We were once warned to keep our hands firmly in our pockets, far from the reaches of poisonous mushrooms and inedible bush shrubs, but now we’re praised – as cooks, consumers and creatives – for pursuing locally harvested ingredients, even at the cost of a little dirt under our fingernails.
Purveyors and cooks throughout Australia have been operating under the paddock-to-plate motto for years now. With a clear consciousness for sourcing foods from their natural habitats – tree trunk to seaside – these eco-culinary activists are helping transform Australia’s native palate from tree grubs to artisan herbs. Explored and utilised for over 40,000 years, it is Australia’s Indigenous communities who bear the greatest knowledge of our land’s rich native food sources.
From wild berries, fruits and flowers, to herbs, seeds and spices, sharing an understanding for our land and its resources has become fundamental for a sustainable future across Australia’s agricultural sector.
Greg Dimopoulos of Native Oz Cuisine is just one of many foragers and wholesalers who has helped to put modern bush tucker on the menu. Native finger limes, Warrigal greens, muntries and strawberry gum leaves are just some of the countless edibles he sources and supplies to some of Melbourne’s most innovative kitchens – think Circa, The Prince and Vue De Monde.
“I source these wonderful ingredients from Aboriginal communities and from mainstream farmers looking for alternative crops to harvest that can stand up against climate problems…from Alice Springs…to Humpty Doo, Queensland’s rainforests, Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular and Tasmania.”
With hunter-gatherer types regularly searching for new native edibles, Dimopoulos reveals there are many botanical ingredients that are known of but are not commercially available, such as chocolate lilli pilli, native onions, many mushrooms and sea vegetables.
“We also attempt to grow and develop ingredients ourselves like river mint. We have trialled it in aquaponics with native fish, to some success,” he says.
And with some native ingredients such as the finger lime proving to be capable of commercial scale production, many other ingredients from our land depend on specific habitual characteristics and seasonal weather cycles. It is these items that must be carefully foraged by Native Oz Cuisine and other wholesalers.
“We currently forage for sea vegetables and sea herbs like salt bush, sea blight, samphire and bower spinach,” says Dimopoulos. “Our farmers around Australia will harvest passion berries in Broome amongst snake infested lands as well as billygoat plums (Kakadu plums) in the Northern Territory.”
Sometimes unable to meet high demands for such unique ingredients on a wholesale level, Dimopoulos also faces the challenge of finding a consistent small-scale platform to distribute his native findings to the general public who wish to experiment with these new flavours.
“You can certainly grow native ingredients at home,” he reveals. “Especially ingredients that are endemic to your region, for example if you live along the coast you can grow coastal salt bush,” he says. “Warrigal greens will grow anywhere because they cultivate like a weed but you can also grow more exotic plants in the suburbs like native finger limes.”
Incorporating subtle bush flavours into homemade sweets and savouries is a great way to begin experimenting with native ingredients that you can harvest in your own backyard. Be sure to try Greg Dimopoulos’s strawberry gum leaf scented panna cotta recipe below.
• 500ml (2 cups) thickened cream
• 500ml (2 cups) milk
• 1 bunch fresh strawberry gum leaf
• 100g castor sugar
• 8g (2 teaspoons) gelatin powder
• Place the cream, milk, sugar and strawberry gum leaf in a pan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves.
• When hot (do not allow to boil) and the flavour has infused, remove from the heat.
• Remove the strawberry gum leaf.
• Remove some of the mixture with a container and add the gelatin into the containers mixture and stir until combined and the gelatin has dissolved.
• Add the small mixture back into the large mixture and stir well.
• Leave the mixture for five minutes then strain with a fine mesh strainer into a jug. Then pour the mixture into moulds.
• Allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.
Native Oz Cuisine
(03) 9781 2217