My heartfelt thanks to those who have helped produce this seventh issue:
Jean-Paul Bruneteau Dean Cameron Vic Cherikoff Larry Geno Colleen Keena Brian King
John Wrench and of course the advertisers and contributors. Thank You
When I began this magazine, I had some sort of notion that it would 'lead from the side', soliciting information and opinion from the industry (and readers) and passing this on with little or no comment. Now, with 7 issues and 15 months under the belt, perhaps it's time to speak up.
I do so in the hope that others will take the time to voice (or pen) their thoughts on the bushfood sector.
Of issues we have many - should we be developing markets or putting plants in the ground? Aiming towards high volume "plantation' agronomy or diverse multiple-use plantings? Should we have one standard and label for wild harvested bushfoods and one for plantation grown? Another still for organically grown and perhaps no label at all for bushfoods grown under plough and industrial strength chemicals? Should we bank on the unique 'Australian-ness' of our bushfoods by using the traditional names or appeal to conservative tastes by maintaining the more accessible descriptors of Wild lime, Native spinach, Bush tomato etc? Should we maintain our current gourmet tag and trust the market will continue to bear relatively high prices or make bushfoods a household item available at a price just above the norm?
Should we as individuals take the plunge and invest in a tnal plot or wait till some body or other has funding to do the research for us? I'm exhausted already - and the issues are far from covered.
Perhaps, in some fashion or other, it will all just work itself out. Perhaps it won't. I feel particularly fortunate to be part of an industry in its infancy*.
The challenges thrown up by its 'newness' are much more interesting than those any 'mature age' industry could engender. They are also a little more difficult to wade through because we have no clear road map to guide us. For the industry to 'get ahead', the routes must be tried and mapped.
What fun, eh? We are the cartographers.
On Page 19,1 look at just one of the many issues we must address - what are bushfoodsl I expect no less than some level of disagreement on this. On page 26 you will find a Draft Food Standards Guidelines from the Australian Quandong Industry Association. Take the time to read it please. On page 21, pioneer bushfood chef Jean-Paul Bruneteau also has some reasonably sharp observations to make. All in all, a far amount of editorial comment in this issue - it had to come sooner or later...
* I say this with all due respect and acknowledgment of those people who have been involved in bushfoods for many years. However, compared to wheat or sheep or timber, we are an infant industry.
CSIRO PLANT INDUSTRY Horticulture Unit
The quandong is an Australian native fruit tree with a habitat extending across the arid and semi-arid regions of the southwestern part of the continent. Its presence in the wild has become less noticeable in recent years due to the depredations of land clearances, grazing, rabbits and goats, but it can still be seen growing wild in the South Australian mid-north, Eyre Peninsula, the Murray Mallee and as far north as Alice Springs.
Many people who grew up in country towns remember eating quandong pies, jams and jellies and playing games with the round stones. Aborigines traditionally included both the flesh and the kernel in their diet and were thought to dry and store the flesh for later consumption, an unusual practice for them.
CSIRO Division of Horticulture first became involved in research to domesticate the quandong about twenty years ago. The domestication of a wild, undeveloped tree fruit species is a rare and very long term project. Apples, apricots and peaches have been under development for hundreds, even thousands of years to appear as the fruit we recognise today. CSIRO has used modern selection and propagation techniques to help speed up the process for the Australian quandong.
Quandong seed was collected from a number of sites across Australia to establish CSIRO's experimental plantations. Seedlings were found to be highly variable for characteristics such as yield, fruit size, sugar content, leaf shape and tree form. Work concentrated on devising improved methods of seed germination, vegetative propagation and grafting, developing orchard management techniques and measuring yields, fruit size, shape, colour and nutritional content.
The project, which finished in 1993, aimed to select more reliable, higher yielding cultivars with drought and salt tolerance, resistance to pests and diseases and larger, sweeter fruit free of bitterness. Although breeding may be required to combine and enhance these desirable characteristics within a single plant, a number of suitable genotypes were identified and methods have been developed for grafting these on to seedling rootstocks which will shorten the time to bearing fruit from 5-7 years down to about 3 years. CSIRO has now released these genotypes to industry.
Quandong trees can be grown from seed or purchased as seedlings or grafted trees from some nurseries. (At the time of the project) the trees are not widely available, and are protected in the wild. If you wish to collect seed in the bush, check with your state government environment office first as a permit may be required. The seed can be difficult to germinate and fungal infection is a serious problem Hygienic handling procedures are essential.
