In New York, bunches of fresh gum leaves are a staple at the many flower stands and corner delis. Rubbing the leaves between my fingers and sticking them under my nose connects me with Australia on such a visceral level that it creates an instant calm. Knowing a visit back home is not easy right now, I set out to find some bush tucker to cook with here in the city.
Eucalyptus leaves and trees
Eucalypts or gum trees have been in Australia for over 45 million years, with the oldest specimen coming from Bass Strait, and there are approximately 800 species. Indigenous Australians have traditionally used nearly all parts of eucalypt trees, with bark and wood being used for making vessels, tools, spears and clubs. Introduced to the U.S. by Australians during the California Gold Rush of 1850, fresh leaves now fill the vases in the entrance of my Brooklyn apartment; they can also be used to make sinus-clearing tea, add a taste of home to martinis, and are my go-to throat lozenge in winter. Deciding not to relocate back to Australia, an expat friend recently told me that for her 50th birthday she had purchased 50 gum trees to plant on her property on Long Island. Now that’s what I call setting down roots. Find eucalyptus foliage at many florists around the city, or buy huge fresh bunches from vendors at the Union Square Greenmarket. Try this Eucalyptus Martini which uses a fresh eucalyptus syrup.
Looking for something unique to decorate an 11-egg Venetian Chocolate cake I had whipped up for a friend’s birthday (using a trusty 2011 edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller), I was surprised to find native Australian Finger Limes at the Park Slope Food Coop. I’d never seen finger limes on the shelves when I lived back in Oz, and breaking the skin on these tough little fruits wasn’t easy. Once inside, I found loads of tiny citrus beads that popped and tingled with a sweet-tart taste when I squished them in my mouth. My American friends love to cook and were excited by my find and the unexpected flavor they brought to the cake, but the ways to use this fruit are many.
Curious to know more about finger limes, I discovered the pack I had purchased had been grown by Nature Hills in California, but they are traditionally found in the sub-tropical rainforests of northern NSW and Queensland. The indigenous peoples of the Bundjalung, Gumbainggir, Wakka Wakka and Barunggam nations would use finger limes as a medicinal aide to prevent illnesses and apply the pearls topically as an antiseptic. Not only are they packed with vitamin C — three times the amount of a satsuma — they’re rich in folate, potassium and vitamin E. Be inspired by this article which references 8 recipes that use Finger Limes. Learn more about Finger Limes.
Every time I eat these deliciously robust nuts, I’m transported right to Australia’s doorstep. They’re amazing, and another superb example of native bush tucker the world has come to embrace, especially in Hawaii where they’ve been grown since 1881. Indigenous Australians know the plant as gyndl, jindilli or boombera, and used the oil from the nut as body paint. They would roast, grind and soak the nut to reduce bitterness. One serving of macadamia nuts also contains dietary fiber, protein, manganese, thiamin and a good amount of copper.
A big fan of macadamia and white chocolate cookies (and looking forward to Qantas’ long-haul flights returning partly for this reason), I plan on baking a tray this week in honor of Australia’s ancient past. Find macadamia nuts in the nut aisle of your favorite grocery store. Here is a recipe that borrows from the famed Byron Bay Cookie Company found in cafes around Australia: White Chocolate and Macadamia nut cookie recipe.