Edible bush flowers- the colourful kapok

Kapok 7

I just posted about the wonderful Kapok tree (Cochlospermum fraserii) which is in flower now. When I heard it was edible I put it in a pretty basic salad on a fishing trip.

Since then I tried it in a very local salad using Snake beans grown in Humpty Doo (steamed and cooled), just hard boiled eggs from our chooks, chick peas, and very excitingly the first of this year’s tomatoes from Jenko’s spray free crop near Noonamah. I also added in some garden herbs and a yummy dressing of local lemon juice, garlic, Bees Creek honey, oil and sumac. Fresh Kapok flowers on top. You can de-petal or put them in whole.

Kapok and bean saladI also added them to a platter that had cheese, and my first batch of pickled Kakadu plums (Terminalia ferdinandiana) and some freshly made Grevillea tea. I think many more of our flowers that become edible fruit could also be added into salads and will research into this more.

pickles too


The Food of Love


What better way to celebrate love than with food; whether it is a romantic meal or a wedding, a family meal or a special feast, food brings people together and is cooked with love! Food is such a central part of every culture, and there are traditions, even if it is a family favourite or a dish kept for special occasions cooked in a certain way.

 abby and kokonda

 OK, so this (not so) little piece is not entirely set here in the Top End, but it features awesome local food, and a food story that stems from our Darwin garden and journeys elsewhere. I would like to credit the above group wedding shot and the below wedding photos which are taken by the very clever (and helpful) Sooz of Illuminating Photography (photos 1,3,4,5,6,7and 10).

kimmy and justin

All ceremonies and cultural celebrations accumulate in food and it is now a year since our good friends held an amazing wedding with amazing food, food from the heart. I have been meaning to write about it (with their full endorsement) since and what better way than on the (now belated) anniversary.

Wedding Kimmy and Justin, although living far from us here in Darwin are a couple that have very similar interests and a way of living to us, giving consideration to the environment with the food they eat and the items they consume. Justin works with native reveg. and Kimmy in sustainable living and they love circus, being creative and making things (like all the matching wedding outfits!)


They came to Darwin for our wedding on the beach (now over 50 moons ago) and performed at the ceremony and helped prepare some of the (local and fair) food, so it was just wonderful to travel to visit them to celebrate their joining! They had their ceremony at Black Butt look out in the beautiful national park, up a winding road under a wonderful large gum tree right next to the most amazing look out in to the ranges. We then all went back down to a community built hall, called Hanging rock hall, where we were camped.

kimmy and justin

kimmy and justin We enjoyed circus shows from Kimmy and Justin’s circus group at our tables- which were decorated with the most incredible detail- all hand made decorations, circus flags and lamps, native flowers and under the stars and a string of fairy lights; organic wine from Temple Breuer vineyard, beer from the nearby Byron Bay Brewing Company and native saplings as table decorations, doubling as guest presents and great company…

night table

The party continued on into the night with dancing and merriment..


 kimmy and justin Ohhhhh and the food was incredible…

So what was so special about the food? Well it was that the guests cooked it. The gift to the bride and groom was that everyone bought their favourite dish to the wedding and the guidance given- whether it was to be sweet or savoury. There were 2 amazing long tables of food, home cooked with love, all with little labels saying what each dish was. There were quiches, bowls of salad from the local community garden, lasagnes, spinach and feta pies, and an amazing array of sweets, fresh fruit….and so much more I can’t even remember.

salad by night

food line up 3

spinach pie food line up2

The food journey story…

Back in Darwin we thought about what our favourite special dish would be and hands down it is namas, kokondo, pouisson cru or whatever you care to call this awesome dish. We have grown to love this from travelling through the Pacific and into Darwin, where it is quite a favourite. We don’t eat fish that often, if everyone in the world ate it all the time our sea would be a less amazing place, so we tend o eat friend caught fish- just occasionally; and on special occasions- like weddings.

kokonda finish Usually we make kokonda with Jew fish marinated in Greenies Howard Spring limes, soak it, drain it and add it to firm but ripe pawpaw, cucumber, spring onion, coriander and maybe capsicums if they are in season and then home made coconut milk. We wanted to take a few special home made ingredients with us, so Jon made coconut milk from our back yard coconuts, put it in a jar and put it in a bag with an ice brick for our journey. We also squeezed limes from the orchard, popped that in a jar (I love jars) to take a little bit of Darwin to the table. We knew we would have a day before hand, as we were heading to the back of Nimbin in the Shannon and could track down some ingredients- luckily most of the produce involved also grows down in northern New South Wales..