The following method has met with reasonable success:
- Without removing the shell, sterilize the seed by soaking in dilute household bleach solution for 30 minutes (100ml bleach, 900ml water, 10 drops of detergent). Rinse with clean water and dust with an appropriate fungicide - Place a number of the sterilized seeds in a plastic bag with sterile vermiculite or wood shavings moistened with some of the fungicide mixture. Store in the dark at 16-20°C. Examine the bags every couple of weeks. Any germinating seed with a root of at least 4-5cm can be carefully transferred to a pot containing a moist, light, free-draining, sterilized potting mix. eg a commercial native plant mix. Because quandongs are partial root parasites a suitable host plant should be provided once the seedlings have reached five or six centimetres in height. Lucerne, clover. kykuyu as well as a number of prostrate Australian native plants appear to act as suitable h
osts. A wide range of plants can be used, but in general a host plant which does not outgrow the slow growing quandong is preferred. Little is known about the precise relationship between the quandong and its host plant.
Although there is some uncertainty about phosphorus sensitivity, the seedlings can be safely fed with a fertiliser that is low in phosphorus and includes iron. e.g. a commercial, slow-release fertiliser for natives, supplemented by a low phosphorus soluble fertiliser at reduced strength.
Seedlings grown in pots can be planted in the field when 15-3 Ocm tall. It is advisable to harden off the plants prior to planting. The planting area should be well-drained and for home gardens a raised bed is helpful. For an orchard, a planting distance of 3m x 3m is reasonable. The quandong should be transplanted along with its host, and care must be taken not to disturb the roots. The best time to plant is either spring or autumn when there is sufficient water and mild temperatures for establishment. Once planted into the ground it is essential to keep the young plants moist, and regular watering is important during the first summer. It is, however, important not to overwater them as they can be susceptible to waterlogging. Although the trees grow naturally in arid conditions, they do well with at least some irrigation in the drier areas.
The plants must be protected against snails and rabbits, and frequent mowing or pruning of the host plant may be necessary to prevent crowding of the slow growing quandong. The bark of young quandong trees is soft and care must be taken when tying them to stakes. Fertilise the small trees in spring and autumn with a teaspoon of blood and bone plus a little iron chelate. The dose should be increased in proportion with tree growth. After the first summer the trees require little water but will benefit if it is supplied.
When the trees begin to bear fruit, one or two sprays with a broad spectrum insecticide to protect the fruits from insects which eat the flesh may be required.
Quandong fruits have been analysed for their sugar and vitamin content. The major sugars present are fructose and glucose with a total sugar content between 7-12%, which is low in comparison to most domestic fruit varieties. Fruits of most genotypes have Vitamin C contents between 50 and 80 milligrams per gram of fresh fruit, which is slightly higher than the average content in oranges.
Fresh quandongs can be used immediately, but because of their dry texture and low sugar content they lack appeal as a fresh fruit. They are at their best stewed or made into pies, jams, jellies or sauces with sugar added to taste. They can be cooked on their own or blended with other fruits such as sultanas, dates or apples. They can be packed in ajar of brandy, with sugar to taste, to make brandied quandongs and a pleasant liqueur. They can be sun dried or freeze dried for use out of season without appreciable loss of flavour or nutritional value.
The flavour is not pronounced and the fruits are low in sugar. However, they do contain high levels of refreshing acidity and in this respect are similar to sour cherries. The question is, can varieties be developed for today's sophisticated palate? If the experience of Beerenberg, the South Australian company which makes homemade style jams, is any indication, then the quandong has a bright future. They are marketing small quantities of Quandong Jam and cannot keep up with the demand.
In December 1993 the Australian Quandong Industry Association was formed at a public meeting in Adelaide. The role of the association is to provide a focus for all those interested in the development of a quandong industry in Australia. The contact address is: c/o The Secretary, Box 236 Upper Sturt, SA, 5156.
CSIRO quandong selections are available through Sunraysia Nurseries, Sturt Highway, Gol Gol NSW 2738. Phone (03) 5024 8502. CSIRO research into the quandong was supported by the Sidney Myer Fund.
