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.
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.
Twenty-five years ago, Jorge Tlaskal planted a couple of bunya pines in his garden at Bulga in the Hunter Valley. He waited 24years for his trees to produce nuts. I was fortunate to help Jorge collect and process the last of this season’s cones.
In late summer bunya 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.
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.
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. Or there’s Jorge’s ingenious method. Jorge quickly and easily cuts the shells in half using a pair of garden loppers held in place using a vice. Within minutes we cut through a bucket of nuts. The nut can then be easily removed from the shell with a teaspoon.
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 prepare bunya nuts. I like eating them simply with a sprinkling of salt, dollop of butter, or stir-fried in olive oil with loads of garlic. They can be baked in pancakes, biscuits, breads and cakes. Snacked on as pesto or with dips. Or used in pasta sauce, casseroles, soups and stir-fries.
The bunya nut is so versatile I’m considering planting a row of bunya pines along our back fence. I can imagine the family feast 24years from now.
Bunya pines can live for an amazing 500years. I like the idea of my descendants 17generations 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.
Tricia shares tips for living better with less at littleecofootprints.com and on Instagram (TriciaEco)