We hit the coast the day before and tried to get fish from the small fishing boats- but they didn’t have any for sale.

sold oot

So we went to a small fishmonger near by at Tweed Heads and bought, I am pretty sure, Jew Fish (you need firm fish that stays together) then ate chips that we had also got, and got crazy seagulls after them too- mm good fresh real made chips- man I miss them in Darwin, but of course we have plenty of other great things to make up for it!

Sea gulls

We headed into the hills, to our home stay in the Channon and happened to drive past a small organic farm, in Uki, So we dropped in- it was perfect to find some crunchy accompaniments to our Jew fish, to chop and mix into the fresh coconut ensemble. Layla, a lovely lady working there showed us around and the small farm nestled into the underside of Mount Warning and in tunnels at the back were rows and rows of feral climbing chunky vine tomatoes.

organic guide

We walked around with the basket and picked the produce straight from the plants!

tomato picking

In the lower gardens were capsicums, cucumbers and even artichokes- it is such a magical experience being able to visit a small farm, see where your produce is being grown, be happy with the process and buy it right there. It is a small step away from growing it yourself, but sadly not as possible in Darwin, as farms bring produce to market and communications between buyer and grower are often limited (but hey we are trying to work on that!) So we got onions, capsicums, tomatoes and cucumbers.


pyo toms

Happy that we had all the ingredients needed we headed off to our homestay, and if you are in the area this is a fantastic place to stay, permaculture principles and a warm family atmosphere- Eternity Springs Art Farm– run by Amanda.

Amanda at Eternity

Produce all around, pretty flowers and a great vibe.


Oh yeah and the biggest Mulberry tree I have ever seen – loaded with mulberries

mulberries mulberry jam

and turned into the most mazing homemade mulberry jam for brekky

So while relaxing in the colourful surroundings we marinated the fish overnight in lime juice, topped up with fresh Eternity springs garden limes.

kokonda ingredients smile emma chops chopped stuff

We cut up all the ingredients. We usually use ripe but firm pawpaw and cucumber with spring onion at home in Darwin but chose to leave this out as we had an array of great ingredients- you can really use what you like.

food label

We then wrote and decorated a little story about the ingredients and drove through Nimbin to the organic co-op to get local coriander – if you fancy you can use Thai Basil, or Vietnamese coriander or Lemon Basil.

And that is the story of the wedding food dish. We spent the rest of our time hanging out with Kimmy and Justin drinking the left over Byron Bay beer at their gorgeous house near Mullumbimby and enjoying fresh yummy food from the garden, visiting other friends and camping around the area, which is full of produce honesty boxes, national parks, farmers and of course some hippies!

jon kokonda

kokonda in line up

Byron beer byron beer 2

growing organic kids honesty box nnsw house

Thanks guys and happy (belated) anniversary

Toad legs- the new delicacy in feral food?

toads in a heapIn the past the GULP team have discussed the various contents of the cook book that will emerge from this wonderful community based local food project.  We would like to set the book out to be produce focused and look at the ingredients that we grow, then from this the recipes are written, and include a ‘star rating’ of how local the recipe is overall. The subject that has arisen a lot, is if we should include meat. Aside from the fact a couple of the team are veggie, semi- veggie, we want the book to appeal to all tastes and reaslise and a lot of people do want to eat meat. The problem is at the moment in the Top End there is no abattoir and the Brahmin cattle that are run in the bush are  (sadly) live exported overseas.

 Many people keep chickens and we would like to include how you can kill and eat these. Many people catch fish and wonderful local fish and seafood is available, so we would love to include this and what ‘sustainable’ seafood is. From here though the two other sources of meat are wild hunted and road kill- unintentionally killed animals, native or not that can make good tucker. In the Territory and Top End there are many feral animals, buffalo, pigs, even goats and donkeys further towards Mataranka- all fair game for hunting and eating (OK- so you need permits, heck out the land you are on etc. but you get the drift). One feral animal that is often overlooked as something to end up on your plate is the cane toad.