CSIRO Plant Industry, Horticulture Unit Hartley Grove, Urrbrae. South Australia GPO Box 350 Glen Osmond South Australia 5064 Telephone: (08) 8303 8600 Fax: (08) 8303 8601
DOWNLOAD A 'QUANDONG DESCRIPTION GUIDELINE FOR GROWERS' SPREADSHEET HERE
You can imagine my surprise when I received a questionnaire contained in a bushfoodjournal that not two weeks previously I had spent several hours critiquing. I was under the impression that the critical comments made regarding the structure of the questions and types of data that would be collected would be taken on board and the questionnaire would be revised before being sent out In my opinion, further work was needed on the questionnaire in order to deliver value for money I offered my expert opinion on the questionnaire as I have conducted extensive research in the Australian rural sector. I know many of the difficulties which can be encountered in conducting business research which has commercial objectives. I was recently invited to attend focus group sessions in Tasmania to join in peer review of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation's research on farm management education and regional development After critiquing the questionnaire I made an effort to obtain the research proposal itself to try to understand the aims and objectives of the research project (entitled "Marketing the Bushfood Industry"). The primary aim is to "ascertain whether the current image of bushfoods needs to be re-positioned" and secondarily "to determine an industry strategy to align efforts in addressing the image change and future marketing directions."
The second year of the project is intended to focus on branding the image, once determined.
The research project favours the interests of the largest players and describes the effects on the smaller players as being "trickle down effects to smaller, cottage or specialty retail product manufacturers" and the research outcomes "ultimately will lead to economies of scale." The history of the industry described in the document is very much centered on Vic Cherikoff's personal efforts (which are noteworthy) but biased against smaller players For example, he states, "The reality of hobby growing to small business and then developing to the next stage is rarely appreciated by non-business people.
There will always be the backyard operators who work from home or their vehicle with minimum expenses and even less professionalism. They have the ability to under-cut the serious businesses and offer product direct to customers. Some markets refuse to deal with these fly-by-nighters requiring batch control, standardised flavouring strength, uniform quality, year round supply, routine microbiological analyses, gas sterilisation, specific formulation and so on." Is the vision for the bushfood industry one of industrial products only? It seems that direct marketing is not an option and that smaller operators (under $ 1 m turnover) are not desired.
My main concerns are centered on the words "unified", "image" and "brands". It seems to me that unified implies uniformity and certainly the suggestion of a national marketing authority implies regulation of the industry. As a horticulturist with over twenty years of experience in two different hemispheres, I am fully aware of what happens when a single brand and image are relied upon in an industry. The apple and pear industries of Washington State experienced a major marketing disaster when the industry received negative publicity over their practices and chemical use. Another concern of mine is the artificiality of the term "image". The federal agenda is very much focused on "images" such as "clean, green Australia" The problem is when the image is too far from reality.
The success stories coming to us through the rural media stress the value of direct customer-farmer relationships in order to better meet the customer's needs and to reduce costs for the end product. The research proposal does make some useful suggestions about tying in bushfood marketing with other successful campaigns such as wine or local tourism. It is likely that, like wines, bushfoods might have a multiplicity of products with distinctive local labelling. Visit any bottle shop to see the diversity of branding in the wine industry. I would have very much liked to see credible qualitative methods (in-depth interviews) to discover images of bushfoods as the first phase in the research for marketing the industry. As the part owner of a bushfood plantation I care how the industry evolves. I need to know that I will be able to market my products and therefore I am an interested party in how we research "Marketing the Bushfood Industry". The questionnaire begins with an a priori assumption that "...It is becoming imperative that a unified marketing push be developed..." I do not want to depend on a single national marketing strategy to sell product. There are many options and opportunities in the bushfood industry
Dr. Barbara Geno
Faculty of Business & Law-Central Queensland University.
Brian Lizotte of 'More than a Morsel' suggested I run a regular column on famous people who have recently enjoyed our bushfoods.
Here's the first:
June July 1998:
Bananas in Pyjamas
Ben Folds Five
Kylei lved the Muntari berries so much she asked for a Muntarie pie. Here's the menu 'Morsel; designed for her:
Bubble and Squeak Fritters with bush antipasto
Native Pepperberry Crumbed Lamb with Kumera and native mint jus
Char grilled Chicken breast stuffed with brie and warrigal greens, served with Akadjura roast potatoes
Fished steamed in paperbark with a lemon myrtle eucalytpus and muntari sauce
A tart of roasted vegetables with pesto, topped with mountain pepper fetta
Macadamia tart with bush ginger anglaise
From The Australian New Crops Newsletter. Issue No 4, July 1995.
