Australian Cooking With Bush Tucker and Aboriginal Foods
Bush Tucker and Traditional Aboriginal Diets
Australian Aboriginals have a tradition of their own unique cooking methods, most of the originating in and around outdoor fires. Boiling and barbecuing are newer techniques learned. Aboriginals ate a balanced diet before the invasion of the British Crown, including seasonal fruits, nuts, roots vegetables, wattles, other plant food, many types of meats, and seafood.
The advent of Western culture infringed on Aboriginal diets to some extent. The diet is known as bush tucker. Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals still hunt for turtles, fish, crabs, dugong, mudshells, oysters and other edible animals in the seas. This includes sharks and stingrays from time to time. Out of the bush, they bring fruit and game animals like goanna lizards, pigs, wallabies, kangaroos, possums, and others.
Natural Food Plants in Australia
Aboriginal diets have included a variety of plant food, but the wattle is very well know. The wattle grows throughout Australia and has occurred in at least 100 species used by various Aboriginal groups.
Aboriginals use wattles and other plants in three major ways - 1) food, 2) medicine and 2) materials (tools, weapons, Boomerangs, fibre fishing nets, building materials). A few wattles are fully multipurpose in all of these ways and as such, would please chef Alton Brown very much. These wattles are the mulga, the earpod wattle, and the strap wattle.
Seeds: Wattles have been a popular food from 20+ species. Some were collected and ground into flour. Mixed with water, it was eaten as a paste, like poi, or cooked over hot ash on a griddle or other piece of metal. Other seeds are roasted in the pod, and some pods are eaten while.
Plant Gums: Many wattles produce a kind of gum naturally or as an immune-type response to physical damage.. The gum of several wattle species is edible. For some Aboriginal groups this was a child's snack food. Dissolved in water, the gum makes a drink and can be sweetened with nectar.
Roots: Young wattle roots are better than older roots for food and are generally roasted over a fire. Occasionally, grubs found with the roots and other parts of the plant - especially some pods - are consumed as well.
Golden Wattle, National Flower
Additional Food Plants in Australia
Bunya Pine, originally from Queensland - Its large green cones, contain hard-shelled nuts. They have been very popular. Many are fire roasted and shared with visitors, although they can be boiled as well.
Burrawangs in New South Wales, The Northern Territory, Queensland, and Western Australia - POISONOUS - The seeds appear in large cones and have an orange outer coat. Aborigines cooked the large amounts of seeds available from a single plant, broke them up, and soaked them for three weeks in running water. In Western Australia, only the outer red part was edible and only after being washed and buried for a time.
Cunjevoi in New South Wales - starchy and fibrous, they are POISONOUS when raw. The Aborigines put these stems through repeated roasting and pounding to remove poisons.
NOTE: The word Cunjevoi is present in three different species. Of these three, two are plants of the family Araceae and genus Alocasia and are related to each other.
The third is a sea animal named Pyura stolonifera. "Sea squirt", an Aboriginal name for the marine animal, represents a formerly usual food source in Sydney. However, it is more popular as fishing bait at present.
Marine Sea Squirt - Delicacy and Fish Bait
Gymea Lily in New South Wales - The 13-foot tall stems were cut young in to 20-inch spears that were very thick. Then they were roasted. The roots were roasted and made into a cake. A single plant provided food for a large group.
Rock Orchid in New South Wales - Stems were beaten to break up fibers, then cooked on hot clay stones.
Yam-Daisy in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia - A radish-like tuber, it grows back every year (perennial). Springtime brings out a yellow flower like a dandelion and in summer the leaves fall while the plant becomes dormant. The tubers have been cooked in baskets in ground ovens, making a sweet juice. Sheep grazing has reduced this plant to almost endangered levels in some areas.
Aboriginal Chef Mark Olive
Traditional Cooking Method
Roasting Over Hot Wood Coals
Fires were built over which to cook a variety of animal meats and plants. Roasting has been used to cook game such as meat, fish, manatee-like dugongs, and turtles. Often, the meat was covered in coals and ashes until completely cooked.
For kangaroo meat, fur was singed off in the fire. Then the body would be, gutted and the last fur scraped off, and the body returned to the coals to complete cooking.
Cooking Wild Game and Other Foods
Smaller game cooked more quickly; the kangaroo may not have cooked past medium doneness before the fire went out. In addition, partially cooked kangaroo blood was sometimes drunk as as a delicacy, usually by the men.
Some shellfish cooked briefly on coals at the sides of the fire so they could be easily removed first. However cockles (like clams) were mounded up and fire and coals covered them so that the shells would pop open when done.
Today, frying pans are often used over outdoor fires and aluminum foil is often used to wrap food.
Baking In Wood Ashes
Bread were baked in the ashes of the fires. Different woods were used for different foods, because they added their own tastes and some of them not very good. Wattles usually baked in the ashes rather well and witchetty grubs on some wattles required a brief roll across hot ashes to cook.
Goanna lizards were put onto the heated ground under the ashes and covered additional ash Then Aboriginals scooped out ashes to make depressions in which to cook yams and other vegetables. These were covered with additional ashes and coals until cooked.
The old ground ovens dug by ancient Aboriginal tribes are still in existence. They were formed by digging pits about 4 feet long and 2 ½ - 3 feet deep and removing any clay. Firewood was placed into the pit and the clay was laid back on top of the wood in balls or lumps.
The hot pieces of clay were removed with sticks. The pit was swept clean lined with green leaves or grasses. Then small game animals were laid on top, covered by green grass and weighted down with the hot clay. Then the whole arrangement was buried in dirt and this caused the game animals to steam cook.
Pigs, possums, and goanna lizards are buried in pits and cook in a couple of hours or longer.
In the well-known Arnhem Land, the thin bark from Melaleuca (tea tree) trees remains an often-used cooking method for vegetables and meat in ground ovens. This is similar to cooking methods of Africa and Hawaii and other regions that use large green leaves, like banana leaves for such pit cooking.
Newer Cooking Methods
Aborigines have learned to boil foods in metal cans and large drums for large communities, aluminum pots, and cast iron cooking pans and skillets.
These cooking pieces have replaced the ground oven in some Aboriginal regions, bit some oven are still used. Kangaroo legs (large) are boiled in pots and one can see feet and claws hanging over edges of cook pots in remote camps - strange at first sight.
Meat and seafood juices are kept after boiling and used for rice stew, like western chicken stock.
Barbecuing has become popular. A metal coat hanger, a piece of wire, or a long cookout fork holds meat or breads dough over wood coals, much like roasting hotdogs over a campfire..
© 2008 Patty Inglish MS