Baking – from a simple damper that takes only half an hour to deliver you a hot, butter-slathered slice, to a stylish quince and lemon myrtle syrup cake – is the perfect way to explore the incredible array of bush food. These fruits, leaves and spices have been enjoyed by Indigenous Australians for thousands of years, and are increasingly available as traditional landholders build businesses based on seasonal and ethical harvesting. From minty to mellow, and salty to sweet, there’s a whole nation of flavour.
Here are some of our fave ways to embrace bush foods in your baking.
Cake and a cuppa
Whenever quinces are in season, pull out this recipe for quince and lemon myrtle syrup cake. It’s simple to make but so stylish, and it tastes as good as it looks. Lemon myrtle-poached quinces decorate the top, and the extra syrup from the poached quince is used to flavour the cake batter. More syrup is poured over the cake when it comes out of the oven.
This also feels like just the spot to mention some native spice drinks options – you can buy an increasing range of bush food teas, or make your own gum leaf tea, turmeric and lemon myrtle tea, or hot toddy with wattleseed and bush honey.
Great matches with chocolate
Chocolate is a great partner with many bush spices and fruits. But don’t take our word for it… whip up a batch of these chocolate river mint fudge brownies by chef Mark Olive and see for yourself! The mint cuts through the sweetness and macadamias add crunch.
Another great idea from Mark Olive is this chocolate and wattleseed self-saucing pudding. Who doesn’t love a rich gooey choc pud!
And while we’re talking pudding, here’s another good one. Bob (Penuka) Taylor’s camp fire meals and tours combine his Indigenous heritage and his training as a chef. He makes these wattleseed and quandong puddings with white chocolate outdoors but has also shared an oven alternative for home cooks.
A very Aussie Anzac
This recipe by Rebecca Sullivan adds two native Australian foods, macadamia nuts and wattleseeds, to the much-loved Australian biscuit.
Here’s a gingerbread ‘house’ with an Aussie twist: a camp tent made from a dough flavoured with lemon myrtle, along with other sweet spices (the 'soil' is made from crushed biscuits). It’s part of our Gingerbread Houses of the World series, which, along with a mosque, pagoda and log cabin, also features a bush shack made with lemon myrtle gingerbread and a gingerbread ute made with a wattleseed-flavoured dough.
Pair it with pastry
Red bush apples, also known as djarduk among other names, are a fruit that’s becoming popular in the Northern Territory, and the rest of Australia is beginning to discover it too. At Darwin’s Speaker’s Corner Café, they use them in bush apple bundles, which are simple wattleseed pastry parcels filled with a mixture of cooked apple and bush apple pieces.
Mark Olive brings two cultures together on a plate with his macadamia baklava, which also uses a lush lemon aspen syrup.
And anyone who loves lemon curd will love Olive’s lemon aspen curd tartlets. Native to northern Queensland, the lemon aspen tree’s tart, aromatic fruit are perfect in a rich curd, where the strong lime-lemon-grapefruit flavour balances the sweetness perfectly.
Breads and dampers
Think of Damien’s damper, from the book Warndu Mai (Good Food) by Rebecca Sullivan & Damien Coulthard, as the easiest of ways to try different bush spices. It’s a simple loaf made with oil, water, SR flour, salt and some native spice. Try wattleseed, lemon myrtle, strawberry gum, bush tomato or saltbush. It takes only about half an hour to make and as the pair say, “damper is always best eaten hot with lashings of butter”.
A flurry of native flavours come together in chef Mark Olive’s bush-style damper with tapenade, from his NITV show On Country Kitchen. He uses five different bush foods in the tapenade, and dried sea parsley in the herb damper.
And this cheese-topped wattleseed loaf is a favourite at the campfire dinners hosted by Geoff ‘Marksie’ Mark. “The roast wattleseed gives the bread a slight hazelnut flavour,” Marksie says.
Chocolate lovers, this one is for you: Mark Olive’s lemon myrtle chocolate damper. The dough is rolled out into a rectangle and covered with bits of lemon myrtle chocolate then rolled into a log. A dusting of dried lemon myrtle and caster sugar goes on top before baking. It makes for an easy but indulgent breakfast or brunch.
Get the proper bush flavour into your damper by cooking it over hot coals in a camp oven. The bush tomato adds an earthy tomato and caramel flavour to the bread.
This is like a giant pancake and makes a great dessert, breakfast or brunch.