Category Archives: Native Tastes of Australia

Discover Wattleseed

As Australia’s floral emblem, the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) is a familiar site across the southern temperate regions of the continent. Its bright yellow blooms bring a sneeze in spring for those prone to hayfever. Australian aborigines utilised various species for everything from food and medicines, to utensils such as digging sticks and barbs, weapons (clubs, shields, boomerangs, spear throwers, spear shafts and heads), for musical instruments such as clap sticks; firewood, ash, glue, string, dye, waterproofing, sandals, head decorations, ceremonial items and seasonal signals.

Early European explorers, colonial settlers and scientists were impressed by the ‘healing’ powers of acacias, commonly used them to treat dysentery, diarrhoea and sore eyes.
Preparations from at least 30 of the more than 950 acacia species in Australia were traditionally used by indigenous Australians for medicinal purposes . Leaves, branchlets, bark, gum, roots, pods and seeds; different parts were prepared in different ways to drink or apply externally to cure ailments.
Southern Ironwood (Acacia estrophiolata) was used to treat colds, sore throats and headache. A decoction using the inner bark from the smooth younger branches was used once daily for sores, boils and scabies and as a splash for inflamed eyes. A red or blackish gum exuded by this species after it was damaged, was softened by kneading under water and applied like an ointment directly to sores and wounds. Hard pieces of gum were sometimes ground to fine powder which was dusted onto skin lesions. Long strips of the root bark of were moistened with water and wrapped around sores, burns and larger wounds, and used to secure dressings.
Other Acacias were used to treat itching from a number of skin conditions such as allergies, various diseases and rashes; including those caused by hairy, stinging caterpillars (itchy grubs).
In arid areas of Australia, seed from about 40 acacia species was used for food. The high nutritional value and wide availability of seed from various species made them a valuable resource. Wattleseed contains 33% more protein than wheat. It’s gluten-free and has a low glycemic index. It contains magnesium, zinc and calcium.
The Mulga (Acacia aneura) woodlands, widely spread in all mainland states except Victoria , are a common habitat for the honey ant, the lerp scale which exudes ‘honey dew’ that was made into a sweet drink, and the wasp which produces the juicy mulga apple. Kangaroos use mulga woodlands for shelter, and zebra finches nest in the branches.
The highly valued witchetty grub is found pupating in the roots of the Witchetty Bush (Acacia kempeana ).
Depending on the species, seed was eaten and prepared in different ways. Young green pods were eaten raw or green pods were roasted or steamed, or dry mature seed was ground into a flour, mixed with a little water and eaten as a paste or cooked as a damper . Uncooked seed from a small number of species were plucked from the pods and eaten raw as a ‘snack food’
Acacias were also used as seasonal indicators or calendar plants. For example, when the flowers of Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata ) growing along the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne fell into the water, it was time to fish for eels that fed on grubs that lived in the wattle flowers.

However, as is the case with all plants, if you can’t identify them don’t eat them. Many acacia species contain toxins that require extensive preparation before they can be used, and others should never be used.

Roasted and ground seed from the Elegant Wattle (Acacia Victoriae ) has been readily accepted at today’s Australian table. By roasting the raw wattle seed until it pops, similar to pop corn it has an amazing flavour related to hazelnut, coffee, walnuts, and chocolate.. This has many uses, coffee-like beverages (caffeine free), essences, beer, baking, confectionery, dairy, sweets, confectionery and marinades.

Over the past few years even the pod/husk of the Elegant Wattle have been researched for its medical properties, in the fight against cancer. After roasting, the seeds are ground for convenient use.

