Bunya nut trees are majestic, towering pines that produce huge cones filled with tasty nuts that are sweet and starchy when cooked, rather like a deliciously nutty flavoured potato, or chestnuts. Growing naturally in pockets of rainforest in Queensland, they have special significance to Aboriginal people, who would have special gathering at the times when Bunya nuts were in abundance.
These slow growing trees were sometimes planted by early settlers, and old trees can be found at various places in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The other week we were lucky to have a friend show us a magical stand of old Bunya trees that had been growing on a property on the far south coast of NSW for many, many decades.
Every few years mature Bunya Nut pines fruit prolifically between December and March, and luckily for us it was fruiting time! Bunya nut cones are huge, covered in spikes, can weigh up to 10kg, and fall from dizzying heights – meaning they could be quite lethal and not the kind of tree you’d want to plant in a suburban garden! You really don’t want to hang around under Bunya Nuts trees when they’re fruiting. It’s safest to collect cones that have fallen to the ground and rolled out from under the trees. Otherwise make your harvesting run under the trees very swift, not when the wind is blowing, and preferably with a hard hat! Slow Food Australia suggests that cones should be harvested and processed within a week of the cones falling.
The easiest way to break open the cones is with an axe.
Each nut is encased in an individual fibrous packaging that then needs to be peeled off.
Then you’re down to the nut in the shell. We found about 50 nuts in our cone, but there can be up to 100 depending on the size of the cone. There’s different ways to process the nuts, and we went with the method of boiling for about half an hour, and then splitting them open with pillars to reveal the yummy nut inside.
It is quite difficult to pry out the nut this way though, and if we have the chance to enjoy Bunya nuts again we’d try Patricia Gardener’s technique of splitting the tips open with a hammer first, then roasting them for half an hour and cracking them with a hammer.
We enjoyed snacking on our boiled Bunya nuts on their own – they really do have a delicious flavour and texture, like nutty potato. They were also a treat ontop of a veggie pasta dish.