Food indigenous to South-east Queensland, Australia… with some imported additions…

Firstly, over the weekend I was travelling and preparing to move, so you’ll have to forgive my lack of MoFo blogging, but over on my Instagram and Twitter you may have seen some brief updates for Late Night Snack day, a meal at Tea Master in-between, and Comfort food day. Now we’re on to –

Vegan Month of Food
Week 2: 7th-13th November 2016 International Week
November 7th: Close to Home – Make a food from your own country, state, or hometown.

I could’ve gone with something colonialesque like a cheerful sugary pavlova or chocolatey lamingtons… but nope, delicious as those are, I’ve got my Nope hat on today – the Nope is strong in this one. Soooo rather than rant and rave about the various horrors of colonialism and the many white lies Australian history books tell (further reading: Black Founders) instead I’ll share some photos of when my family harvested some indigenous food – bunya nuts!

The food had great significance to Aboriginal Australians who held an enormous bunya harvest, feast, and trade festival every few years that thousands of people would attend… terra nullius, indeed. :/ The last gathering was held around 1902 before a great deal of the bunya trees were felled to make way for timber plantations.

Bunya nuts, found predominantly in South-East Queensland, are found inside enormous football size (at least!) cones from enormous 30-45m (98-148ft) bunya trees, each spiky cone weighing up to 10kg and containing 30-100 nuts… As you can imagine, it’s best not to stand underneath these trees when their cones are approaching maturity! Lots of enormousness. Coconut palms don’t seem so dangerous any more, huh? Australia: where even the trees are trying to kill you.

Spiky murder balls aka bunya cones
Spiky murder balls that fall from the sky aka bunya cones

Traditionally the nuts were often ground into a flour or roasted and eaten like chestnuts – and they are fairly similar to the roasted Japanese chestnuts I’ve eaten: delicious, nutty, and a bit starchy.

Pulling apart the bunya cones
Pulling apart the bunya cones

A wheelbarrow full of nuts... but wait, there's still more to pull apart!
A wheelbarrow full of nuts… but wait, there’s still more to pull apart!

My husband’s family has a property west of the Gold Coast with a few trees on their land, so I was lucky enough to get to try lots of nuts a few years back.

We left them in their shells to dry out a bit... yes, there are multiple hullings to go through. These trees don't make it easy.
We left them in their soft woody shells to dry out a bit… you can’t just crack these babies open, they require some hacking with a knife… yes, there are multiple hullings to go through. These trees don’t make it easy.

In modern times, urban foragers typically roast them, or parboil and pan-cook them with salt and garlic or toss them in a curry… They reminded me of wee potatoes, so I thought I’d have a go at cooking them in a garlicky pasta sauce, a bit like gnocchi.

De-hulled and simmering away in a big pan of garlicky marinara sauce.
De-hulled and simmering away in a big pan of garlicky marinara sauce.

Served over pasta.
Served over buckwheat spirals.

The bunya nuts are quite smooth so they don’t hold sauce well, but all together it was still quite delicious. Starch served over starch: can’t go wrong!


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  • Jenny

    I’ve never heard of bunya nuts, but I love your idea of serving them as gnocchi. Starch upon starch does indeed sound like a winner!

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  • Jennifer

    These look interesting, though I am not sure if I would have the patience to get to the nut!