Dr. Lee Peterson, of Essential Oils of Tasmania, presented the following summary of the activities of the company to a meeting sponsored by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Experience of the Essential Oilsof Tasmania Company in Developing New Crops convened by the Essential Oils of Tasmania Company (EOT).
The aim of the meeting was to review past experience with the development of several essential oil crops in Australia and plan for future development. There will be a report of the outcomes of the meeting published by RIRDC.
Mountain Pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata) This is a solvent extract from a Tasmanian native which has interest for its source of poK godials and is a new product recently released by the EOT company.
At present, production is from native stands but research is presently underway to select high yielding variants with the aim of developing plantations for oil production.
An adjunct to this operation is the increased interest in mountain pepper as a dried herb for bushfood.
Other Tasmanian Natives
The next most promising native is Oleaha phlog-opappa or dusty daisy bush. The first commercial samples from this plant are presently being evaluated in the market place.
The Tasmanian Experience with Essential Oils
On-farm acceptance of such crops has been difficult and grower education is a major factor in success when introducing new essential oil crops. Initially, essential oil crops, and in particular peppermint, were promoted in the southern parts of Tasmania since there were fewer opportunities for cropping in these areas.
Most of the major processing firms were based in the northwest and north-east of the state. The production base has now shifted towards the north where grower experience in irrigated cropping is greater.
In general, if the introduction of a new industry is to be attempted, then the most appropriate, adept grower base should be sought.
Initially the EOT company was formed to market essential oils produced in Tasmania. For any essential oil industry to be successful, a fully integrated approach is necessary.
EOT is now a production-based company that controls plant stocks, selects growers and sites, manages planting, harvesting and processing, provides crop management recommendations, conducts all quality control procedures, blends, packaging and markets the product.
Issue 8 - a follow up on this project and some news from Essential Oils of Tasmania and other firms working in the essential oils field. Also - the role of our native species in 'natural remedies' and an ambitioLs project to bring old knowledge to new products.
Here's what it says in the back of his fabulous cookbook 'Tukka ':
Jean-Paul Bruneteau was born into a family of food lovers and cooks in Les Sables D'Olonne in Vendee, on the west coast of France, south of Brittainy. He learnt the art of foraging, food-gathering and creating delicious feasts from the food around him at a young age - a skill and delight which has remained with him his whole life.
In 1967 the Bruneteau family sailed to a new life in Australia. That six week sea voyage had a huge impact on Bruneteau, and after an apprenticeship with European chefs Frank Baker and Bert Wendt, he joined the Australian Merchant Navy, thereby fulfilling both his great desires - to cook and to travel the world by sea.
At 23 he became the youngest Chief Cook ever to run a galley on an Australian merchant ship. During his time at sea, Bruneteau had the opportunity to visit New Zealand where he sampled indigenous food with various Maori friends. This led to a resolve to seek out the true Australian cuisine among the indigenous people of Australia and the discovery that Australia teemed with all types of edible foods.
The early settlers, however, determined to impose their own supposedly superior land management practices on the country, had chosen to deny the natural abundance surrounding them. Consequently, the traditional hunter-gatherer existence led by the indigenous people was degraded, threatened and partially destroyed. Convinced that the culinary world was failing to recognise and benefit from the wealth of information, flavours and methods that Aboriginal Australia could offer, Bruneteau teamed with restaurateur Jennifer Bowling to open 'Rowntrees. The Australian Restaurant' at Hornsby Their greatest difficulty was in convincing their advertisers that Australian cuisine did indeed exist 'Rowntrees, The Australian Restaurant' became a site of culinary experiment with a variety of bush foods, and in 1988 their innovation was rewarded with the Gold Medal for 'most outstanding Cuisine' at the Saecond International Cooking Festival, Tokyo. Japan. In 1991 Bruneteau and Dowling opened a new restaurant in Sydney's inner city - Riberries "Taste Australia'.
Through their melding of indigenous flavours with Australia's existing ethnic culinary diversity, they have further dendlaped and perfected a real Australian cuisine.
"Tukka - Real Australian Food" by Jean Paul Bruneteau, was the 1997 winner of the IACP Julia Child Design Award - the first Australian food book to get this award. It also took a second in tne Food Media Award.
Here's what I found when I intervened him for this issue...
"I hope you don't think I'm going to sound too critical here, but I'm going to be a little critical."