Cane toads,  (Rhinella marina) formerly Bufo marinus, are native to South America and were introduced to Australia as another awesome idea at the time, but now disastrous for our biodiversity, introduced by Australian Government in 1935. The department of Sugar Experiment stations  was responsible, trying to keep the cane beetle under control in Queensland. Unfortunately these unfortunately ugly beasties went feral, covering the whole of Queensland by 1980 and reaching the NT in 1984 in South Kakadu, they made it to Darwin by 2004. There are reports that they are spreading further and further and studies show they are more numerous than ever before dispite various programs to stop their spreading and breeding and have just made it over the WA border. These ugly fellas parotid gland produces milky toxic secretion or poison that is dangerous to many species (bufotoxin) and kill other native species such as Northern Quolls, goannas, frogs and snakes. They outcompete other frogs and reptiles and are pretty detrimental to a lot of native animals.

So these guys are pretty easily disliked, adding to that is the fact they are dam ugly too, maybe it is their reputation that adds to the ugliness. People swerve to run over them, get them with spades, you name it, it’s kind of iconic or  ironic (especially in Queensland apparently)

Anyway friends of GULP live further from Darwin, outside Adelaide River and have always been keen on experimenting with the cooking of road kill, including snakes and wallabies and also had an interest in the use of these ugly toads as food.


Every year, at a wonderful ‘Fire Party’ social gathering that involves fire management- an early burn off in selected areas to protect later more intense fire, much great food is prepared and is often a bit of a focus. It is great to share food with friends. This year it was encouraged that meaty road kill or feral animals were prepared.Amongst the amazing dishes prepared were buffalo and wallaby stews and an array of toad dishes.


There are just so many cane toads it is mind boggling, but they are also surprisingly easy to catch. The most humane way reported is to catch them by the back legs and whip them into a dark airtight canoe bag and freeze them, you don’t want to stress them out, so after you have a few (they only have little legs) pop them in the freezer. After sufficiently frozen thaw these guys out. With a meat clever or sharp knife, cut off their legs.

toad leg cutting Because of the fact these creatures contain poison in their back (and skin) you want to skin them and avoid the upper body. Apparently the more stressed, the more the poison is dispersed, so give them the most calm end possible! Anyway we discarded the body and put it in a hot compost- great blood and bone! Then we skinned the legs- which is really easy.

leg skin one

Several recipes had been made with the GULP team, I tried marinating them in soy, garlic, ginger and chili. marinating legsAfter a couple of hours (in the fridge) I sautéed them in sesame oil and served them with heaps of local (Vietnamese coriander) and random salad greens, including sweet leaf and rosella leaves.

legs on plate

Other recipes include –


Salad of toad legs with Kang Kung and galangal (Cole)

8 toad legs with skins removed
4-5 knuckles of galangal, finely chopped
3 leaves of Thai coriander, finley chopped
2 large handfuls of kang kung, washed and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
Splash of soy sauce
Salt and pepper to season


Heat sesame seed oil in a wok on a medium heat.
Fry toad legs for a couple minutes, add galangal and coriander, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes stirring continuously.
Add kang kung and mix with plash of soy sauce until stems cooked.


Serve as an entre for 2 people or meal for 1.

Canapés of toad legs in garlic butter (Rod)

8 toad legs with skins removed

2 table spoons of butter
3 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1 fresh baguette sliced
Garlic chives, finely chopped


Melt butter in a heavy based sauce pan and fry garlic until soften
Add toad legs and cook in butter until tender
Lightly toast the baguette
Serve two toad legs on a piece of baguette, drizzled with garlic butter and garnished with chives.

mmm on a platter


So guys, don’t just get out there and swerve for them or shovel these guys, if you are going to try some pest management, you might as well get some protein from this unwanted visitor. Just remember, allow them to have a quick death and treat them well, it isn’t their fault they were bought here!  Secondly don’t poison yourselves, be very careful with skins and dispose of the body in a closed compost bin, away from other animals.

la cane toad

Oh and what do they taste like- well a bit like gamey chicken.


