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Australian Bushfoods magazine Issue 7, May-Jun 1998  

He Cooked...and cooked - we ate and ate

John Wrench Pulls it Off - a Total Bushfood Dinner

The challenge: to produce an outstanding multicourse dinner for ten, without the use of non-indigenous ingredients, without ANY of them - no milk, butter, sugar, flour, etc., no spices of the orient, no herbs of the Mediterranean AND no chilli, garlic, etc. The response: Read the Menu.

Sometimes I think that I'm not the full quid, performing stunts like this, but I do take seriously the need to explore the limits of bushfood usage, the items alone or combined, in the preparation of serious, nutritious food, either as staples or as adjuvants. Besides I have my reputation as a creative eccentric to maintain.

In a previous life, as a Senior pharmacist in a huge teaching hospital complex, at one stage I ran a manufacturing laboratory, requiring considerable skills in the formulation and preparation of emulsions, suspensions, gels, and so on. This, based on extensive tertiary training in the science of such matters, equips me to discern the physico-chemical properties of the substances I encounter, and the possible applications in formulating food products. Feel safer now? Hence the editor's fixation on emulgents, etc. Frankly, the need to obtain a considerable source of relatively cheap, available complex carbohydrate directed me to

The Menu

Welcoming drinks: Mulled wine using native spices: Backhousia myrtifolia for cinnamon, Eremocitrus glauca for lemon, Syzygium luehmannii for clove, Meleleuca bracteata for pimento, Tasmannia insipida for pepper + Cooloon Toddy (syrup of Elaeocarpus grandis for fruit + hot water)

Hors d'oeuvres: Andakil Croquettes: mullet roe, bunya, Microcitrus australis pulp, Backhousia anisata, Tasmannia lanceolata (leaf).

Bonyie Bonyie Bog: Araucaria bidwillii, Brachychiton spp (populneum, bidwilli, acerfolius - seeds cleaned, powdered, roasted & sifted), Macadamia sp (oil + roasted kernels), Tasmannia lanceolata fruit, Eremocitrus glauca fruit, Microcitrus australis pulp, Akudgera*, Backhousia anisata, B. citriodora (powdered leaf - a little!)

* Akudgera: powdered, dried, ripe fruits of Solanum centrale and/or S. esuriale).

Kambo Soup: Endoxyla cinerea (larvae), Bunya, Kurrajong flour, Tetragonia tetragonoides, Geitonoplesium cymosum (stock from stem and leaves), Akudgera, Backhousia anisata, Tasmannia lanceolata (leaf), garnished with Kennedia rubicunda (flowers).

Rainforest Sorbet: Fruits of the species listed plus honey from Mallee Box, Eucalyptus pilligaensis. Podocarpus elatus, Syzygium species (fibrosum, luehmannii, australe), Elaeocarpus grandis, Eremocitrus glauca, Microcitrus australis, Pleiogynium timorense.

Main Course: Two Roo Dishes: Murri in Meleleuca bark: Macropus sp, rump stuffed with Tasmannia lanceolata (berries), Akudgera, Kunzea pomifera, Ocimum tenuifolium, coated with whole fresh leaves of Tasmannia insipida and wrapped in Melaleuca sp, paper bark. Baked in a bedourie.

Murri Casserole: Macropus sp jointed tails, Eleocharis dulcis, Agaricus campestris, Akudgera, Tasmannia insipida (fresh leaves), Pleiogynium timorense, Syzygium species (luehmanni, fibrosum), Elaeocarpus grandis, Podocarpus elatus, Alpinia coerulea (rhizome + leaf), Macadamia oil, red wine, salt. Plus Bonyie Warrigal green mash (boiled Bunya + blanched, boiled Tetragonia tetragonoides).

Desert: Quandong quasi-pie: Santalum acuminatum fruit (ex dried) stewed with Mallee Box honey and water. Pastry of Bunya, Kurrajong, Macadamia sp (kernel and oil) and wattle seed.

Cream sauce: an emulsion of Macadamia oil in Bunya puree plus native honey.

Tea as required: Asian (Camellia sinensis) plus a choice of Backhousia citriodora, anisata or myrtifolia.