These were the cheerful first words I got from Jean-Paul Bruneteau when I called him at his restaurant in Sydney. As one of only a handful of people in the country who blazed the bushfood trail. I thought he was quite entitled to spell it out as he saw it. And he did.
"If I buy a bushfood product or I eat bushfood at a restaurant. I want to be able to taste the native ingredients - know what I mean'1 It's all very wall to dish up a wattle seed desert but if you can't actually taste the wattleseeds you may as well not bother. On the other hand, you shouldn't mask the other ingredients with your bushfoods but enhance them. Some of our native foods have a very strong flavour and you have to use them with imagination and some care."
"Then there are people who get carried away with the idea and sort of throw everything into the one dish. You just get a mish-mash of flavours. It reminds me of years ago when the herb and spice people brought out mixed spices and people put them on everything - no thought given to whether they were complimentary or not..."
I suggested that at least people could be pretty sure every dish would taste the same but Jean-Paul was not amused.
''Distinctiveness of taste and presentation are the backbone. If we don't get this right, it's wasted resources - and people will be disappointed in the product. I'll say it again - I'd like to be able to taste the bushfood ingredients. This means that we have to work with them carefully, experiment, use our common sense and experience but also realise that some of the flavours are quite unique and need a wholly new approach"
I asked him how we might encourage more people to try bushfoods.
"The restaurants. They hold the key. If they're on the menu and well presented - and by that I mean a good description as well - people will definitely try them."
So how do we encourage chefs to use them?
"I'm pleased to see my signature dishes being used by other restaurants. But of course the other side is education such as Post-Trade courses at TAPE. The best way to teach people is to get them to understand what the foods are -
let the chefs use their own imagination. In the courses, theyshould be creating their own dishes which are then put to a peer panel to comment on. I feel that chefs have been steered into using bushfoods without a good background These are genuine components in a better cuisine and should be treated as such. When we get it right, we can truely take our place in the realm of world food."
Out of sheer curiousity, I asked him which of the wattle seeds he worked with.
"Acacia victoriae, the best by a long way. It's hard to find anything which compares with the flavour of this seed. I also work with A murrayana but I find this seed a little like a Merlot wine - a softener a good blender but not to be used on its own."
Any words of wisdom for the industry'?
"Stay excited. We have a major resource in our bushfoods which we can squander on inferior product or respect with care, attention to detail and presentation."
Sadly, Jean-Paul has sold Riberries. The sale truely marks the end of an era in bushfoods.
Happily, he has a new project underway which will keep him close to those native foods he has worked so well with. We'll continue the story in Issue 8.
THE AUSTRALIAN NATIVE BEE RESEARCH CENTRE
Reprinted from 'Aussie Bee', February 1998
Most Australians, especially in urban areas, have never heard of native bees! Australia's hundreds of native bee species, with their rich tapestry of colours, shapes and lifestyles, are completely unknown to most city-dwellers.
Will you share our vision and help us to bring some native been species back to urban areas of Australia over the next few vears?
Queensland's stingless beekeepers have developed excellent methods for boxing and propagating our social native bees. This year, through the public education programs of the Australian Native Bee Research Centre and Aussie Bee, many nests of these social native bees have already found good homes in the schools, parks and backyards of urban Australia. However, quite a few colourful species of solitary native bees can also be readily established in artificial nest sites. With your help.
these bees, too, could be reintroduced to urban backyards and to public parks and gardens. Then, when our children are asked about bees, they might be able to tell us from their own experience about the wide variety of Australia's fascinating native bee species!
This summer at the Australian Native Bee Research Centre we set up artificial nest sites for some of our solitary bee species. We began with the Chalicodoma resin bees. These bees will nest in holes drilled in hardwood timber We set out 120 stations around the Australian Native Bee Research Centre, each with many drilled holes of various sizes and orientations
Altogether we provided over 1600 drilled holes!
Over the summer months, over 70 of our stations (62%) were used by at least four species of resin bees plus two species of bees from quite a different group: family Colletidae. Over 800 individual nests were built by the bees!
We were most surprised and delighted with this strong response as in previous summers we had seen few resin bees on the property - just because vou don't see them does not mean they are not there! We learned a great deal about how to provide natural nest sites for these types of bees, how to meet their needs for food and nesting materials and how to protect them from predators. In the autumn and next summer we hope to similarly build up some smaller populations of leafcutter bees (Megachile). lantana bees (Exoneura) and blue...just because you don't see them does not mean they are not there!
Banded bees (Amegilla) which are also present at the Australian Native Bee Research Centre.
