Clockwise from above: Bushfood harvest; Macadamias on the tree; Warrigal greens; Finger limes.
The fruits and aromatic leaves of the tropical and subtropical rainforests of Eastern Australia provide a whole new palette of spices, fragrances and flavours for the adventurous cook. These uniquely Australian flavours, merged with the creativity stimulated by living in a multicultural society, readily give rise to an endless array of culinary innovations.
It’s surprising how many of these plants are frequently included in regular landscapes, native gardens and public plantings in parks and streetscapes in Sydney and further south; some are quite frost hardy.
Most of our subtropical bush foods come from rainforest understorey environments; sheltered, frost-free microclimates with dappled shade. In the garden these understorey plants will grow successfully under the canopy of taller trees or in protected areas close to the house where they receive some shade throughout the day or are less exposed to frost. It’s also surprising how well many rainforest plants grow in full sun, and more sunshine definitely increases yields of fruiting plants.
You don’t need a lot of space to grow a small collection of rainforest bush foods, and integrating these plants into a garden landscape has rewards beyond pleasing the taste buds. Bush foods in the garden provide habitat, forage and attract native birds, butterflies and many beneficial insects. They contribute to species conservation, as some rainforest bush foods are threatened or endangered, such as the Small Leaf Tamarind.
Bush foods ecologically enhance native landscapes and can be included in windbreaks, privacy screens and regeneration areas as restoration ecology.
RAINFOREST BUSH FOODS:
Atherton Raspberry Rubus fraxinifolius
Growing: Suitable for the larger garden or rural property, the Atherton Raspberry needs space and diligent management so it won’t take over. Regular mowing around the designated raspberry patch will keep it in check. In smaller gardens you might try growing it in a large container. It has a long bearing season from May until October, with the occasional fruit forming through to early December.
Uses: This variety of native raspberry is a delicious table fruit. The fresh fruit freezes well and makes great sauces, conserves and a garnish for all kinds of desserts.
Davidson Plum Davidsonia pruriens var. jerseyana
Growing: This tall and slender rainforest plant will grow and bear in the tiniest garden space. It prefers a semi-shady location and does well under the canopy of taller trees. The plum-like fruit grows in clusters along the stem, ripening in early summer, usually December to early January.
There is another variety known as the Atherton Tablelands Davidson Plum, which grows a bit taller and bears its fruit in late Autumn.
Uses: The flavour and colour of Davidson Plums are quite intense. While being too tart for most of us to eat as a fresh fruit, in cooking it has fast become one of my favourite bush fruits. A little goes a long way to colour and flavour ice cream, mousse and sweet sauces. It makes a sensational fruity savoury sauce and gives kangaroo goulash a rich fruity tang. I also love it as a liqueur, steeped in brandy and sugar. Its skin contains tannins which makes it an ideal crop for making fruit wine.
Finger Lime Microcitrus australasica
Growing: This small thorny tree, well loved by finches as a safe nesting habitat, is a member of the citrus family, though it looks nothing like your usual citrus tree. A hardy plant, it can handle full sun, shade and even some frost. There are several varieties with different coloured skin; green, black and red. The red-skinned fruit contains pink flesh. The tree doesn’t spread very wide (1–1.5 m) and can reach a height of around 3 m, so it doesn’t require much space and makes a virtually impenetrable hedge if closely spaced. Some nurseries are now grafting a range of Finger Limes of different colours and properties, including seedless varieties.
Uses: The oblong fruit, the size and shape of a small finger, contains perfectly round globules of exquisite lime juice; perfect with salads, avocado, seafood and cocktails.
Lemon Myrtle Backhousia citriodora
Growing: A small rainforest tree, Lemon Myrtle can be pruned to shrub size. The leaves contain aromatic oils, similar to lemongrass but richer. Grows well in shade or full sun and tolerates light frosts to -5°∆C, although the young leaves are quite frost sensitive.
Uses: Great in Asian dishes and as a herbal tea, its aromatic flavour is unsurpassed. Lemon Myrtle is a great herb for cooking fish, especially wrapped in broad-leafed palm lily leaves. It makes a zesty herb vinegar for salad dressings and can be used to flavour desserts and baked custards. The dried leaves can be ground as a general lemon spice and to flavour biscuits, cakes and damper.
Macadamia Macadamia spp.
Growing: The Macadamia tree is a hardy plant. It should be planted just before winter time. Grafted varieties are recommended for the home garden. To avoid their root systems drying out, mulch and irrigate. Average height fully grown is around 10–12m but it will take about 20 years to reach this height. Yearly pruning will help them stay manageable. They are excellent as a shade tree.
Uses: Macadamia nuts can be used in numerous recipes and directly substituted for other nuts in cakes, cookies and slices. To make cream, simply blend the nuts with water to use as a luscious topping for a whole range of sweet and savoury dishes. Macadamia cream can be further diluted as a substitute for coconut milk in many recipes.
Midyen-berry Austomyrtus dulcis
Growing: An attractive low shrub that is 50–60 cm high, it has become a popular groundcover in native landscapes. It grows well in full sun through to dappled shade and tolerates some frost. The new leaf growth has a lovely pink flush.
