Thursday, 26 February 2015

BUSH TUCKER

“In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.” – Charles Lindbergh

“Bush tucker” is a term given to food native to Australia, which was present before European colonisation. Australian aborigines had a healthy and varied diet based on the hunter-gatherer existence suitable to the nomadic life they led. They used whatever food was geographically and seasonally available and ate it for primarily nutritional purposes rather than epicurean ones. There was no refrigeration and only limited ways of preserving food, with no long-term storage containers known. Generally, whatever food was available had to be consumed quickly before it spoilt.


Local knowledge of which plants were edible, palatable, or delicious, as well as the best time for harvest and preparation methods, were passed orally to the next generation. Some plants or their fruits are less toxic at certain times and this may have had important consequences unless specialist knowledge was passed down through the generations. Hunting animals like kangaroos, wallabies, crocodiles, emus, etc and fishing was a task for males while women hunted the smaller animals, collected honey ants, dug for witchetty grubs, edible roots and yams, collected seeds and fruits. Children accompanied the adults in these activities and learnt from an early age how to find water and food by imitation.


Concerning these hunting-gathering activities, Paul Gordon, the Language Officer at Brewarrina said in 1996: “A lot of people say Aboriginal people never farmed the land... Never ploughed the land and they never grew wheat and they never planted apple trees and orange trees. We never had to. Our Mother, the earth, she gave herself freely to us. And because we respected her and loved her we never had to go and do all them other things. That would have been harming our mother. So, we just took what she gave us.” 


Aborigines generally did not boil water, nor stew food, so their main cooking methods (and hence their menus) were different from the Europeans’. They did not have pots or pans, although northern tribes were known to have used bailer shells. Roasting over open flames or using dug-out ovens in the ground were the commonest ways of cooking and many foods were eaten raw. They did not make hot beverages of any kind, nor did they make jams, jellies, or chutneys. There was little use of flavourings and apart from Bunya nuts they only used food from their tribal area and did not trade.


Several aboriginal foods are now well incorporated into the modern Australian menu. Kangaroo meat is delicious, low in saturated fats and its production is more efficient in Australian conditions than the production of mutton or beef. Emu meat is widely consumed and there is a thriving export industry. Crocodile meat is also available and Barramundi is well-deserved fish delicacy. We still have to learn to accept certain aboriginal foods onto our tables. Insects in particular seem to hold a particular aversion (for example, I would not want to sample grubs, larvae, grasshoppers, ants and the like). Many people find the idea of eating reptiles repulsive also.


Early European arrivals ate the fruit of the currant bush and the leaves of the native sarsaparilla vine to ward off scurvy. Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonoides) grow quickly and are called “native spinach” by some. We have some growing in the garden and we eat its young shoots in salads or boil the leaves to have with a simple vinaigrette sauce. Some early settlers quickly learned to make made lilly-pilly (Syzygium australe) and quandong (native peach - Santalum acuminatum) jam. More and more native plants are being developed as popular foods and there is even a burgeoning export industry (see: http://www.cherikoff.net/cherikoff/)

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