Thursday, February 10, 2011

No-fuss Bunya Nut Cookery

Araucaria bidwillii
It’s the Season again, so keep an eye out for roadside stalls selling the cones.
We bought this one at Blackbutt last weekend. The sellers saw us coming 0 and immediately changed the price - from $2.00 to $1.00! The people were tired of tending the stand, and just wanted to get rid of the 60-cone yield of their tree. This classic Australian food is ridiculously under-valued!



This cone was 24cm long, 18cm in diameter, and weighed 3.5kg - a larger and heavier item than your head.
It contained 56 nuts.



Cones can be even larger than this, with up to 80 nuts. Under a bunya tree is not a good place to loiter, in the season. Neither is it a suitable place to park your car!
To gather the nuts, it is most usual, these days, to wait till the cone starts to fall to pieces. Fresh-fallen cones can be jemmied apart, however - and Aborigines used to climb the trees to collect unripe cones, whose tender young nuts are said to be an outstanding delicacy - sweet and creamy.
Aborigines also ate old nuts. They would to bury them (in their shells, in string bags) in the mud of creeks, to preserve them for later eating. They would dig them up again once they had sprouted. As with all sprouting seeds, this increases their vitamin content. Bunya seeds treated this way also developed a very offensive smell, which was passed onto everything that touched them - but were considered to be a gourmet treat. All who enjoy garlic will sympathise with those who considered that the subsequent bad breath was worth the taste sensation.
Modern cooks, however, might prefer to preserve their bunya nuts in the fridge This is said to sweeten the flavour, as also happened with the buried nuts, but presumably doesn’t let them develop their full odour. Lovers of blue-veined cheese might like to try the burying option!
The nuts can also be frozen.
According to Wikipedia, their nutritional content is: 40% water, 40% complex carbohydrates, 9% protein, 2% fat, 0.2% potassium, 0.06% magnesium. They are gluten free. They have a healthy glycaemic index (GI) rating , variously measured at 50 - 75. By contrast, other tree nuts have 50-75% fat and under 20%carbohydrates. Bunya nuts have more in common with cereals than with other nuts.
The traditional “whitefella” way to cook bunya nuts is to boil them for 30 minutes in their shells, in salted water, having first cut or slit the shell, so it won’t explode. Some would add salt to the water - and boiling them with bacon bones is a particularly delicious alternative.
The boiled shells are tough and fibrous. They are easier to peel than raw nuts, but not much. Long-nosed pliers, washed to kitchen-clean standards, are a useful tool.
Modern cooks have since invented may more complex, interesting and exciting ways of opening and cooking them, using such tools as secateurs, microwaves, blenders, bread knives, machetes, wooden blocks and a need for leather gloves. See the internet for a multiplicity of methods.
However, for those (like me) who just want to cook the things and eat them in various delicious ways without making heavy weather of the whole procedure, the old way is still the best.

So, you’ve got hold of a Bunya Cone.
What do you do?




Take care. Those prickly points are sharp!











The easiest way to get the nuts out is to wait until the cone starts to break up of its own accord.









Then you free them from their husks. A sharp knife helps you peel them back from the tip.









While they are still a bit damp from the cone (or have been saved in a plastic bag in the fridge, so they won’t dry out), you hold them with one hand and tap them with a hammer to split the tips open.

This is best done outdoors on bricks or some such, and done rather scientifically so as not to damage the kernel. You’ll notice that the nutshells have a seam down each side, and this is where you should hit. All that’s needed is a gentle tap, to produce a tiny split at the point.

Then roast them for 30 minutes. An oven at 200° Celsius does the trick, but I imagine it would also work well as a campfire activity.
You’ll notice that the splits in the shell increase as the nuts cook.


Give them five minutes to cool. (The now-crisp shell cools fast, the kernel only slowly.) Then hit them gently with a hammer again, concentrating on those side-seams.
Once you have the knack, which doesn’t take long to acquire, you’ll find the shell falls open into its two parts, and the nut can be lifted out whole.


