Friday, June 27, 2008

Food of the Bunya Mountains

You didn't think I went to the Bunya Mountains (indeed, do I go anywhere) and not manage to sniff out the local produce did you?

Well, 'local produce' might be overstating it a bit in this instance, but the Bunya Mountains, being one of the few places in the world where the Bunya 'Pine' grows, is home to the Bunya Nut, which on account of the Bunya tree not growing at all outside of Australia--barely outside of Queensland, even--is quite unique as an ingredient. So, I thought I would take the opportunity to post a few more photos that I took on the Queen's Birthday long weekend, because I can delude myself that an unusual ingredient is a bit more interesting than boring you all with my holiday snaps. 

In South East Queensland, the story of the Bunya Nut and its use by local Aboriginal peoples is part of what you know.  At least it seems that way for me, although I concede this might be a consequence of participating in a youth theatre that, at the time, concerned itself with cross-cultural communication between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.  

Ever since I found out about the Bunya Nut Olympics (in the sense of putting aside differences), I've been intrigued.  I think the Bunya Nut has come to assume a mythic status in my mind; this is a nut, and it can bring about world peace!   As a foodie from way back, I can get on board with laying down arms for days of feasting--I've never understood the notion of sport as an impetus to do the same.  

The first weekend in June is not Bunya Nut season.  I have to report that the only actual sighting of the Bunya nut in situ was scavenged casings littering the forest floors through which we bush walked:

I did take a photo of a preserved cone that was sitting on a shelf in the local shop:

It's a pretty awful photo, but I was a bit nervous, unsure of the policy towards people taking random phone photos of the shop displays.  You might do better to click through to those links above to get a proper sense of what the fruit looks like.  Or if you can't be bothered, here's a shot from Wikipedia: 

We were lucky that the local historical society were selling bags of the nuts, frozen, for a couple of dollars. They threw in a leaflet with cooking advice too:

The main recommendation was to boil, peel, and salt the nut.  It was cold that weekend, and since I fancied the skins of the Bunya nut reminded me of the leathery texture of chestnuts, I took charge and roasted them in the oven.

Taste-wise, they were fairly subtle in flavour.  I wouldn't say bland because there was enough in the nut texture-wise (floury, oily) to make them somewhat moreish. 

The next day, after the marathon walk I reported on in an earlier post, we went to a cafe and sampled scones made with Bunya Nut flour:
I'll go out on a limb and say they're the best scones I've ever tasted.  The Bunya Nuts added a top-note to the palate that was irresistible, and I dare say that it was the fat of the Nut that imparted a wonderful lightness  to the texture of the scones. 
Next time:  Jimbour:  On the Way Back from the Bunyas.

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