Through Aussie Bee we would like to share this information with you. our readers, and involve you in building up local populations of bees in your areas. We will provide artificial nest designs and information on how to support and multiply your own native bees. With your help and participation, knowledge of these methods will increase and we should be able to bring some of these beautiful bees back to the parks and gardens of urban Australia.
Dean Cameron and the editor
I used to read with interest of the amazing Bunya tree, which grows to 30 or even 40 meters tall, and was the draw card for huge festivals timed to coincide with the fruiting of the Bunya. The appearance of these interesting and ancient looking trees is striking with their symmetrical parabolic crowns emerging as they do from the dark rainforest canopy.
I was fascinated by the prospect of the large cones (up to 10 kilograms in weight), and the amazing evolutionary pathway which had led them from being prominent though most of Australia's land mass, to their present distribution localized in Southeast Queensland and on a few isolated peaks in North Queensland I must admit that I remember being somewhat disappointed on tasting my first Bunya nuts.
To be honest I don't think I got through more than three or four nuts. They were boiled alive in salty water, still in the shells. After reading accounts of Bunya festival participants leaving the hills sleek and fat from feasting on Bunyas. I could not help wondering whether perhaps the historians had got it all wrong, perhaps it was not the Bunya but was a hard-shelled nut in the Proteacae family now known as the Macadamia!
I think part of the problem I had with the Bunya was the expectation around the word ma Sure, it does have a high protein level, (average 11% according to one source), a difficult to open fibrous shell, and does come in cones like a Pine nut. but here the similarity ends Eaten raw. the Bunya nut has a resinous flavor and is not particularly morish. You certainly couldn't eat pocket-loads off them. But there are just so many of them that it's hard not to innovate ways of making them palatable.
Apparently the first Australians took the same approach, and there's even one account of burying the nuts in mud and allowing some sort of yeast or fungus to grow on through the nuts.
This may have been a Rhyzopus sp., similar to one used to create Tempeh from soyabeans. By the reports which have survived from the time, it would appear that Bunya processed in this way also acquires a distincitve taste (and smell). Nutritional analysis reveals that the Bunya is mostly starch but also has good quantities of protein and is low in oil - 1% or so. Treating the bunya as a grain, by drying it and then grinding, provides a very useful way of allowing it to be stored and used as a substitute for conventional flour.
To be honest I don't think it tastes much different, so product differentiation would be a barrier to market penetration. That's where the marketing people would have to come in, but given a bit of automation it could provide a regional windfall for very little effort other than harvesting.
Since my arrival in SE Qld 5 years ago. I have been mildly obsessed with the Bunya Bunya Pine (Arauracia bidwiUii). Its sheer size and distinctive shape have made it a sort of local icon around the Blackall Range. Its role in the pre-white history of the area is lovingly and immaculately described by Thomas Petrie ('Reminiscences of Early Queensland'): the feast of the bunya was a major event in the calendar of indigenous people who walked literally hundreds of miles to join the party.
They feasted on the Bunya nut, told stories, fought, made peace, settled old differences and then returned to their own lands Today, in this heavily cleared area. you can still see stands of old Bunya pines raising their spik> branches to the sky I have asked those I could why these trees were not felled along with the Cedar and the \\Tiite Beech and the best answer I have had is "They must 'have liked the look of them. "
The Bunya is found in an area uhich stretches from Northern Queensland to Northern New South Wales. It is found in relative abundance on the Blackall Range and, not surprisingly, the Bunya Mountains, just south. QDPI have it in plantations at Amamor
The nut (really the seed) has found some commercial acceptance and is sold fresh in many stores during the season. Some seed is also sold as flour and there is a small range of value added Bunya products (John King's liqueur pickled Bunyas spring to mind as well as some superb pestos and bisquits from small firms). It is commonly thought that the Bunya has a three year cycle of 'bumper' crops but there is some evidence that the 'bumper' years correspond more to the spring rains than the triennial cycle. Even in an 'off year', a mature Bunya tree can produce something like 10kg of cone. A good year can treble this. There is great variability in both the size of the cone and the overall yield from tree to tree. One estimate puts the crop left to lie on the ground each year at upwards of 500,000 kg.