You can eat it at once. It has a mild, slightly nutty flavour and a waxy-floury texture.
You can also subject it to a great variety of culinary processes - marinating, cooking in soup, or serving with a sauce or a dip are my favourites.
Many of our early settlers had a horror of eating anything their European forebears hadn’t brought to Australia with them, so tended to undervalue this useful and tasty food. They even invented the myth that the little green shoot within the nut is poisonous. In reality, it is just as edible as the rest of the nut, and only adds to its nutritional value.

Growing Bunya Trees for Nuts.



Fresh seed germinates easily if kept damp. The plants grow best if subjected to ordinary good gardening practices - watering, mulching, and fertilising. Ordinary balanced fertiliser, as for veges, will do - there’s no need to use special “native” fertiliser.
Young trees produce only male flowers, which are at the end of the branches. Then at around 15 years they begin to produce female flowers on the inner third of their branches.



They will produce more nuts if grown in groups. They are wind-pollinated, and this female-over-male flower arrangement is designed to prevent the female flowers from being fertilised by pollen from the male flowers of their own tree.
For more on Bunya Trees see Jan 2008 and April 2009.

32 comments:

Sue said...

What a fabulous website with great, useful information that is easy to understand and follow.I have followed your instructions to get the kernel out the shell by roasting them and then using the hammer to crack the shell further which worked very well. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge!

Sue, Sunshine Coast, QLD

Patricia Gardner said...

Thanks for the comment, Sue.
I tried a marinade of soy sauce, garlic and honey. The resulting nuts were very nice indeed in a stir-fry with brown rice.
Tell me if you come up with any good recipes!
Trish

chloe_random11 said...

Before I found your site, I boiled my bunya nuts then left them in my fruit dish for a coupla months while wondering what to do next, then decided to hit them with a hammer. Now the kernels are harder than the shells ... Thanks for the sensible info, I'll do it your way next season!

Anonymous said...

Hi Patricia, I purchased 3kg of bunya nuts off ebay for about $10kg with postage. I've had a go at boiling them. I found the best way to open them was to hold one with the point going away from my hand, boiling will split the nut at the tip.I put the nut on a bunched up tea towel to hold it steady.( I discover the tea towel idea after I nearly took off my thumb) I then got a big wide carving knife & vertically cut down into the nut then right through the tip if the nut, then turning the nut onto it's fat base, I put the blade of the knife across the top & pushed the knife down with both hands cutting it in half. It was then easy to pick out the kernel.Would be easier to understand with diagrams :)
I guess the Bunya nut would lend itself to any recipe that uses pine nuts, water chestnuts, chestnuts or potato. I would imagine one could make an interesting potato salad with the boiled nuts.
Marie

Patricia Gardner said...

Isn't it amazing what you can buy on ebay, Marie!
Thanks for the technique suggestion. Were you doing this with the nut still hot and wet, or did you wait for it to cool? (I am wondering whether the technique would be easier with a hot nut.)
Trish

Navimie said...

This post is great! The nutritional info is really useful too!

I've been boiling my nuts for half an hour (I tried roasting them but that didn't go well) but I would like to see if I can crack them and then roast them. I actually used kitchen scissors to get my nuts out - I put the point of the scissors into the soft point of the nut and then cut through it. I made a list of all the recipes I could find on the internet on my site on this post here, so I hope you guys can find something useful to cook (I was thinking of doing pesto with mine)

http://sparrowgalfart.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/bunya-bush-tucker.html

Oh, and I went looking for some HUGE cones, and the most I got out of one cone was 92!

Patricia Gardner said...

I wonder if 92 is a record? That's plenty of tucker from one cone, isn't it? And if your tree has 100 cones, like the one in Toowoomba which made it into the newspaper recently...
It's just as well they keep in the fridge!
I haven't tried pesto, but it sounds good.
Trish

Anonymous said...

I was just given a Bunya nut because my friend didn't know what to do with it. There were 90 nuts in it.
Half are in the oven now. I will try boiling the other half. Thanks for the great info on how to cook them.
Dawn

Patricia Gardner said...