Disclaimer- GULP and members of, take no responsibility for people licking toads, these are cooking suggestions and we are just sharing our story. If you try, well that’s up to you!

Cane toad licking

A change of Season

Change is here, the full moon has just passed and today is equinox- the sun has passed the equator and is heading towards us, to pass over us at 90 degrees in a couple of months and then to our South.


Well we have all felt this, over the last couple of weeks it has been hotting up, there are looming clouds and humidity, piles of cyclone clean up rubbish scatter the pavements and the wind is changing direction. It’s time again for our brain function to decrease and brain cells to slowly drip out of ears until the rains come- well that is my experience anyway. We can try and save our sanity with frequent (banana) showers and fans on full whizz or dip in cool water- if you can find some. I find a little spray bottle of water and peppermint or lavender helps and cycling is better than walking as you make your own breeze, laying around in shade is even better. Hot teas and spicy food is actually great for keeping you cool by encouraging sweating, although a cold beer always tastes pretty good- but does not enhance brain function! Drinking lots of water is a good thing!

Cyclone trash house

It is so important to take notice of the changes in our native environment, climate and surrounds, to be aware of it and feel connected to it and then if growing food use this knowledge to change how we grow plants and what we grow. White fella seasons up in the Top End are really only divided into ‘Dry Season’, ‘Wet Season’ and then ‘Build up’ and ‘Build down’ in-between.  The Indigenous people of the region divided the year into many seasons, all based on indicators in the landscape that changed as the year cycled.KApok

Each language group in Northern Australia has its own words and way of dividing the times of year. In the Darwin region of Darwin, Cox Peninsular, and Gunn Point, the Gulumoerrgin (Larrakia) language is the language group of the traditional owners past and present. At the moment the season is Gurrulwa guligi – Big Wind time. The Kapok is flowering (pictured above and edible too) and coming into fruit and the Kurrajong (below) is flowering, its wonderful bright red flowers on its bear branches. The water holes are drying up and Magpie goose are common in the Mango farms and watered areas. I noticed a lot of trees were getting a new flush of leaves, which happens due to a change in temperature in preparation for the rains.


The true build up comes a bit later and is called Darlirrgang and cocky apples drop their white flowers. It is so good to get on country and watch the changes, and we are so lucky to even have a lot of native bush near us even in the suburbs and outer Darwin; our native landscape and the vastness and beauty of it really is what makes this region an amazing and special place to live, so we should give the land all the respect it needs. A good website if interested in native flowers in the Darwin region is Top End Native Plants Society. 

 Larrakia seasonsLorraine Williams, Judith Williams, Maureen Ogden, Keith Risk and Anne Risk all contributed to the development of the calendar.The calendar above is copyright of CSIRO and the Larrakia/ Gulumoerrgin language groups contributers, but can be downloaded at CSIRO 

The Gulumoerrgin seasonal year is divided into seven main seasons: Balnba (rainy season); Dalay (monsoon season); Mayilema (speargrass, Magpie Goose egg and knock ‘em down season); Damibila (Barramundi and bush fruit time); Dinidjanggama (heavy dew time); Gurrulwa (big wind time), and Dalirrgang (build-up).

The moon is also vital in our natural cycles and very useful to guide in in planting food. Moon calendars are created for guidance to when to plant, harvest and so much more…

2013 Moon Calander

A Taste of The Tiwi- part two

The Tiwi islands really are a beautiful place and our time with the rangers was fantastic. Amongst other projects we also visited another farm near Milakarpati, this community has a barge less often and so fresh food is not as regularly received  The farm is owned by Tiwi enterprises and supplies food to the shop at Milikarparti to supplement barged in veggies and is a wonderful initiative.

tiwi fruit flyThe rangers have a job of monitoring insect traps for the government Quarantine department, if anything is caught in the traps it is sent off for analysis and the traps are refreshed. The farm is mainly fruit trees, including star fruit, jackfruit, banans, mangoes, pawpaws and citrus.

