Friday, June 05, 2009

Bunya Nuts.

[image courtesy of Wikipedia]

We do nuts pretty well here in Queensland. The macadamia nut is a native of this particular part of the world it (it will happily grow in the backyard) and was once called the Queensland Nut – the Hawaiians did a better job of processing and marketing it than we did, is all! Our state is also irredeemably associated with the peanut because a previous Premier of the state (the one with the Senatorial pumpkin-scone-making wife) was a peanut farmer – the particular style and quality of his regime ensuring that the peanut-farmer concept is a pejorative one. The peanuts are good though.

There is another sort of nut here that is not well known outside of the country. It is the bunya nut, and it is the product of the bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii) which grows in that part of the Great Dividing Range known as the Bunya Mountains. The bunya nut was an important food for local aboriginals, and every third year (when it produced a bumper crop) tribes from within a 200 mile radius gathered to make the most of it. Tribal rivalries were suspended for the duration while up to 20,000 folk feasted on it and collected supplies to take home.

The nut is found in the female cones, which weigh up to 10 kg each, so there is an intrinsic danger inherent in being on the ground in a fruitful forest of bunya pines. Our family will be spending several days in the region in early July as my sister is getting married there. The brochure from the accommodation on the mountain lists includes a list of things under the heading “BEWARE” . It does not include snakes, strangely enough, but includes ticks, Gympie stinging trees, stinging nettles, and falling Bunya cones. I am not sure how one avoids falling Bunya cones. If one looks up to see if any look a bit ripe and loose, does that not mean that it splatters your nose, not the top of your head? Anyway, I digress.

The aboriginal people ate the nuts raw (when they were fresh), or roasted. They also pounded them into a sort of flour (the nuts are very starchy), and made ‘bread’. The first white settler to see them and remark on them was Andrew Petrie, a foreman of works in the penal days, in 1843. He wrote:

“The kernel of the bunya nut has a very fine aroma, and is certainly delicious eating . The blacks roast them, and we tried even to boil them, but the fruit lost its flavour in both cases. Besides it did not agree with my stomach. The blacks thrive on them.”

Later in the century, the white man had found another use:

“…. the following information received by the Department of Agriculture from Mr. Harold E. Meyers, of Bollier Plain, Gympie, with reference to the use of bunya nuts
as a substitute for coffee will be of interest. In a letter to the department Mr. Meyers says:-"Did you know that the nuts of the Araucaria Bidwilli produce as good coffee as is obtained from the best coffee beans? The coffee has been tried here in several places, and found equal to the best commercial article."

Recipe for the Day

The Bunya nut is underused, methinks – probably because it is not easy to grow commercially, and it is difficult to get the seeds from the cones – and there is a dearth of recipes for it. I therefore give you a nice recipe using peanuts, from the Courier Mail of October 12, 1933. The recipe contributor won the ten shilling prize of the week for the best “Household Secret”.

Peanut Crispies.
Half a cup of raw peanuts, half cup sugar, two-thirds of a cup of coconut, 4 cups cornflakes, the whites of 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons butter. Beat the whites to a stiff froth, add the sugar slowly, a drop of vanilla and a pinch of salt. Melt the butter, add to the eggs and sugar. Mix the dry ingredients in, and bake in small portions in a moderate oven about 16 minutes. Allow to remain on the tin until cool

Quotation for the Day.

And Mocha's berry, from Arabia pure, In small fine china cups, came in at last
Gold cups of filigree, made to secure the hand from burning, underneath them place. Cloves, cinnamon and saffron, too, were boiled Up with the coffee, which, I think, they spoiled.
Lord Byron.


valm said...

I have it from the locals big sister, that the trick in Bunya season in not to walk under the trees at all! However,because the nuts grow up against the trunk they are very noisy on the way down as these mighty cannon balls crash through the branches. This early warning system gives you several seconds to run away from the tree as fast as you can! The other advice I was given when you hear one dropping is to run up & hug the tree as the nut will fall away from the trunk - I think I'd rather run away like crazy!

Gillian Polack said...

Bunya nuts are a dream to cook, but getting them out of the shells is a total pain. If I had a reasonably-priced source of them, I would be jumping for joy. They make great cheese cake crusts and a whole bunch of other things.

I used to see them regularly in Canberra, but haven't found them at lal recently.

Aliceone said...

Thank you for the article. I saw someone mention these and I'd never heard of such a thing. I've learned something new today!

Alice Moon