I hope they were delicious, Dawn.
Trish

Telen said...

i have stumbled across a bunya nut cone that has not yet begun to fragment. you mentioned the unripe nuts are a delicasey with a creamier texture, do i boil them just the same?

Patricia Gardner said...

Yes, they need to be cooked just the same. You can boil them, or cook them in the traditional aboriginal manner which was to roast them. Of course it is more traditional to use a fire than an oven, but the oven works.
Trish

OzPolly said...

Great post, thank you. I'm always open to ANY different idea for opening Bunyas, but will have to wait until next season to try yours.

The basic profile of bunya nuts seems to be similar to that of chestnuts, similar amount of moisture, fat, protein and carbs. Rather than trying to use bunyas as a pine nut, with which they have little similarity outside of appearance, try using recipes for chestnuts.

My latest project has been dehydrating the nuts to grind into flour. Boiled (pressure cooker for 40 mins), dehusked in a manner similar to that described by Anonymous, dried and ground they make a light brown flour. The flour from the cooked nuts makes a beautiful pasta, replacing strong white flour at a rate of 1:2.

My first batch of nuts dried whole and unhusked has just cooled. Cutting off the tips with secateurs helps speed the drying, but it is still slow! I husked them at various stages of dryness and as could be predicted, the driest were the easiest to crack, but did not retain the milky whiteness of the fresher, less dry ones. The inner skin stains the nut, more staining the longer dried. I cant wait to see what if any difference it makes to the pasta using flour from the uncooked nuts.

Next thing to try is bunya flour scones, using a recipe originally for chestnut flour. I'll try flour from cooked and uncooked bunyas to see what, besides colour the difference is.

Again, thank you for the post! I didn't stumble across your blog until recently and I'm enjoy reading the back posts.

Cheers,
Peggy

Patricia Gardner said...

Nice to hear from you, Peggy.
And thanks for the extra ideas. I'll be interested to hear your future results.
Trish

Pavel Telepov said...

Hello, i want buy several bunya seeds to replicate in my country house .can you ship it to Russia ?

Patricia Gardner said...

Hello Pavel.
I am sorry, but I do not supply plants. This blog is not an advertising site!
I wish you well with obtaining the seeds you want, and would like to hear how they grow in Russia, if you succeed in obtaining them.
Trish

Theresa said...

Excellent blog. Thank you for sharing your expertise. I have 3 bunya pines in the garden but never used the nuts. I can't wail till it fruits again! Warm regards from Argentina. Theresa

Patricia Gardner said...

Nice to hear from you, Theresa.
Think of us over here in Australia while you are enjoying your bunya nuts.
Cheers,
Trish

FarmDiary said...

Our tree has mature nuts in the cones for the first time this year. Garden loppers (like big long handled secateurs) worked well for me after I had boiled the bunyas for 20 mins. The extra leverage with the long handles makes short work of it. I live in the border ranges south of Beaudesert Qld.

Patricia Gardner said...

Excellent hint. Thank you very much.
Trish

Indianna Smith said...

hi i have found a bunya nut and i was wondering if you could cook them over a stove?

Patricia Gardner said...

Hi Indianna.
Anything goes!
I suggest you experiment, and find your own favourite cooking and opening techniques.
I was talking to a friend this week who has about 60 trees on his property. In the nut season he gives up buying potatoes and eats bunya nuts instead. He has made a guillotine out of an old machete, and he chops them in half before cooking, and microwaves them.
I'd love to hear how you went.
Trish

Cheryl said...

Great site. thank you.
We just made a fabulous bunya nut curry. Make your usual favourite recipe and add the cooked/peeled half nuts near the end. Nuts stay moist and delicious.
Lighty fried pieces in garlic butter after they are boiled and shelled is yummy too.
I also make a bunya nut pesto. Follow pesto recipe but I always add a little lemon juice or even a very small amount of quality balsamic vinegar to keep mixture green. Parmesen cheese also suits this pesto

JohnB said...