tiwi jack fruitAbove Des hangs out with the amazing and spiky Jackfruit. Also at the farm is a native plant nursery, which grows plants to re-veg areas that have undergone sand mining. For more info on “Farming the islands” click here.

tiwi nurseryWith a combination of modern small scale farming and traditional bush tucker, the Tiwi islands strives towards more sustainable fresh and healthy food. Bush tucker fruits such as Billy Goat Plum, Bush Apple and Cycad are collected mainly by the women. There is  hunting of fish, Turtle and Buffalo (which was introduced with white settlers) and  Wallaby. While visiting Willy offered us some Turtle as a special a special gift. Now I would like to say, as I write about this that Sea Turtles are protected and only indigenous land owners have the right to hunt them, as they always have done. This bush tucker supplements other food and is encouraged to be done for special occasions. Turtle willyThe sea turtle was Green Sea Turtle and Des helped Roogan, our Nepalese colleague, cut it up and cook it up into a curry. We also cooked some on a hot plate over a fire. Traditionally it can be put into a fire in its shell. So we are were very privileged to try it and I spose I should tell you what it tasted like. Well I thought it was like a cross between kangaroo and fish, and the fat was really rich, too much for me! I don’t eat too much meat and cooked up a load of hot plate veggies to add to the mix!

tiwi vegThe next day we went to a very special beach near to an area where many burial ceremonies have been done, we had a catch up chat about our experiences on the islands and the boys got some fresh oysters from the rocks!

tiwi oyster 4

Art is also a very important part of Tiwi culture and Tiwi is home to some fantastic and well known artists. We visited some amazing art centres on the  islands where most paintings are done with a comb to make a series of dots. 

tiwi art 4Most paintings are done with traditionally made ochres and a specially made dot comb. There are art centres in all the ‘communities’ on the island and the ladies and men work on different projects, they are welcoming and friendly. Tiwi islands has Milimika festival coming up on 3rd and 4th August where people from outside the island may go and enjoy the islands for the weekend to attend the cultural and music festival. If you are interested have a look at Milimika festival website. You can get over there on planes, but there are no ferries running at the moment!

Tiwi artI would like to give a big THANK YOU to Willy Rioili and the rangers on the Tiwi Islands for sharing some of their country with us. Also a big thanks to Red and Mick from CDU who work with the boys! I hope to go back soon.

For more info check out Tiwi Land Council.

tiwi group

A Taste of Tiwi

tiwi boat shedThe Tiwi islands are just 80 km north of Darwin and in many ways a world away.  The islands consist of 2 islands- Bathurst (smaller) and Melville (larger) and have and always will be owned and governed by the Tiwi people, the land is split into 8 areas that are run by 8 family groups. Melville island is actually the 2nd largest ‘Australian’ islands, after Tassie. To visit the Tiwi islands, you need to seek permission and obtain a permit to come onto the Tiwi lands. I was lucky enough to spend a week in the Tiwi recently as part of a Land Management unit that I am undertaking at Charles Darwin uni. The unit looks at Indigenous Land and Sea management and we spent an awesome week hanging out with the Tiwi Rangers and seeing what great work they do on the islands.

tiwi from airCoincidentally Costa had just been on the islands doing a piece for Gardening Australia, and although not a television watcher, Costa’s show are always worth a watch. You can see it on ABC i-view.

tiwi wheel 2So, remote Australian Indigenous communities vary a lot in terms of their food. Many places still eat a lot of bush tucker and go hunting and gathering, and this includes the Tiwi islands. Often fresh supplies from elsewhere are hard to come by and arrive not so fresh or are pretty expensive because of freight and nutrition can be an issue. In some instances fresh veggies are subsidised so freight is not charged and their prices are more appealing. I am always interested in what is on often in community shops and have checked them out when I have been out in Arnhem Land (at Ramingini and Gunbalanya)

tiwi shopTiwi Enterprises is strong on the Tiwi and in Wurrumiyanga, anew shop has been built and run by this island owned corporation. There seemed to be a pretty good supply of veggies in all the shops, more than I imagined.  These veggies (below) were those in the shop at Garden Point (Pirlangimpi)

veggie shop

 The Tiwi community have some pretty great stuff going on, including an amazing garden at Tiwi college, a Tiwi enterprises owned farm and a lot of bush tucker being collected on country.