Lunch With Dean Cameron
Although the idea of a 'Bunya Consortium' has been rattling in my head for the last year, it didn't gel till I had lunch with local Dean Cameron. Dean is a low profile bushfoodie who has a reputation for eccentricity and remarkably lateral ideas. He has been seriously playing with Bunyas for some years and has some interesting ideas. We began by talking about the problems of the Bunya. You have to pull the scales off the cone by hand - time consuming You then have to get the seed out of both the tough scale and the even tougher shell. I had done it the hard way - hand de-scaling each nut and then chopping them in half on a jerry built jig which almost sort of worked.
Dean had built a slightly more sophisticated model (he tells me he has a design for a mechanised chopper). You now have the raw Bunya kernel exposed and ready to go. If you want to freeze the nut you first have to pry it out of its shell - a laborious process. If you want to boil them, you boil them in the half shell and the kernel almost pops out of its own accord. I tried freezing, boiling, sun-drying and pickling with a disappointing lack of success. I am told that, properly timed micro-waving works wonders popping skin and shell off of the kernel I know from experience that, improperly done, you have bunya mash exploded all over the oven interior.
The fresh bunya, boiled, is an interesting substitute for potatoes (or any starch). You can boil and grate it and use it in cakes or casseroles or any number of dishes. At the end of the da, however, what you have for all this work is a subtle tasting nut which is hard yakka to process and doesn't really seem to do anything special. With all due respect, the Bunya has another shortcoming - it's bland. It's great with things but doesn't have a taste which would have you clamouring for more though, as Dean pointed out, neither does the potato). It has another nasty trait - it's liable to go off alarmingly quickly. My bunya pesto was great the first night and rather sharp two days later. Dean maintained this could have been lack of cleanliness or perhaps Rhizopus. This interesting fungi occurs naturally in the Bunya nut and lends it a property which may turn out to be, interesting (see on). So here you have a food which is produced in great quantity, has low harvest impediments, doesn't have a distinctive taste and goes off if you're not careful.
Dean sketched out the flip side of the coin.
First, the Bunya is more like a grain than a nut. It is very high in complex carbohydrates and low in oils Dried quickly and well, the Bunya produces a very saatisfying flour that keeps extremely well. It must be brought down to a stuiably low moisture content - fan forced drying is necessary. Dean chopped and dried his nuts without descaling. The nut was reasonably easy to extract after drying. He put the dried half nuts through a Champion juicer with a peanut butter attachment and used the flour in a number of ways.
So we now have a flour which can be used in place of wheat flour. That's good except for the price. How do we distinguish Bunya and make it worth the extra cost?
This is where the Bunya Consortium comes in. The first thing we must do is to get the Bunyas off the ground this season. This will entail canvassing landowners in the region and talking them into collecting the cones or at least allowing harvesters to do this. At the same time, we will need faciolituies tp to chop and dry or freeze the nuts. A certain amount will be left in cool store so that longer term characteristics can be monitored but most will be processed and dried.
The first twelve months of the program will entail trials and testing and more testing. This will involve chefs and nutritionists and chemists. What exactly is the Bunya and what can we do with it? Dean has some interesting ideas. Apart from Bunya flour mixed with suitable ingredients to produce a 'total food', there is the idea that 'Bunya milk' may be a suitable substitute for the increasingly genetically engineered soya. Then there's tempe: a food made through the good work of the same Rhizopus fungus found in Bunyas.
Then there's the as yet untested emulsifying properties of the Bunya...and so it goes. We did some back-of-the-serviette figures. If there are around 100,000 Bunyas in the area and each tree produces on average 15 cones per season and each cone produces around 1 kg of dried product, that's - well, that's a lot of product to be played with. Well worth some research.
Stay tuned, better yet, get in touch with the consortium .
Bushfoods In the UK
Western Australian firm Milligans Gourmet Gallery has been instrumental in putting together a sale to massive British supermarket chain Sainsburys. Over 200 supermarkets throughout the UK are now stocking bushfood products
The surveys are circulating through association newsletters, mailouts. magazines and on the internet at . bushtucker.com.au.
Please take the time to complete either the association member survey, the chef's survey or both if appropriate and send the completed form to your association secretary or to Bush Tucker Supply Aust. P.O.Box B103 Boronia Park NSW 2111. Results from the national assessment will be widely promoted and published so that all bushfood interests are able to benefit from a better understanding of where we are at the moment and perhaps in which direction we should head. Preliminary feedback appears that the use of native Australian ingredients may be more widely appreciated and accepted than "bushfoods". certainly in international fields. The proof will be in the statistics and all wil] be revealed over the following months.