunter based wilderness survival school.

Wildcraft Australia bush survival courses Hunter Valley Australia. Natural face painting. Little eco footprints

Little Eco and I met with Wildcraft Australia guides Sam New and Nikki Brown to find out more about their courses.

We were in bush crafting heaven. Within minutes, Little Eco was making body paint and having her face painted.

Woven natural hat. Nikki from Bushcraft Australia. Hunter Valley Australia. Little eco footprints.

Wildcraft Australia bush survival courses Hunter Valley Australia. Twine made from plants. Little eco footprints

Wildcraft Australia Sam's bush tea set. Little eco footprints

I admired hats, twine and tea sets - all made from natural materials. I was impressed with Sam’s bush tea set. He boils water in a bush billy made from a palm leaf, uses leaves from a native shrub as tea, and serves in cups made from coconut shells. 

Nikki tells me their courses are "for anyone who has an interest in bush craft and wilderness survival skills. We help participants develop bush confidence, a stronger connection to nature and help break down any fears".

Each course varies, depending on its target audience. Their Wild 101 introductory bush skills weekend jumps in the deep end of wilderness survival and includes barefoot blindfolded bushwalking. Apparently walking barefoot and blindfolded will teach me to slow down and awaken all my senses.

Their family-friendly wildcraft kids camps treads more gently into wilderness survival with face painting, exploring, tree climbing and nature craft.

“All of our courses include learning how to find bush tucker and shelter building. Participants also get to have a go at making a fire without matches” says Nikki.

Wildcraft Australia Bush Tucker March Fly 1. Little eco footprints

Wildcraft Australia Bush Tucker March Fly 2. Little eco footprints

Wildcraft Australia Bush Tucker March Fly 3. Little eco footprints

We got a tiny taste of what their courses include – literally. Nikki showed us how to eat March Flies - a survival skill that we’ll hopefully never need to depend on. I didn’t have the courage to try, but Little Eco tells me they “taste a little sweet”. 

Wildcraft Australia bush survival courses Hunter Valley Australia. Sam making a tinder bundle. Little eco footprints

Wildcraft Australia bush survival courses Hunter Valley Australia. Tinder bundle for lighting a fire without matches. Little eco footprints

Sam and Nikki also demonstrated how to light a fire without matches – using the hand drill technique. Sam first made a tinder bundle from paperbark and the silky insides of a seed pod. 

Wildcraft Australia bush survival courses Hunter Valley Australia. Hand drill fire starting equipment. Little eco footprints.

Wildcraft Australia bush survival courses Hunter Valley Australia. Hand drill fire starting equipment - showing notch. Little eco footprints.

Wildcraft Australia bush survival courses Hunter Valley Australia. Hand drill fire starting. Little eco footprints.

Wildcraft Australia bush survival courses Hunter Valley Australia. Hand drill fire starting - smoke. Little eco footprints.

Then they worked together, spinning a spindle on a baseboard, swapping every few moments to maintain friction. There was smoke within minutes and then a spark.

Wildcraft Australia. Lighting a fire without matches. Blowing on ignited char in tinder bundle. Little eco footprints.

Wildcraft Australia. Nikki lighting a fire without matches. Little eco footprints.

They transferred the spark to the tinder bundle and blew on it until it ignited. They made it look easy.

Foraging Native Hibiscus. Edible petals. Little eco footprints.

We only spent around an hour with Nikki and Sam and learnt so much. I can’t imagine how much we would learn in a three day course. Little Eco was already applying her newfound knowledge on the drive home. She insisted I stop so that she could pick native hibiscus flowers to add to that night’s salad.

Wildcraft Australia are hosting a bush skills course for adults in Barrington Tops THIS WEEKEND (5th - 7th December). There will be fire starting, foraging, barefoot blindfolded bushwalking, shelter building, and the lucky winners of a “shelter lotto” get to sleep in a bark and stick tepee. Now that’s a lotto I would like to win.

Other upcoming courses inclusd a wildcraft kids camp, weaving, cord making, and bush food. For more information visit www.wildcraftaustralia.com and check our their courses page.

