'Over 9,000 years ago agriculture began on different parts of the planet: the Middle east, China and Greater Australia in the highlands of New Guinea, which was then still attached to the mainland. As seas rose, agriculture spread to the Torres Strait Islands, but on mainland Australia [the Aboriginal] people rejected it, choosing to carefully manipulate the available natural plants and animals to increase their food resources. In Queensland’s rainforest people learned how to remove poison from some of the forest's most abundant toxic nuts. Fire stick farming was used across Australia to create habitats that encouraged particular plants and animals. Eucalypt forests were burned to create deliberate grass lanes used to lure and trap kangaroos. Here, people created something unique in human history: they transformed an entire continent into the biggest estate on earth - fully sustainable into the future until outsiders arrived'.
On Australia Day this year, Peter and I plan to take a guided morning walk at the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) in our home city of Canberra. There's a fascinating Aboriginal Trail and interpretive walk that showcases the plants used by the Australian Aboriginals—such as Acacia (Wattle) and also the Xanthorrhoea spp. (Grass Trees) pictured below.
With Australia Day in mind, the recipes for macadamia ice cream and wattleseed honey cookies or cones that I'm sharing with you have been adapted from Uniquely Australian, a wild food cookbook by Vic Cherikoff, published by Bush Tucker Supply Australia in 1992—which is when I first road tested them for my newspaper column. Both have been highly popular with my family ever since and I hope you will come to enjoy them as much as we have.
Xanthorrhoea spp. or Grass Trees on the ANBG's Aboriginal Trail...
The ANBG is home to the world's most comprehensive display of living Australian native plants and is a popular destination for visitors and locals alike. The summertime program of events at the ANBG includes Summer Sounds concerts, Flix in the Stix (short films), AfterDARK dinners and wine tastings, and Flora Explorer and Rainforest to Desert tours.
Wattle (Acacia) is Australia's floral emblem and research tells me that the seeds from only a few of more than 1,000 Acacia species are recorded as having been eaten by the Aborigines. The green pods were eaten as a fresh vegetable and the dried seed was milled to flour. According to Ian 'Herbie' Hemphill, 'there are only a small number of edible wattles (the others are poisonous) therefore the harvesting of one's own wattleseed should only be conducted under expert guidance'.
Wattleseed has an intense coffee/hazelnut like flavour when roasted and ground. It's particularly good as a cappucino (caffeine free); as a flavouring in or with dairy products such as ice cream or ice cream cones which I've made here; in scones and pancakes, shortbread; handmade pasta; and when used to coat meat such as kangaroo or rabbit before char-grilling.
On macadamia nuts..
Macadamias are indigenous to Australia and are the seeds from evergreen trees known to the Aborigines as Kindal Kindal, Boombera, Jindill and Baupal. Macadamia nuts were not staple food for the Aboriginal people. Apparently they were regarded as a delicacy, traded between tribes and used as ceremonial gifts exchanged at corroborees. Aboriginal women collected the nuts in their coolamons and took them to the feasting grounds where they would remove the husk and crack open the shells using large stones.
Macadamia oil is rich in flavour and higher in mono-unsaturated fats than olive oil. It can be used in salad dressings and in general cooking. Try adding some chopped macadamia nuts to a salad or use them to coat fish before baking. Macadamias add a delicious depth of flavour to cakes, biscuits and ice cream.
MACADAMIA ICE CREAM
200g macadamia nuts
375ml low fat milk
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar+
Toast the macadamia nuts lightly in a frying pan. Now blend the nuts to a fine-ish crumb in a food processor; or do what I did and use a mortar and pestle (but please be patient if you are working this way, as it takes a little time). Combine the milk and crushed macadamia nuts in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and the sugar and then pour them into the milk, while whisking quickly. Transfer this mixture to a pyrex bowl and set the bowl over a water bath. Keep stirring the mixture until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Allow to cool (it's a good idea to pop the mixture into the freezer or fridge for 15 minutes), then churn in an ice cream machine. Serve scoops of ice cream in wattleseed cones, or as a wattleseed and ice cream sandwich.
WATTLESEED & HONEY COOKIES OR CONES
60g butter, softened
60g Australian bush honey, warmed
2/3 cup/ 80g plain flour
2/3 cup/80g pure icing sugar
2 egg whites*
1 tablespoon wattleseed, softened in 30mls boiling water
Preheat oven to 190 degrees C. Combine the butter and honey in a bowl. Sift in the flour and icing sugar and mix until smooth. Work in the egg whites and the softened wattleseed. With a palette knife, spread the mix thinly into a 10cm disc on a lined baking tray. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown. To make cones: while the cookies are still hot and pliable lift them from the baking sheet and form them into cones. Stand each cone in a shot glass to cool. Otherwise, allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet. Makes 8-10.
* Make a small quantity of meringues for Eton Mess with the leftover egg whites.
+ I have used less sugar than set down by the original recipe.
The macadamia ice cream...
Grinding the macadamia nuts...
Cook's tools for the ice cream sandwich cookies...
The wattleseed and honey sandwich cookies or cones...
Stand each cone in a shot glass to cool...
Serve the ice cream in a cone (even 'big boys' like these!)...
Or serve the ice cream in a sandwich...
Thank you to the Australian Macadamia Society, who provided me with some macadamia nuts some months ago. I've been cooking my way through the pack and loving it! Watch this space for more macadamia recipes. In the meantime, for recipes and information about Australian macadamias, visit the web site.
(Please note, I have not been paid to produce this post).
Tell me dear readers, do you like ice cream sandwiches? Have you ever tasted wattleseed? What other 'bush foods' have you cooked with? And Aussie readers, what's on the agenda for Australia Day in your part of the country?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.