In South East Queensland, February to March is Bunya nut time, when the huge Bunya cones fall to the ground. If you can find a source of the nuts, you should try them. They are delicious if prepared well - try some of the recipes below!
Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii) is not commonly used in edible landscaping in South East Queensland, but it should be! Not only is it a handsome tree, and a local species, but also the nuts are really tasty. Bunya pines are tall trees growing slowly to 40m, with a trunk that can be as big as 1.5m in diameter. They have distinctive prickly leaves and a straight trunk with interesting loose bark. It is preferable to plant several trees to ensure male and female flowers occur.
The female cone which contains the edible nuts is very large, up to 30 cm in length, and weighing as much as 5 kg. Each nut is contained in a tough scale, which separates from the cone when ripe. The nut itself is egg shaped, one end being pointy – rather like a giant pine nut.
Bunya is found mainly in the rainforests of southeastern Queensland and in northern NSW. It is prolific in the Bunya Mountains, but is also seen closer to Brisbane, for example around the slopes of the D’Aguilar ranges and Mt Coot-tha. It will grow outside its natural range, even as far north as Rockhampton. Bunya pine is also grown for timber.
Bunya pines are significant in the history and culture of Aboriginal people in SEQ. When the nuts were in season, there were numerous feasts and ceremonies involving many different groupings coming together. Many Aboriginal tribes travelled to the Bunya Mountains, where they owned particular Bunya trees and passed the rights to harvest down from father to son. They made notches in the trees to assist climbing up to harvest the cones. The nuts were used in many ways - raw, roasted, in soups or ground into a flour.
If you try the Bunya nut on its own, you may find it bland and a little dry, although it does a have subtle chestnutty flavour. The secret is to combine the starchy flesh of the nuts with other interesting flavours. A simple way to start is to boil the nuts for about half an hour (they open up like clams), shell them (this is a hard job that requires a sharp knife and care), slice and lightly fry the nut flesh in a mixture of curry and spices of your choice. These make great nibbles.
The boiled nuts can also be sliced or pureed and used in various desserts or savoury dishes. Grind up the boiled nuts in a food processor for a flour to add to bread recipes. A list of recipes for Bunya nuts can be found on the ABC radio’s web site at www.abc.net.au/recipes. Here’s one of our own recipes to try.
Process 100g boiled and shelled bunya nuts (see above), bunch of basil, or combined basil and rocket, juice of 1 large lemon, 50g grated parmesan cheese to a paste. Add olive oil, and salt to taste. Serve with pasta.