The other night I met up with Adam Grubb of Very Edible Gardens and as usual he was carrying something he had gleaned from nature. This time it was delicious nuts from the bunya pine.
DLT: The other day you gave me some bunya nuts to eat. Where did you get them from?
AG: I’ve been getting them from various parks around Melbourne. Those first ones came from Carlton Gardens.
DLT: The bunya isn’t native to Melbourne is it?
AG: No it’s a Queensland native, but it does surprisingly well here. They grow in Tasmania apparently. Once they may have had a very wide range. They are part of a family of trees that go back to the Jurassic.
DLT: Does that mean vegetarian dinosaurs ate bunya nut do you think? Or are the nuts too fiddley for the dinoclaw do you think?
AG: The dinosaur equivalent of possums was all over them. Or something like them.
DLT: Can you describe it: The tree. The nut. The flavour…
AG: The trees are towering vertical pines, with a domed top. At a distance are the essence of stateliness, but up close they are a tangle of spiny branches looking like a mess of dreadlocks, only spiky. They are somewhat notorious for the cones, which can weigh up to 10kg by some accounts. I haven’t weighed any, but they get up to approximately twice the size of someone’s head. They fall from high up in the tree so can do some damage to cars, and would easily crack skulls, although I’ve not heard of that actually happening. Each cone contains pine nuts the size of a bantam chicken egg. They are delicious cooked, the nearest thing to them is chestnuts, although they have a slight piney resinous flavour. They aren’t particularly fatty like regular pine nuts, rather they are high in starch, and fairly high in protein. When cooked for a good amount of time they become translucent and smooth textured.
DLT: I have been reading an interesting historical account of the bunya tree in the Grafton Heritage Inventory. According to which “In the nineteenth century it was illegal to cut bunya bunya pines on Crown lands because of the trees importance to the local Aborigines for food”. Do you know anything about the traditional owners use of the bunya?
AG: They tend to produce a bumper crop only every two or three years. When the local people in the region of what we call the Sunshine Coast recognised lots of ripening nuts they would send off messengers to other tribes. There would be a big feast. People walked from in off the desert or as far as Dubbo, nearly 1000km! It was a time of peace, trade and marriages.
DLT: According to researcher Barbara Fahey in the 1940s a man was killed by a falling bunya. Last week there was an article http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-02/warning-issued-over-giant-pine-cones/3864430 about the danger of pine cones. It is strange how Melbourne local council gets all up in bunya’s grillz but sometimes sprays Round Up! I feel like I have more chance dropping dead from an asthma attack than being murdered by a pine cone.
AG: Well I’m sure they could kill someone, but I reckon they mostly fall down in storms, so the chances are pretty low. The chance is totally worth it for nuts. There is nothing except for macadamias that I know of in the Australian landscape that packs that much intense energy. There’s nothing that packs that much head crushing energy either!
DLT: I personally found the bunya to be delicious and I would be interested to ask my Mum the dietician the nutritional benefits of the nut. It tasted a bit medicinal too.
AG: Yeah there’s a reason people walked 1000km.
DLT: Word on the street is you’ve got 50kg of bunya nut. That’s a lot of pesto.
AG: Not quite. I found around six cones so maybe there was that much cone, but probably 20kg of nuts.
DLT: I have been reading that the Indigenous cultures also bury the nut and then eat the sprouts. Apparently the roots are edible also. It is an all you can eat smorgasbord with your name on it Adam.
AG: Yeah they have a very unusual way of propagating. They grow down from the seed and form a tuber, and then later the seedling springs from the tuber. The tuber is supposed to be even better eating.
DLT: What are you going to do with them? Have you roasted them? Could you make flour with them?
AG: Well I just boil them in the shell in salt water. Then you peel them and add them to whatever or just eat them.
DLT: I would like chocolate covered bunya nut with icecream the next time I see you please. Bunya split!
AG: Well I actually had chocolate coated bunya! It was good.
DLT: Radical minds think alike. Thank you for taking time out of your ridiculously busy schedule to answer my questions. Have a lovely ride home.