tiwi college2

The veggies from Tiwi college (above) are used at the school, and the students were pretty happy and proud to show us around their productive garden. Tiwi college is an independent college for high school students and governed by Tiwi Land Council, rather than being a Christian or Catholic School.

tiwi college

Students had been taking work experience in many areas around the island and including their school garden and with the rangers.tiwi college troopy

The Tiwi college farm has chooks, ducks and more and all the students stay with host families during the week, who are mainly Fijian and have productive gardens in their own yards. It was all pretty inspiring. For more facts click “Tiwi College” here

tiwi chookstiwi bananaCombining shop bought and locally grown (bananas from Tiwi college- yum!) Part two post of “A taste of the Tiwi’s” coming soon….


Bread Fruit and The Pitcairn story

Bread fruit is an amazing fruit, with an amazing story!

In preparation for our local food week, I have been on the look out for great ingredients in place of rice, pastas and stuff like that. I saw heaps of bread fruit at Rapid Creek Markets on Sunday and was reminded of this great story and some great recipes. I haven’t cooked with it much in Darwin, it is not always at the market, but someone has a loaded tree right now! . And wow it is delicious.

Pitcairn Island 006I was lucky enough to sail to, and hang out on Pitcairn Island- a small and remote rocky island, home to real story of the mutiny on the Bounty- which was transporting heaps of bread fruit and bread fruit plants, from the orient, to the Caribbean to be a staple, like bread, for the slaves there (in 1790). This incredible fruit never made it there on that occasion, because, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean the crew of the ship got pretty over the Captain and sent him over board in a small boat and took control of the ship!


They picked up some ladies in Tahiti and headed off into the sunset, until they landed on an uninhabited rocky island and made it home, and garden to plenty of Breadfruit (and sank their ship, so as not to be found). Above is our ship- The Soren Larsen, on which I was cook and deckhand on this incredible journey.

The whole Pitcairn story is also a bit rocky and colourful ,some deadly fights and some community making. Once the mutineers and their offspring made contact, the island became a bit of a stop off for sailing boats and food was traded, which was grown on this now garden island. The British Navy was impressed when they eventually visited  and did not arrest the last remaining mutineer and left them all to it. It really is like a garden Oasis. There were ups and downs and the story is long.

When we sailed here only 52 people remained (this is 6 years ago). We were taken out bread fruit hunting! The trees are huge beautiful trees, often too tall to climb (well bullets are cheap enough!) and the bread fruit are shot on the stem by one person, while another goes under the fruit and catches it in a net! The greatest harvesting I have seen.

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The photos above show banana leaves, and the bread fruit shooting (by the way- Breadfruit is a lot taller and a bit out of the photos!) Also pictured is the ship, Soren Larsen, I worked on for a year as cook and deckhand and learnt some of my tropical cooking skills. On Pitcairn we stayed with one of the Christian families, Carol and her children, who we stayed with and who took us some wanders, we also checked out the plant nursery, growing natives to replant, a funded initiative. We also had a wild ocean side bath. There is no airport or even sealed road on this random rockiness,  islanders sell cook books and stamps and other nick-nacks online and to passersby and they have 1000 recipes for bread fruit..

.. so back to bread fruit (Atrocarpus utilus) closely related to a Jack fruit. A tree, too big to plant in a suburban yard really, but a wonderful tree and very useful fruits. IMG_1295The flesh is rich a creamy, better than a potato I reckon. Cut off the skin and cut out the very core.  We made bread fruit chips and then “boil – up”, bread fruit, boiled till tender, then added to coconut milk (home made of course!) with onion, chili, garlic, local herbs, salt and pepper. A bit of a Caribbean classic! I added zinnia petals for a splash of colour… these  are edible.IMG_1366

These bread fruit chips were pre boiled then roasted in the oven in sun flower oil, a great side with home made mayo..

IMG_1388For more info on Pacific and tall ship sailing and the Soren Larsen visit http://www.sydneytallships.com.au/offshore/