Uses: The pale fruit is small and lightly freckled with a subtle hint of vanilla and cinnamon. Tastes delicious fresh, in fruit salads, as a garnish and makes a superb bush food muffin.
Native Ginger (Dargahn) Alpinia caerulea
Growing: Native Ginger is a hardy plant that grows in moist, lightly shaded areas as well as in full sun. It can be grown in pots and indoors as well. The plant can reach 2 m tall and has attractive bright blue berries. It will bring birds to your garden and add colour to it as well.
Uses: You can actually eat the entire plant. The seed pods provide an interesting spice to experiment with – try chewing a pod as a breath freshener. The centre of the base of the stem can be finely sliced as a spice, used in a similar way to lemongrass stem.
Riberry Syzygium luehmannii
Growing: A small rainforest tree, Riberry is also called Small Leafed Lilly Pilly. It bears prolifically in full sun. Young Riberry plants can tolerate only very light frosts to -4°∆C. It branches from just above ground and is a highly attractive tree with its shiny dark leaves and striking pink flush of new leaf tips. It is often planted as a small specimen tree (unpruned) in parks and gardens and is frequently planted as a small street tree with the lower branches pruned for visibility.
Uses: Riberries are ripe around summer and can be frozen for future use. The small red fruits have a unique aromatic flavour with undertones of cinnamon and clove. They are great as conserves, added to sweets and desserts and used in salads, poultry and other savoury dishes.
Small Leaf Tamarind Diploglottis cambellii
Growing: This species from northern NSW is a hardy, small to medium sized tree. It is actually endangered, with only an estimated 30 trees left in the wild of Northern NSW. It can grow up to 30 m tall but is usually around 8-10 m in an open sunny site. The tree can handle light frosts once established.
Uses: This tree produces three-lobed pods containing a bright red fruit. The clean tangy juice of the fruit is perfect with seafood, can be used as a substitute for tamarind in Asian dishes and makes a delicious salad dressing.
Warrigal Greens Tetragonia teragoniodes
Growing: Known to many gardeners as New Zealand Spinach, it makes an attractive groundcover. Warrigal Greens grow virtually year round in frost-free areas and in summer bear best in partial shade. In temperate climates it grows well from mid spring (or after the last frosts) through to late autumn. Once established, it will readily self-sow year after year.
Uses: Warrigal Greens must be blanched before use to reduce the oxalic acid content. Add to any dish the same way you would use silverbeet and spinach. Blanched and chilled they makes a delectable salad or cold side dish, especially with a serve of macadamia cream.
WARRIGAL GREENS & MACADAMIA PESTO
1 cup Warrigal Greens
½ cup macadamia nuts
¼ cup oil (ideally macadamia or olive)
- Remove the leaves from the Warrigal Greens
- Place leaves in a heat-tolerant bowl and pour boiling water over them
- Let stand for 2–3 minutes
- Strain leaves and rinse immediately with cold water to prevent overcooking
- Blend Warrigal Greens and set aside
- Blend nuts, oil and lime to a smooth paste, gradually adding Warrigal Greens
Serve with your favourite pasta, added to salad, or use as a garnishing sauce for grilled or BBQ meats, fish or tofu.
500 g onions (finely chopped)
350 ml vinegar
500 g apples (peeled and cored)
500 g riberry fruit
100 g sultanas
1 tsp pickling spice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
350 g sugar
- Simmer onion in 125 ml vinegar
- Add chopped apples, riberries, sultanas, spices (tied in a muslin bag), salt, ginger and another dash of vinegar
- Cook gently until fruit is soft, stirring occasionally
- Add remainder of vinegar and stir in sugar
- Boil until chutney is thick, removing bag of spices
- Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes
- Bottle into sterilised jars, seal and store
Delicious with cheese, cold meats, grilled meats and grilled tofu.
FINGER LIME SORBET
950 ml water
6 Finger Limes
250 ml organic raw sugar
2–3 tbsp finger lime globules
150 ml lime juice
- Put 150 ml water and 6 limes (cut in half) in a cup or small bowl and let sit overnight
- Combine sugar with 200 ml water in a small pot and heat, stirring continuously until completely dissolved then remove from heat and let cool
- Mix lime water, sugar water and remaining 600 ml water and lime juice
- Remove fruit globules from the Finger Limes and add to mix then chill before making the sorbet
- Pour chilled sorbet liquid into a plastic container and place in the freezer
- Remove from freezer every 15–20 minutes and stir with a fork to mix iced particles evenly through the liquid. Make sure you scrape all ice away from the sides and bottom, and return immediately to freezer for a further 15–20 mins
- Continue this process for several hours until it’s frozen to a very thick slushy mix of fine ice granules
For more information, check out the Pip Bush Foods Guide; a simple guide to growing, foraging and cooking Australian native foods by Robyn Francis and the Pip team. Available free to current subscribers or for purchase from the Pip shop. Email email@example.com to claim your copy. www.pipmagazine.com.au/shop/bush-foods-guide