Final Brew - Wattleseeed + Kurrajong. Wines: all wines, other than the mulled, were purchased from Pfeiffer Wines, Wahgunya, Vic.

Mea culpa - I have eaten not wisely, but too well.

bunyas. That they happen to produce colloidal gels with emulgent properties is my good fortune, which I have exploited for years in preparing exciting bushfood dishes. The course notes for my Bushfood & Walkabout courses refer to the role of bunya puree as the basis of a range of products, including oil-in-water (o/w) emulsions such as heavy creams or pourable sauces. This menu employs bunya in the following roles:

1.The starchy mass for the mullet roe croquettes (= potato)

2.The basis for the dip (= chick pea in hoummus)

3.The thick ingredient in the soup (= lentils, etc.)

4.The starch vegetable with the main course (= potato)

5.The principal starch in the dessert pastry (= wheat flour)

6.The emulgent and thickener for the creamy dessert sauce.

The Kurrajong. Were it easier to prepare or purchase Kurrajong flour, I should certainly use it more readily. Please refer to Bushfods No. 5 if you can, or the Bushfood & Walkabout teaching notes, which explain the problem. Containing as it does 15% starch, 18% protein, and nearly 30% oil, the Kurrajong flour lends itself to inclusion in bread, scones, biscuits, etc. And pastry (remember a certain patented pastry mix?) In addition, the nutty flavour, enhanced by the necessary roasting, is a notable bonus. So these are the ways in which it was used:

1.The dip, supporting the bunya + lending flavour and oil

2.The soup, as in 1 above.

3.The dessert, as an essential component of the pastry

4.The Wattlejong brew. Flavour + richness of the oil (see later) almost obviates the need for cream!

Bonyie Bonyie Bog. Because this item was to be eaten from a small dish with a scrambling scoop, it was made rather firm, beginning with boiled bunya (pieces + stock) in the processor. For dredging with crudites, cracker biscuits or crisps, it could be made sloppier by dilution with water, stock, etc. The possible variations on flavour and texture for this form are limited only by your imagination, but this base line is determined by bunya. About the soup. Please note that I carefully (always) avoid the term witchetty, which is a corruption of the sound of the North Australia dialect word, anglicised as Witjuti, referring to Acacia kempeana, the Northern Territory shrub which is the host to the Cossid moth larvae (Endoxyla sp.) found in the roots, etc. The grubs used (two only, all I could find) were obtained by wild harvest near Nudgee beach, hence the use of the Turrubal word Kambo. Incidentally, the generic name Endoxyla is a marvellous use of Greek, meaning "in the wood". The grubs were grilled before blending. Given a dozen, I might have blended them raw. The tetragonia leaves, also harvested in the same area, were blanched before boiling and draining in order to remove

witjuti in hat

soluble oxalate. The stock added to the bunya water was prepared by boiling a pot full of prunings (stems + leaves) of scrambling lily in water for about 15 mins; prunings, in order to induce the trellissed vines to produce new shoots for use as green salad (superb). Incidentally, pieces of hardened scrambling lily stem 120mm x 3mm diameter were used as spatulas/spoons to eat the dip, by hammering out one end for about 20mm. Very effective, much better than a fragile biscuit. Each guest was served a small dish of Bonyie Bog and a scrambling scoop, obviating the usual communal dipping.

The sorbet. To begin, there is no egg white, no alginate, etc. The `creaminess' mentioned by the editor might be described as viscosity, and is produced by the mucopolysaccharides present in the brown pine. The cooked and blended fruit pulp was forced through a sieve in order to remove solids such as the riberry seeds and the vascular bundles in the brown pine, since the `plums' are actually swollen cone stems. Obviously, the large seeded items, Cooloon and Burdekin plum, were removed before blending, with a few of the latter stripped of flesh. As for the Syzygium fibrosum and S. australe, the quanitities were small enough to permit manual removal of the seeds before cooking. The mix also contains a little brandy and some Western Downs honey, produced by European bees from mallee box nectar (Eucalyptus pillaegensis) and supplied by John Sloss of Goondiwindi. The brandy was probably avoidable, but the honey was not, as native bee honey costs about 10c/ml. In any case, the delicate character would have been lost in the aromatic, strong-flavoured fruit mix. Your ecstatic editor did not mention the colour - rich, deep purplish-red quite as outstanding as the unusual, ice-free texture. This sorbet is another serious, original addition to the Australian cuisine.

