TThere is nothing better than seeing the excitement and happiness on a child’s face when they are greeted with food. Our son Mallee is a willing consumer of all foods, especially First Nations foods, and is always happy to discover a new or unfamiliar flavour.
From an early age, Mallee’s introduction to local foods was an open lunch box. My parents and family share country-harvested foods, and when we receive a new bundle from a harvester, farmer, or farmer, Mallee is always the first to try. Muntries and quandongs, which are eaten a handful at a time, are his favorites.
With every handful comes an opportunity to share stories through the lens of First Nations. It’s the sense of adventure, discovery, and wonder that my wife, Rebecca Sullivan, and I hope to share.
Over the past decade, there has been rapid growth in the local food industry: First Nations foods are now front and center in gin distilleries and appearing on the menus of local cafes and top restaurants in most major cities. The indigenous plants that have provided health and wellness to diverse nations over many generations are new but old flavors for some.
It is exciting to see Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses celebrating cultural heritage through their selected products, but many local species are important to their place and community, and it is important that this cultural and intellectual property remain with the traditional owners.
As I got older, learning more about my culture became an urgent matter. Across Australia, Aboriginal languages are under great threat, some are already on the verge of no return and many are extinct. When we lose languages, we also lose history and family heritage; Important cognitive systems left to sleep on the ground. I see our foods as an equally important component of these systems.
While this plant is not technically endemic to Australia, it has been around for long enough to be treated as native. Known as wyrrung by the indigenous people of New South Wales, rosella (sometimes called native hibiscus) is known for reviving tea pots or champagne glasses. This vibrant red flower is very versatile and is good in both sweet and savory dishes.
Uses: Also like lemon sorrel or rhubarb. It can be eaten fresh, cooked, preserved in syrup, or the like. The leaves are delicious too.
He buys: Fresh, frozen or lyophilized powder. Sometimes available from farmers markets.
pick / feed: As with all feed, check plant identity at least three times. Always seek permission if you are on someone else’s property and avoid roadsides due to pollution. Most importantly, be culturally and environmentally respectful. Take only what you need, and leave plenty of behind for birds and bees.
a store: In the refrigerator or freezer. If dried, in an airtight container.
This jam is fun on toast and makes my ace fun to go with a cheese board too, and it’s puffed up in jam pies. You will need four sterilized one-cup jars.
Make 1 liter (4 cups)
2 kg rosella flowers, Fresh
6 lemon myrtle leaves
1 cup white sugar for each cup of pulp (220g)
Separate the rosella petals from the seed pods. Separate them, wash and shake them to dry.
Place the pods in a heavy saucepan and cover with about two liters of water. Boil on medium high heat for 30 minutes.
Put the petals in another pot. Strain the juice from the boiled pods directly above the petals, then discard the pods. Add lemon myrtle leaves and bring to a slow boil over medium heat, then boil for 20 minutes until reduced by a third. Remove from heat.
Measure the pulp of the petal and add 1 cup (220 g) of sugar to each cup of the pulp, stirring until dissolved. Put it on high heat and let it boil for 20 minutes or until it reaches the setting point (see note). Cool briefly, then remove lemon myrtle leaves and transfer jam to sterilized jars and seal. The jam will be stored in a cool, dark place for up to two years.
NB: To test the setting point, the easiest thing to do is buy a jam thermometer and when it reads 105°C, the jam will be set. Or you can try the dish test. Put a few saucers in the fridge before making jam. When the jam is cooked within the time indicated in the recipe, drop a little less than a teaspoon on a cold plate, let it stand for a minute and then gently push your finger across the middle. If the jam is wrinkled, it has reached the setting point; If it does not, boil for another five minutes, then test again with another cold saucer.
Urti or Bidjigal (Quandong)
Often referred to as the native peaches or the desert peaches, they are one of the most popular fruits in our pantry and relatively easy to obtain. Known as the Orti in parts of South Australia and Pidgegal in parts of Victoria, we always look forward to their season, seeing the colors they come in – from bright pink to dark pink and ruby red. We have also heard stories of “ghost quandong”, which is pure white.
Quandongs are known for their pungent flesh and for the inner pulp, which is sometimes used decoratively. It also occupies an important place in Damien’s culture, being the jewel of the Flinders mountain range where his country is located, and in many of his Yarta Mudra (History and Creation Stories). The kernels are delicious – they taste like almonds – and they are very medicinal. Quandong is also known as wolgol in Noongar (southwest WA) and kurti in Nukunu (Yorke peninsula, SA).
Uses: You can also peaches or rhubarb – fresh, cooked or preserved.
He buys: Fresh, frozen or dried into halves or pieces. They are sometimes found in farmers’ markets and shops in appropriate areas.
Pick/Feed: Pick the fruit when it turns pink or red. Depending on where you live, this will be between October and March.
a store: In the refrigerator or freezer, or in an airtight container if dried. They will last a long time dry and will fill quickly again when soaked.
This recipe is easy and can be made with dried, fresh, or frozen fruits. If you are using dried fruit, we recommend soaking it in water for a few hours beforehand to rehydrate it. For frozen fruit, you won’t need a lot of liquid in the pan because it will thaw during cooking. If you prefer a sweeter jam, use the same weight of sugar as the fruit. Feel free to add some local spices like lemon, cinnamon, or anise myrtle leaves (about four to six); Remove it before pouring it into the jars.
Make 1 liter (4 cups)
1 kg whenhalved, de-seeded and preserved
2 cups of orange juice, (500 ml)
750 gm fine sugar
Place the kwandong in a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan, cover with the orange juice (cover with water if the juice doesn’t cover all of the fruit) and let it sit for up to an hour.
Heat the sugar in a microwave or low oven until hot. As soon as the fruit begins to soften, transfer it to a saucepan with the juice and put on a low heat. Slowly add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Bring to a quick boil, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, for 10 minutes.
Leave to cool for 10 minutes before pouring into sterilized jars. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.
Aside from kwandong, this basic recipe can also be used for pickled tanami or other tree apples, as well as hard vegetables like broccoli, carrots, fennel or cabbage. Use this as you would any other pickle with cheese, cold meats, or in salads.
Make 2 large jars (500 ml each)
1.2 kg whenHalf of the seeds removed
2 cups apple cider vinegar (500 ml)
1 cup white vinegar (250 ml)
1 cup white sugar (220g)
4 leaves anise myrtle
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Half a teaspoon of fennel seeds
½ teaspoon pepper
Place the quanta in a large heatproof bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until sugar has dissolved and flavors have infused.
Pour the liquid over the kwandong, let it simmer for five minutes, then transfer the apples and liquid to the saucepan and simmer for another three minutes. Pour ladle into sterilized jars, seal and cool. Jam can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to two years. For best results, let the pickle simmer for at least three months before eating.
This is an edited excerpt from The Food Companion to First Nations by Damien Coulthard and Rebecca Sullivan, photographed by Josh Gillen. Available now from Murdoch Books ($49.99).