My technique this year was to use a small drill and drill each near the tip (treated this way they do not explode when heated) - this can be done very quickly and so my cache is done quickly. Roasting next. I do these either under the grill by selecting roughly the same size nuts on moderate heat until they begin to lightly color. If you want you can turn them over and roast the other side though that is optional.

I cut mine in half with a large kitchen knife, some I have to hold with tongs so they sit still roasted side up - make sure of your cutting technique as you do need to put some down force into it. I found this to be quick and easy - 20 minutes and you are into hot juicy Bunya nuts or if you can beat the temptation you can put some in the fridge for later.

Patricia Gardner said...

Thanks John, for another good cookery hint.
I find I haven't succeeded in microwaving them without getting tough nuts. Anyone got any good hints for success with a microwave?
And Cheryl, your recipes sound mouthwatering. I'll try the curry tonight.
Trish

Anonymous said...

I was given a bag of these by a friend. I wizzed them with a large potato, 2 eggs, garlic and half cup of parmesean cheese. Into the frypan like pancakes....yummo!

Patricia Gardner said...

Thanks for sharing. It sounds delicious.
I was given bunya nut pesto recently. I must admit that I didn't think it was as good as pesto made with pine nuts. owever, I was told that it also makes very good hummus, substituting the bunya nuts for the chickpeas. Must try that!
I find that my microwaving friend BOILS them in the microwave! He pours boiling water over them to submerge them, and cooks them for 12 minutes. (I had tried microwaving them with just a tablespoon of water in the bottom as I do with veges, and wondered how he could eat those hard, horrible things!)
Trish

Anonymous said...

whats the best way to store cooked bunya nuts after they have been shelled

Andrew said...

I live in the Blue Mountains NSW and have a Bunya tree and it had 9 cones, but all the seeds had no nut inside the shell. It does not have another bunya close by. Is it because it isn't fertilised or is the climate not right. Any ideas?

Patricia Gardner said...

What a terrible shame, Andrew!
Yes, it would be because the (female) cones weren't fertilised by the male flowers lower down on the tree. Bunya trees can self-fertilise, as some of them have demonstrated, but it must require some tricksy winds at the right moment. Gravity is against them!
It does make the point that we need to understand our plants' needs. We can't save rare species by planting just one in our garden, as it may never have babies - and we can't count on edibles from a lonely tree.
Have you room to plant another? People tell me that they get fruit in 9 years, but the tree would have to be given a bit of mulch, water, and loving. The more friends it has, the better it will fruit of course, so perhaps you can persuade the neighbours to get into the act as well?
Best wishes.
Trish

Jill Dyson said...

Am so excited a Facebook friend gave me a link to your blog! I found 6 cones this week and posted a photo asking if anyone knew how to cook them - and your blog has heaps of ideas. Thanks! Must get in quickly because the chestnut season is about to start here in the Southern Highlands NSW and I love eating them too. It does sound as though they need to be handled in a similar way. Cheers, Jill from FoodPath Tours

Patricia Gardner said...

Nice to hear from you, Jill.
I've never eaten chestnuts, so for me it's only hearsay that they are alike. You'll have to tell me what you think.
(Many years ago when I lived in Tasmania, I bought chestnuts with the intention of eating them. Having no idea how to cook them, I didn't know about piercing the shell. My husband and I put them by the fire in the living room fire-place to roast. Picture us, shortly afterwards, hiding behind the chairs, as chestnut artillery bombarded the room! All enthusiasm for chestnuts was shocked out of us, and we never tried again.
In those pre-internet days, it was not so easy to find out how to cook some unfamiliar food.)
Trish

Caetano Medeiros said...

Hi, I've been in Australia for 7 years and I could never find Bunya Nuts to buy. Can someone help me please?
In my country I used to eat Araucaria Pine Nuts which are very similar to Bunya Nuts. I love it, and in winter you can easily find it.
I am craving for it. I had a look on Ebay and bush tucker shops, but nothing. Please, anyone that could help me to find. I don't mind having to travel miles to get them :)
Thanks,
Ruby.