Wattle seeds have very hard husks and when they fall off the tree will last for up to twenty years only germinating after bushfires. If you plant them, soak them in boiling water for a few hours first or alternatively, throw them on the BBQ and then plant after they pop. Because their hard shell also protects the seed during long periods of dormancy on the ground you have to crack through that for the germination to occur. It is generally the first tree back after a bushfire.
Roasted and ground wattleseed is used in desserts, cake and bread and gives a delicious flavour to meat dishes, chicken, fish and cream sauces. Add to pancake batter, cheesecake or ice cream .
For sweet dishes it blends well with vanilla and cinnamon. For a savoury flavour, try it with lemon myrtle, bush tomato or pepperberry. In uncooked dishes, allow to infuse overnight.
If you brew a “tea” you can then use the softened grains in baking. Some chefs grind it really finely to produce delicious Wattleseed Scones. I love to add a heaped teaspoon to my bread mix. After 4 hours the grittiness that can occur with a short cooking time disappears.

Easy Wattleseed Icecream.
For each litre of premium vanilla ice cream use 2 teaspoons of roasted ground wattleseed. Put the wattleseed into a cup and just cover with boiling water. This will swell the wattleseed and release the flavours. Allow to cool. Slightly soften the vanilla ice cream in a bowl. Stir through the wattleseed slurry. Return the ice cream to the tub and refreeze.
Tips for using roasted and ground wattleseed.
1. For a beverage……1 heaped tsp per cup, in a percolator, plunger or filter.
2. Bread, damper, scones…..1 tsp per cup of flour.
3. Ice cream….1/2 tsp per 200ml
4. Slices and Biscuits add 1 tsp to each cup of recipe mixture.
5. Best to brew the wattleseed in hot water to bring out the flavour, and use the syrup……..
6. Lightly dust meat just prior to cooking
7. For a sauce – add 25gm and 2 star anise to 2 cups of reduced lamb stock. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain twice and then add a knob of butter.

Wattleseed & Macadamia Nut Anzac Biscuits
Ingredients
1 ½ cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
½ cup white sugar
30g ground wattleseed
125g butter
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ cup chopped and toasted macadamias

Preparation method
1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.
2. Mix together the oats, flour, wattleseed, sugar and macadamia nuts.
3.In a saucepan, melt the butter and butter and golden syrup over a low heat, stirring until combined. Mix water and baking soda in a cup and add to melted butter mixture. Add all of this to the dry ingredients. Take teaspoonfuls of mixture and place on lightly greased biscuit tray flattening them a little with a fork. Leave 3cm for the biscuits to spread.
4. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and cool on wire racks.

Wattleseed Cinnamon Myrtle Swirl Cake
Cream 125gm butter with a tspn of Wattleseed Extract and ¾ cup sugar. Add 2 eggs. Mix well and then divide the mix in half.
To the first half add 1 Tbspns softened Wattleseed, ¾ cup of self raising flour and a ¼ cup milk.
To the second half add 1 Tbspn of Cinnamon Myrtle, ¾ cup of self raising flour and a ¼ cup milk.
Spoon into a prepared cake tin, alternating and swirling. Bake at 180C for 40 minutes.
Serve warm with custard and/ or whipped cream.

Discover Australia Through Her Food

Discover Quandongs

The inhospitable Red Centre of Australia is dry, rugged and barren but there is food if you know where to look. Aboriginal people know which acacia tree roots hold the prized Witchetty Grubs and where to dig for edible honey ants. There are wild oranges on the edge of creek beds, and seasonal seeds, berries, bush tomatoes, wild figs and wild peaches (quandong).

The Quandong (Santalum Acuminatum) is found in the arid and semi-arid regions of all Australian mainland states. Semi-parasitic, it is usually hosted by Wattle Trees. A small desert tree up to 4 metres high, with rough dark bark and pale green elongated hanging leaves. Cream flowers appear late summer and, depending on the season, form fruit which is ready for harvest in early spring.

Traditionally, the Quandong was an important food source for Australian Aborigines. Athough somewhat tart, they are highly nutritious and contain twice the vitamin C of an orange. When hunting game was in short supply, male members of the Red Centre’s Pitjantjara people substituted the wild peach for meat.

Quandong gathering and food preparation is considered Pitjantjara women’s business. The ripe red Wild Peach would be eaten raw or dried for later use. Typically the women would collect Quandong in bark dishes, separate the flesh from the pitted stone, and then roll the edible fruit into a ball. The fruit ball was then broken up for consumption by the tribal group.

