The Bunya pine, Araucaria bidwillii, is native to Queensland but can also be found in other parts of the Australian east coast. The process of Aboriginal cultural migration over thousands of years, as well as their towering appeal in parklands, has led to these trees thriving in parts of New South Wales and Victoria. These slow-growing and long-lived trees have special significance for some Aboriginal groups, with gatherings and festivals being held at times when Bunya nuts are in abundance. In the past few weeks, our local Sydney crop swap group has been abuzz with Bunya pine tree sightings. While some members shared recipes and photos of their bunya bounty, others zealously guarded their tree locations, with most located in public spaces.
Last Sunday, as we were walking back to our car after a play at a playground, Andrew looked around us and excitedly announced that the park was surrounded by Bunya pines. He combed the grass for any fallen pine cones and sure enough, he stumbled across remnants of a pineapple looking green cone that had dropped to the ground. The impact of the fall from height must have smashed it, saving us having to pry open its spiky skin. The children picked up chunks of the cone while Andrew peeled open each piece to retrieve the nuts. “It’s like taking out durian seeds, but less smelly,” he said as our growing pile of Bunya nuts grew.
Over the week, Andrew and I combed Google and Youtube for ways to prepare our Bunya nuts. The best takeaway message from all our online research was: do not dry the pine cones. Of course, by the time we got to this information, our nuts were already two days sun-dried. Our mistake led to an afternoon of cathartic smashing with mortar and pestle on my part. The raw ones I smashed emitted a faint smell like that released when peeling a green mango while the boiled ones gave out an earthy and nutty smell.
The nuts can be fried, boiled, powdered, roasted, or even eaten raw. We ended up roasting and boiling the nuts within the week of picking. The boiled Bunya nuts tasted like chestnut with a mashed potato creaminess while the roasted ones were a bit too raw for my liking. We shared half of the nuts we gathered because we only needed a few nuts for the dishes we had planned though the week. The Bunya season will continue well until March so we are looking forward to more foraging and crop sharing and swapping for the weeks to come.
My family’s chance encounter with that one Bunya pine cone has led to a week of memorable harvesting, cooking, and community sharing experiences. Our encounter has also led us to scrutinise other pines we have come across in our walks since. This increasing awareness for a particular tree and its uses will surely lead to more interesting and rewarding walks for my family this year.