Meat Dishes. You will never rue eating `roo at 14 Ennerdale Street. First, the wrapped rump pack, as purchased, weighs just under 1 kg, meaning that ten guests receive a modest helping each, but enough to experience the texture and flavours. Remember that the term `dry' as applied to `roo meat has two meanings: (i) parched in cooking (ii) lacking in fat, which invests the fibres of some other meats. The first can be prevented in several ways: by wrapping (for which moist melaleuca paperbark is ideal), and any moist stuffing. For the latter, slit the slab not quite through, fold back and insert the berries and spices before closing and wrapping. In this case, I used the long blades of Lomandra hystrix to tie the bark (middle and each end). On occassion, I have used the pulp and a little rind of

Microcitrus garrawayi in the stuffing to great effect. The application of a few fresh leaves of Tasmannia insipida to the rump before wrapping added piquancy in harmony with the stuffing. The casserole took two packs of tail pieces, which were browned in oil (olive + macadamia, skimping again) plus some Akudgera. After this, red wine and thaw gore from both cuts of roo were added to permit gentle simmering for 5 minutes. All the ingredients were then assembled in a hot cast iron casserole dish, mushrooms last, followed by a dash of wine and oil, and a sparse covering of ginger leaf pieces. With the preheated lid on, the pot was cooked in the oven at 160o for about an hour and a half. Since no water chestnuts could be found growing locally, I was forced to use a can of Asian product, which does happen to be the same species.

Dessert. `Quasi' pie, since the cooked fruit and the pastry were kept apart, as the rich biscuit/pastry seemed better served as wedges (defined by pastry wheel) to be covered by cooked fruit and a cream. Since I am a yeast freak, I used it to good effect in the pastry. The dried quandong halves were reconstituted by soaking in water overnight, then stewed with more water and a good dash of Western Downs honey. Your discerning editor did well to admire the cream sauce, another original creation. I admit to some worry in securing the delicacy of flavour and texture demanded by the other components.

Scrambling lilly - stems lightly hammered out to make very functional `spoons'.

I will begin with an admission. I have never given emulsifiers much thought. Had I done so, I would still not have imagined what a significant part these clever little chemical beasties were to play in a glorious nearly formal dinner party held last month.

I may as well hang all the admissions up-front - I would never in a fit attempt a gastronomic event such as the ever surprising Mr Wrench created. I am a forager by nature and the idea of feeding more than two people at a time is

about as appealing as dancing bare-foot on dry ice. Add to this the idea that the entire repast is to be made from bushfoods and bushfoods alone* and you've lost me. I was delighted and honoured to be on the receiving end.

And so to the emulsifiers. I guess I've always pictured them as some sort of magic ingredient which made face cream creamy, packaged soup thicker and salad dressings unseparable. I've certainly never pictured them as a Bunya nut. Yet this is the simple and wonderful discovery made by Mr Wrench which should place him in some sort of bushfood hall of fame. The humble, difficult Bunya is an emulsifier. Its role in the dinner party will become apparent as we stroll through the evening's menu. Welcoming Drinks at the Courtyard Fire was first up and it's just as well these drinks were mulled wine as the temperature in the courtyard was a touch on the wintry side. The sharp taste of the Eremocitrus came through loud but subtly and the Tasmannia insipida gave just a touch of interest to this welcome drink. The large jug was empty within seconds.

Back inside we were each given a stalk of Scrambling lily, beaten lightly on one end to flatten it into a spoon or scoop shape. This quaint `cutlery' allowed us to hoe into the Bonyie Bonyie Bog in rustic style. I'm a bit of a specialist in dips, having discovered an interesting dip is the easiest thing to bring to parties (we shall not mention my attempt at `Sour Cream and Rice Bubble Chive Surprise'). The Bonyie variety is one of the nicest I have come across - but definitely not the easiest to make! Here is where the emulsifying properties of the Bunya came to the fore - producing a creamy finish to this highly tasty dish. It wasn't just good, it was more-ish in the extreme. It was also gone within seconds.