Bookings for this weekend’s introductory bush skills course close Wednesday. Contact Nikki on 0412 216 485.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 1st December 2014.


Foraging Scurvy Weed

Scurvy Weed can be easily distinguished by its gorgeous bright blue flowers
Our paddock is full of Scurvy Weed. It popped up after the rain and is thriving.

Surprisingly Scurvy Weed is not actually a weed but a native plant called Commelina cyanea. This plant also goes by the politically incorrect common name of Native Wandering Jew.

For the past few weeks I’ve been walking through it, first wondering whether it is toxic to guinea pigs and chooks, and then, when it became really abundant, whether it is edible.

A bunch of foraged Scurvy Weed - a native Australian plant that has edible leaves.

I was pleased to discover its leaves are edible. The terminal buds can be eaten raw or cooked. I felt like I’d discovered a field of spinach and lettuce at my back door.

It was eaten by early non-indigenous colonists to alleviate scurvy, and hence its common name.

To prepare Scurvy Weed simply pick off the terminal buds

I foraged a bunch and added a couple of handfuls of terminal buds to a frittata.

It was delicious, although admittedly, its taste was hard to distinguish from any other green leafy vegetable in amongst the other frittata ingredients.

I’ll definitely be using this fresh, local and free vegetable as one alternative to leafy and salad greens from now on.

Wondering where you can find your own patch of Scurvy Weed?

It grows in moist forest or woodland areas along the east coast of Australia. It’s particularly fond of moist and disturbed soil so you may even see it pop up in your back yard. It was common in my Newcastle backyard.

It does resemble the introduced weed Wandering Jew (Tradescantia fluminensis) which is not edible, but Scurvy Weed can be easily distinguished by its gorgeous bright blue flowers. The introduced weed Wandering Jew in contrast has white flowers.

Foraged Greens Frittata

Foraged Greens Frittata

Frittata is one of my favourite ways of trying new foraged greens. I really like Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetraganoides) in frittata and will one day try Stinging Nettle frittata.

To make a foraged greens frittata simply use your favourite frittata recipe and substitute a vegetable for your foraged greens.

Learn more about foraging

If you are interested in learning more about foraging there’s a range of handy field guides including Useful Weeds at our Doorstep by Hunter’s own foraging expert Pat Collins and The Weed Forager’s Handbook: A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland.

Pat Collins from the Total Health and Education Centre in Muswellbrook also runs workshops on how to forage and use weeds across the Hunter region and further afield. To find out more about upcoming workshops subscribe to their newsletter by emailing info (at) patcollins.com.au or phone 6541 1884.

Do you or would you forage greens to eat?

[Originally published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 16th February 2013]


Foraging for free food: Warrigal Greens

We’re nearing the end of week three of Our {more or less} No Spend Month. We’ve actually found it empowering to spend {more or less} nothing. I imagine it would be extremely disempowering if we were broke and were forced not to spend. But having money and not spending feels good.

I’ve been reminded of all the ways to get food without spending money. Foraging is my absolute favourite.

Warrigal_greens

On our recent kayak trip, I was excited to spot loads of the bush tucker plant Tetragonia tetragonioides, commonly known as Warrigal Greens, Native Spinach, or New Zealand Spinach.

Warrigal_greens_by_creek

See the bright green ground cover plant in the picture above? That's all Warrigal Greens.

Picking_warrigal_greens

Of course I had to jump out and pick some, and for lunch later that day we had Native Spinach Frittata.

Cooking_warrigal_greens

Warrigal_greens_fritatta

This one didn’t look as good as my previous attempt, because our ‘no-spend challenge’ has me being stingy with eggs (eggs, cheese and onions are considered gold in this household at the moment).

Warrigal Greens is probably one of the easiest bush-tucker plants to forage

  • It's easy to find. It’s found scattered throughout Australia and New Zealand and has become naturalised in many parts of the world. You will mostly find it along waterways and near the coast.  
  • It’s easy to recognise and hard to confuse with anything, so you’re unlikely to accidentally eat the wrong thing. Have a look at these images and note the shape of it's leaves and fruit. It's fruit in particular is really distinctive.
  • It’s easy to use. Simply use it as you would spinach, except you need to blanch it first in water to remove oxalates. Young leaves are fine to eat raw.  It can be substituted for spinach in any recipe and I particularly like it in egg dishes because of it’s slightly salty flavour. 

