Just about every one has heard about Australia’s deadly creatures. I was also familiar with the fact that the highly prevalent eucalyptus trees regularly shed branches, especially in hot weather, so to never put my tent under one.
But until this month I was blissfully unaware of the deadly risks posed by the Bunya pine trees. Do not sit, camp or park your car under a Bunya Pine tree in late summer!
Bunya pine cones are like large green spikey basket balls, and they can weigh up to ten (10!) kilograms. Bunya pine trees are still relatively common in Southeast Queensland, and this year has seen a bumper crop!
The Bunya pine species is about 200 million years old, and yes, they probably provided food for the dinosaurs. Individual trees can be hundreds of years old, reputable up to 800 years.
Bunya pines take around 15 years before they start bearing fruit, but need to be over 50 years old to start bearing bumper crops.
The kernels inside the cones were an important, high protein, food source for the aboriginals of Queensland and Northern New South Wales. Every three years or so, when the Bunyas were especially productive, indigenous people would celebrate. They travelled from afar to share in this seasonal bounty of the great Bunya trees; times when marriages were arranged, differences were settled, warriors achieved status in ritualised battles, games were played and items traded.
It was ‘taboo’ to damage or fell a Bunya tree, and traditional ownership carried down through the extended families.
That all changed in 1860, when one of the first acts of the new Parliament of the State of Queensland was to abolish the proclamation protecting the Bunya trees and open the area up to timber cutting and settlement. Early settlers reported aboriginal families weeping as their ancestral trees, some with girths of up to 5 metres, were felled.
You can climb up the tree to collect the pine cones, or pick them up once they have fallen. The cone breaks apart easily, making it simple to extract the kernels from the husks.
The next bit is trickier and there are a range of methods to extract the nuts. We used a traditional nut cracker to break the fibrous shells open, and then a small knife to peel it off completely. It was a bit like peeling the red wax of a Babybel mini cheese.
You then remove the centre part that would otherwise be the start of the new plant. It reportedly has a slightly bitter taste.
The remaining kernels (seeds, nuts) can be boiled, roasted, or stir fried. They can be used to make hummus or pesto or even ground into flour.
We decided to stir fried them with some olive oil, salt, garlic and bacon.
The resulting mildly nutty flavoured mix looks and tastes a bit like a firm gnocchi. We accompanied it with a steak and some salad.
One medium sized Bunya cone is enough to serve four people.
I have to thank the Barung Landcare Group for providing “A landholders’ guide to living on the Blackall Range”, a free book for every resident, which is full of facts on the history, geology, flora and fauna of this amazing area.