When it comes to native Australian produce I consider myself a bit of a novice. We have such an abundance of native seeds, fruit and herbs; much of which is unknown to the average Aussie, including myself. My natural curiosity with food clearly extends to what has been growing here for thousands of years. Flora that the Aborigines have been eating and using for as long as they’ve been here. There’s something truly unique about what we have in our backyard, and somehow I’ve made it my own small personal mission to learn more about it all.
A brand that the average Aussie may have heard of is Brookfarm. The muesli? The oil? The walkabout mix? Well this family farm in Byron Bay’s sub-tropical hinterland specialises and leads the market using Australia’s only native nut. The macadamia.
Twenty years ago Pam and Martin Brook left their hometown of Melbourne and took a holiday to the Byron region, where they loved it so much that they bought a 40-hectare run-down dairy farm in St Helena. Many years passed before they left their respective dental and television producing jobs; saying farewell to Melbourne and setting up home and a macadamia farm on the St Helena property. Everything else is history.
The decision to do more with their macadamias rather than on-sell them to other producers came to mind. Macadamia mayo may not have taken off but their muesli did. Big time. As did their other products – all over Australia and to more than 10 countries.
Today the property extends across 96 acres of rolling hills, with two varieties of macadamia growing on part of the land. A grafted Hawaiian and the variety that naturally grew here over 150 years ago. The rest of the property is made up of corridors of eucalyptus and rainforest that was replanted 30 years ago on land that was too gradient for macadamia growth and harvest. Corridors of forest that make the resident koalas, duck-billed platypus, echidna and wallabies some very happy campers.
Harvesting the 4500 macadamia trees is made easier thanks to a compact 87 horse-power piece of machinery built in the Ferrari factory. Now that’s one cool Ferrari!
The nuts drop from the branches when the oil content reaches 40%; an indication by the tree that they’re ready to eat. In this case, they’re swept into the rotating brush nodules and deposited into a bin; ready to hit the factory for processing.
As any farm has pests, Brookfarm gets its share. Rats are kept under control thanks to some resident breeding owls and nut borers are biologically controlled by wasps. Hanging from many of the trees is a very simple device – a takeaway coffee cup stapled with a piece of corrugated card that’s bought in already laid with trichogramma wasp eggs.
When the nuts are still developing they’re prone to nut borers. A pest that lays its eggs on the nuts; using it to grow its own larvae. Thanks to the trichogramma wasps, the freshly laid eggs are destroyed when the wasp turns up within seconds of laying; injecting the egg and killing it. Something like 40,000 wasps are used each year to control nut borers and Brookfarm is one of the first places to adopt this method.
Heading down to the edge of the rainforest, Martin shows us one of the native beehives that are scattered about the property. These tiny stingless bees gather nectar from flowering eucalyptus, macadamias and anything else they can dip their proboscis in. The result? A beautifully fragrant honey that tastes of the Aussie bush.
Martin proudly takes us around the rainforest he helped create, pointing out native wild ginger, pepperberry, Davidson’s plum and many other species that have found residence beneath the shaded canopy. I could have stayed there all day; sitting by the creek, feet submerged, and taking in the peaceful serenity.
However, we had lunch being prepared up at the farmhouse. All of those beautiful ingredients we’d gathered at the Mullumbimby Farmers’ Market several hours earlier were being whipped up by Martins wife Pam and younger son Eddie, a bloke that knows his way around the kitchen really well.
The location of the farmhouse is nothing short of idyllic. Perched atop a hill overlooking the macadamias, local bush and surrounding valleys and hills. As Bruno the family pooch looks on, we chat and tuck into roasted macadamias flavoured with kashmiri chilli. Another Brookfarm product that grew from trees just metres away. The beginnings of an intimate lunch with the Brooks in their own family home.
One of their signatures is the fried green tomatoes topped with macadamias. Rather than traditional cornmeal, the slices of tomato are dipped in brown ale beer batter; adding a slight hoppy flavour to the dish. The hero for me is the salsa made with their own roasted and salted macadamias, mixed with balsamic, coriander, chilli and honey. A gentle spritz with fresh lime and you’re laughing.
And look what we have next. Seared scallops done simply with shaved fennel. A light dressing made with their own lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil, some mustard and white balsamic draws the sweetness from the juicy scallops. Beautiful.
The third dish in our lunch spread is a Vietnamese-inspired salad of shredded wombok, poached chicken, red onion marinated in rice vinegar and raw sugar, grated carrot, mint, coriander, fried shallots and a dressing similar to nước chấm. Talk about clean eating!
Sam brought a slab of beetroot & dark chocolate fudge brownie she’d made, sliced up and served with crème fraîche from the market. Bigtime indulgence. And to finish – a couple of cheeses also from the market, with fruit and crackers. I was tempted to curl up with Bruno the dog and sleep off the great food, but Byron was beckoning. A town I hadn’t seen since the early 1980’s.
Thanks for having us, guys.
hnf travelled to the North Coast courtesy of Brookfarm