A few considerations when foraging native plants (bush tucker)

  • When foraging for native plants, please don't pick more than you need (in contrast to weeds, you can go ahead and pick as many of them as you like).
  • It's illegal to pick native plants without a permit in many instances, so be aware that you are probably doing something illegal, depending upon where you are foraging. And definately don't forage from a National Park or other Conservation Reserve.
  • Be cautious when foraging in urban areas. Stay away from areas that may be polluted (e.g. industrial areas), as toxins and heavy metals can be taken up by some plants. Also avoid areas that are actively managed (e.g a well maintained park) as the plants may have been sprayed with a herbicide or pesticide. If you are interested in urban foraging, I love Penniless Parenting's Rules of Foraging

Confession time

We've broken Our {more or less} No Spend Month a hand-full of times. Mainly it's been small purchases like a few onions and a beer each when out last friday night. But we also broke it big-time by purchasing some gravel and pavers for a job we've planned for years and finally found a window of time to implement.

Have you foraged anything recently?

There's only a few hours left to enter the natural deodorant giveaway if you havn't already. Entries close midnight tonight (Saturday).


Urban foraging for Purslane

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Wandering through a local park a few days ago I spotted a mass of Purlsane (Portulaca oleracea) growing amongst the flowers.

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This cosmopolitan edible plant occurs across Australia (and numerous other countries) and is also cultivated for its tasty and nutritious leaves.

Purslane loves disturbed areas, so you are most likely to see it in your local park, along road verges, in footpath cracks, or even, if you are lucky, popping up in your garden. You may have even been pulling it out and composting it. What a waste!

The leaves and stems of Purslane are edible

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They can be cooked as a vegetable (like spinach), added to salads raw, pickled, or can be pounded into a mush and eaten raw (doesn’t sound very tempting).

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We enjoyed it on our vege burgers.

Raw, the leaves taste slightly sour and feel rather slimy. The slime is apparently 'great for the mucus membranes, coating the lining of your throat and intestines.' The leaves are also high in Vitamin C and Omega 3 fatty acids and also contain calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and thiamine. It's also high in oxalate, so should be avoided during pregnancy.

You can also collect the seeds and grind them into a flour

I headed back to the park this morning and collected a huge bag of Purslane so that I can harvest some seed.

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I'd just read that the tiny black seeds, being high in both protein and fat, are one of the most important bush foods of inland Australia, and decided it would be fun to try making our own seedcakes. Apparently, Aboriginal people ‘pulled up the plants, throwing them in heaps, which after a few days they turn over and an abundant supply of seed is found to have fallen out’. The seed was processed by grinding it on a flat rock with a hand-held stone and the resulting flour was made into a damper or seedcakes.

I collected a huge bag of Purlsane and it's now sitting on a sheet drying out. I'm guessing I might get a few tablespoons of seed if i'm lucky.

Worried about eating the wrong thing?

Purslane is easy to recognise once you know what you are looking for. It’s a small succulent herb with small yellow flowers (5 petals and up to 6 mm wide), thick and flat leaves, and smooth green stems that turn red as they age. It typically grows prostrate or sprawling along the ground, although it can grow taller (up to 20 - 30cm) when protected by surrounding vegetation (like when in a flower bed). To familiarise yourself, check out the description, illustration and photographs here or here.

One plant you might confuse it with if you aren’t careful is Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus). You can easily distinguish Petty Spurge by it’s milky sap, seen when you break the stem. This milky sap is toxic so be careful not to confuse the two plants as they will often grow in the same location.

Purslane Recipes

You can find literally hundreds of Purslane recipes online. Here’s a few I’m keen to try.

Purslane Pesto

Cucumber Purslane Yoghurt salad

Purslane Potato Salad

Chinese-Style Pickled Purslane

Moroccan starter Purslane

Next time you are walking around your neighbourhood keep an eye out for Purslane. Would you be willing to try it?

(Shared at Simple Lives Thursday)