Be wary of walking under a Bunya Pine in the summertime.
From December to March, these ancient trees that grow up to 45m tall, drop their fruit – football sized spiky cones weighing up to ten kilos that hit the ground with an impressive thud.
They have managed to inflict some serious injuries in the past, and the Botanic Gardens in Sydney has to fence off their trees and install warning signs to protect visitors from the falling giant cones.
While collecting the cones can be risky, they do contain a rich reward. Each cone is made up of 30 to 100 bunya nuts – a highly nutritious, protein rich food that is often compared to a chestnut or Brazil nut.
Native food grower Rebecca Barnes, who runs the Playing With Fire native food stall at Mullumbimby Farmers Market, says bunya nuts were prized by the Australian Aboriginals, who, each year, would travel hundreds of kilometres to the Bunya Mountains in South East Queensland (where the trees occur naturally) to feast on the nuts.
She says in the same way native finger limes took off in popularity a few years ago; the bunya nut is now enjoying its own moment in the spotlight. Chefs like Clayton Donovan and Rene Redzepi have helped, as has the growing interest in native and foraged foods.
Bunya nuts are one of the most versatile bush foods, according to Rebecca. They can be roasted over a fire, used in pesto, soups, savoury dishes or dessert. They make a fabulous vegetarian burger and can even be milled into a gluten free flour. The most common way to prepare bunya nuts is to boil in water for 10-15 minutes, then slice the shells when they are still hot and wet. You can then use a blunt knife to prise open the shell and remove the kernels.
• Bunya Nuts are available from the Playing With Fire stall, Mullumbimby Farmers Market.
BUNYA NUT PESTO
100g Bunya nuts, de-shelled
1 bunch basil
50g Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic – finely chopped
200ml macadamia nut oil
50ml olive oil
2 teaspoons ground Dorrigo pepper
METHOD: Gently heat the pepper in 100ml of the macadamia nut oil. Finely chop bunya nuts and mix with the garlic and remaining macadamia oil. Roughly chop basil and place in food processor with the olive oil. Process for one minute. Continue processing while slowly adding the bunya nut mix and pepper mix. Keeps in the fridge for a week.
• PIC AND STORY BY KATE O’NEILL