The Andakil Croquettes also featured the Bunya nut but their distinguishing feature was a slightly fishy flavour set off tangily by the Microcitrus. More please.

I am not by nature a timid eater but I approached the Kambo soup with some trepidation. The idea of extricating the larvae of some insect or other from rotten wood in some bog or other, blending it up and serving it as soup didn't have me rushing for the biggest spoon. I was surprised. Perhaps the Bunya-induced creaminess or the wonderful sharpness imparted by the bush tomato covered the true taste of the Endoxyla larvae. Perhaps they enhanced it. I could certainly discern the anisata and the Warrigal greens and something else I can't quite describe...had the soup been given a less honest description I would have raved about it. I will anyway, it was yummy.

I am a big fan of sorbets, most especially when you're dining through a number of courses. I am an even bigger fan of the creation he called `Rainforest Sorbet'. This was sharp, creamy (yes, again!), just sweet enough and simply packed with threads of flavour we delighted in describing to each other (strange how we still want to describe some of our native tastes in terms of some exotic equivalent.)

For the Two Roo main course we braved the cold outdoors once again to witness the opening of the bedourie and unveiling of the paper-bark wrapped Macrocarpus rump. I have had roo burgers in my time and declined a second helping but this deceptively simple dish was seasoned, flavoured and cooked to near perfection (John insists it was cooked just a tad too long). Roo seems a dry meat by nature and this was no exception.

Very, very lean, very tender and exquisitely set off by the stuffing and pepper leaf coating. It was gone too quickly for me to attempt a second. The casserole was rich, thick and unusual. The addition of Burdekin plum, Lilly pilly, Cooloon and Illawarra plum was inspired.

There was nothing quasi about the Quandong pie. This was the real McCoy and then some. Very rich, a touch on the heavy side but this was countered by the light and delightful Bunya, macadamia oil, honey cream. Once again, the emulsifying magic of the Bunya shone through - it really was very creamy!

The finishing cup of Kurrajong/Wattle seed brew was splendid. For the first time, I was really able to savour the nutty taste of the roasted wattle. The Kurrajong seemed similar but stronger in nature and the blend was just right. No cream needed (not even Bunya cream).

What more can I say about the most interesting dinner party I have been to all year? Two American guests at the dinner actually summed it up. They had made their way from course to course with a bemusing mixture of awe, surprise and, it seemed, near disbelief. Had this strange Australian man really made up an entire feast from native foods? Had he really shunned the microwave in favour of the bedourie? Surely there was some sleight of hand involved. They shook their heads over their brachy-wattle coffee, "You couldn't do this in the States..."

You can say that again.

It justified the use of the native bee honey, which conferred a gentle acidity and flavour to the somewhat bland emulsion.

The Brew. Decoction is the process of boiling up a substance with water, as in the tradition of making coffee, whereas infusion involves pouring boiling water onto the material, as in making tea. Both Kurrajong and Wattle seed (roasted and ground) form a good brew by decoction, either singly or together. In this case, the coarse siftings left after the preparation of the Kurrajong flour were combined with the roasted and ground wattleseed,

adding a certain richness to the brew, attributable to the traces of oil. A modicum of honey certainly enhances the beverage, although it does not need it.

The Wines. I may be a bushfood purist, but wine, true wine, is a very special delight deserving full respect. I make no apology for using Stanley cask wine for the hot, spicy, welcoming drink and in the casserole, in the interests of cost containment. For the rest, I deliberately chose Pfeiffer, whose wines we purchase direct, to our great delight. Note in particular the Gamay, named for the grape variety, which is rare in Australia (only three or four growers). In France, it is restricted to the Beaujolais zone. I happen to believe that it matches the `roo rather well. Thank you Chris and Robyn Pfeiffer for enhancing our historic dinner. Other deviations. Not all the guests tried the Cooloon drink, which was enjoyed by two latecomers who also tried a rainforest fruit drink (six species) not mentioned in the Menu. On reflection, I believe I added a touch of honey to the spiced wine, to good effect. So there it is. But recipes and quantities?

The book, dear Gladys, buy the book.

* In his half of the article, John has noted those ingredients which were not native.

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