I recently attended a workshop at the Rootstock Festival in Sydney on Bush Foods which highlighted how far bush foods have come in contemporary Australian culture. The workshop was conducted by the amazing chef Kylie Kwong who has been on a mission to use various bush foods in her recipes which are mainly inspired by her Chinese heritage. Kylie combined with Aboriginal bush food experts Clarence Slockee (Gardening Australia presenter), Redfern bush food café owner and educator Aunty Beryl as well as bush food growers Mike and Gayle Quarmby of Outback Pride.
A range of vegetables were incorporated into stir fries, dumplings and seafood dishes in ways that would not have been dreamt of even a decade ago. Kylie’s idea is to create a uniquely Australian cuisine that is truly based on our multicultural heritage.
The plants that have captured Kylie Kwong’s imagination are the various ‘greens’ that can be added to salads, stir fries and more complex dishes such as dumplings. Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides), barilla (Tetragonia implexicoma), samphire (Sarcocornia quinqueflora), karkalla (Disphyma crassifolia), saltbush (Atriplex nummularia) and sea celery (Apium prostratum) were all used as main ingredients to provide a range of very tasty and nutritious offerings.
Most of the ingredients are being produced by Mike and Gayle Quarmby of Outback Pride who have pioneered many of the crops on their farm in the south east corner of South Australia. They have travelled far and wide across inland Australia and worked hand in hand with indigenous communities to collect and learn how to propagate an extraordinary range of species. In addition to production on their own farm Mike and Gayle have been instrumental in helping a network of indigenous communities to set up production of the various crops in other regions of inland Australia.
For the home gardener there are a number of these species that will readily adapt to the home vegetable garden. I have found Warrigal greens to be incredibly easy and quick to grow and the plant readily self seeds if you allow it to. Further information can be found in the native plant database on my website.
It is very exciting to see the development of such a diversity Australian plants as food crops. The Aboriginal people used hundreds of different species across the country in their traditional lifestyle. It is a wonderful opportunity for modern day Australians to explore the potential of these plants in partnership with Aboriginal people in a way that is a very tangible form of reconciliation.