Highly valued for its medicinal properties, Quandong was brewed into a form of tea which was drunk as a purgative. The tree roots were also ground down and used as an infusion for the treatment of rheumatism. The leaves were crushed and mixed with saliva to produce a topical ointment for skin sores and boils.

Encased within each Quandong seed is a very nutritious oil rich kernel which was also processed in a similar fashion to treat skin disorders. The kernels are edible and some tribal groups were known to use crushed kernels as a form of “hair conditioning oil”. Quandong is also the preferred food source of emus, and, as is the case with many native animals, the bird eats the whole fruit but is unable to fully digest the seed which then passes out into its own rich compost. This makes for easy collection because it’s easy to spot emus in the bush.

Quandong trees possess an aromatic wood that was traditionally used by aboriginal people in “smoking ceremonies”. The wood from the slow growing trees was prized for the making of traditional bowls – pitti or coolamons.

Australia’s early pastoralists became creative around the campfire. When stockmen were away from home for long periods they baked dampers infused with Quandong leaves.

When in season – between October and February – many early settler farmers would also take their families out for a Quandong picnic. After gathering Quandong the peeled fruit was used to make a variety of jams, chutneys and pies. Such treats were often the only delicacies to be had – especially during drought and depression years when money was short. Many older Australians eyes still mist when reminicsing about Quandong Pie from their childhood and how they painted the seeds to make the playing pieces for Chinese Checkers.

During the past 30 years the Quandong has become a firm favourite of Australia’s burgeoning bush food industry. Commercial Quandong plantations are now an economic reality. Quandong fruit can be dried and/or frozen for 8 years or more, without losing any flavour.

Dried Quandong halves are available year round in the (Taste Australia Bush Food Shop) and are an excellent pantry staple. In the early part of each year I make Quandong in Liqueur, this gives it a good 9 to 10 months to infuse and is ready for inclusion in the Christmas Cake. It also makes an intoxicating icecream topping when pureed.

Quandong in Liqueur

Soak 100gm dried quandong halves in water overnight, drain and transfer to a large glass jar. Add 750ml Vodka plus cooled sugar syrup (2 cups sugar dissolved in half cup water). Stir into the jar. Seal and place in a cool dark place. Stir weekly. Should be ready in 4 to 6 weeks but of course the longer, the better.

Quandong Chilli Sauce

15 Quandong (dried or fresh) rough chop
1/4 cup vinegar (don’t use sweet spiced type)
2 small chillies – chopped and de- seeded
1 tsp salt
1 tbspn brown sugar or palm sugar

If using dried quandong soak overnight, then drain.
Simmer slowly quandong and chillies in the vinegar with salt and sugar added, until mixture has become reduced and quandongs soft and mushy, about 30 mins.
Sauce should coat the back of a spoon and not just run straight off.

Quandong Paste

Ingredients
100gm dried quandong
400gm sugar
juice of one lime

Cover the quandong with water and soak overnight.
Cook until tender (about 30 minutes).Strain
Puree the fruit and place in a pot with sugar and lime juice.
Cook for approx half an hour until all the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has thickened.
Then pour into moulds and allow to cool before covering. Excellent on a cheese platter.

Quandong Pie

Ingredients
100gm dried quandong soaked overnight
1 litre water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornflour
250gram short crust pastry
2 Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored and cubed)

Method
Simmer quandong with water and sugar until thick and hydrated then stir in apples. Make a smooth paste with the cornflour by adding a little water. While quandong and apples are simmering stir in the cornflour mixture bring to the boil until the first bubbles appear then take off the heat and cool.

Grease a 20cm pie tin and then line with pastry pressing the pastry into the sides and leaving an overlap of pastry. Fill the pie crust until 3/4 full with quandong and apple mix. Brush egg wash around edge of pie crust and top with a pastry cover. Crimp pie edge to form a seal and brush top with egg wash. Run a fork over pastry to form a pattern then place five holes in pastry top

Bake at 180C for 30-45 minutes or until pastry is cooked and nicely browned.