Welcome to my stop on the Order Up blog tour. I’ve taken the baton from the amazing Jove Belle, and I’ll leave it here on the kitchen counter while I write my post.
The first thing to say about Order Up before I dive into my post, is that you can’t have too many anthologies combining food and lesbian romance and sex. The other one that comes to mind right now, is the first anthology edited by the winning team of R.G. Emanuelle and Andi Marquette and that’s All You Can Eat. Which was a Lammy finalist. Deservedly so.
I had a story in All You Can Eat, and so I’m doubly delighted to be here again in Order Up.
My story is about bunya bunya nuts. Oh, right, I hear you say. Never heard of ’em. I’m not surprised. They’re not shelved in the snack aisle between the chilli lime peanuts and the salt and pepper pistachios. Bunya bunya nuts are from a pine tree native to south east Queensland, Australia. Nowhere else. It’s a tall and gracious tree, with a domed top, that makes it look like one of those wooden things you buy at markets to twirl in the honey pot. That is not a euphemism. No, it’s absolutely not. That’s the trees in the photo above.
The pine cones are HUGE. The size of your head. Each cone contains the nuts, up to forty of them if you’re lucky. They grow at near the top of the tree, close to the trunk. The most practical way to collect them is to go out in late January or February to where there are trees and look on the ground. A friend has a bunya tree in her garden. Whenever she’s gardening in the summer, she keeps an ear open for the sound of branches snapping. If she hears it, she runs like mad, dashing out from under the tree before the nut hits the ground. She’s had a few near misses. Another friend from interstate parked her car underneath a tree in January. The car was a write off. A 10kg cone falling 30 metres onto an aluminum roof can have that effect.
The nuts are important to indigenous people of south east Queensland. They are a very nutritious food, hugely calorific, and the surplus was often buried to be eaten in the months ahead. The Bunya Mountains (where my story is mostly set) was a place of gathering and talks and peaceful times during the bunya harvest. Today, the ridge of the Bunya Mountains is a national park.
I get bunya nuts from friends, or from local people who have trees and who will often put the cones by the roadside for people to take. I’ve also gathered them in forests, knocked on doors to ask if I can take nuts that are obviously unwanted, and very occasionally bought them at roadside stalls.
They’re a lot of work to process though. Sure, you can roast them on a fire, as my characters do in my story, but for less immediate use, the best way is to boil them, crack them and pry out the kernel. That’s hard work, best done on a warm evening, with a brilliant sunset, good company and a bottle of wine.
It was a good crop this year, and I have bags of them in the freezer. I make pesto, add them to casseroles, grind them up to a flour and use them in pastry. They are starchy, not oily, and taste like a cross between a chestnut and a giant pine nut. The other day, I found a recipe I’m going to try, which involves caramelising them, putting them in a jar and covering them with Bundaberg rum. I can’t wait to try that one.
You’ll find my story “Bunya Bunya” in Order Up: A Menu of Lesbian Romance and Erotica” which is out now from the ever awesome Ylva Publishing. You can buy the anthology direct from Ylva, or from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, of course Amazon.com.au, Smashwords and the other usual suspects.
Before I pick the baton back up from the kitchen bench, and hand it to Brey Willows to talk about her story “God’s Tamales”, here’s an excerpt from my story “Bunya Bunya”.
Once we are away from the Queensland coastal strip, the land stretches in front of us. It’s all so lush and green by the coast, and even inland the lushness continues, for it’s the wet season. But there’s rat’s tail grass in an unbroken wave by the roadside, and prickly pear chokes the dry forest areas. “Needs a fire through,” Tianna says, and presses the throttle so that the rental car surges forward.
We reach her mother’s place at dusk, just as the lazy kangaroos stir for the evening, leaping in front of the car in huge bounds. There’s a flock of cockatoos in the sky, thick with impending rain.
I ask Tianna what I should call her mother.
“Aunty,” says Tianna, and I nod. It’s a respectful address, and it’s appropriate.
Her mother—Aunty, I must think of her—is small and spreading, nothing like Tianna, who is wiry and intense. Her mother hugs her, murmuring into her hair, and while Aunty’s greeting to me is friendly enough, I sense a wariness directed at me, the woman who stole her child away, who keeps her in the city, although that’s not true. Tianna keeps herself in the city.
The house is small and untidy, and there are dogs outside, skinny ones with waving tails. They greet Tianna ecstatically, but eye me with caution. A bit like Aunty. We sit at the table and Aunty goes down to the takeaway and comes back with battered fish and chips. We eat with our fingers, and it’s like home, all our greasy vinegar-slicked fingers reaching for the last chip.
“We go out to the mountains tomorrow,” Aunty says, and it’s the first thing she’s said in a while. “Got the ute packed and ready.”
Tianna nods, and Aunty goes off to bed, leaving us on the tiny veranda, where we can see the stars, so much bigger, so much more intense than in the city. Apart from the occasional bark of a dog, and the scurry of something small, the night is silent. Tianna goes off to make tea and hands it to me, strong and black. We sit together on the bench, and our free hands find each other across the worn cushion.
“We’ll be camping tomorrow,” says Tianna. “You up for it?”
I nod, although she can’t see me in the darkness. I feel this time together is a test, of our love, of our relationship. How the gubbah fits in. I determine that whatever she throws at me, I’ll take it without complaint. I don’t even make a joke about my hairdryer, although I think it.
She puts her tea down, and leans in and kisses me, and her lips are tart with vinegar, but her breath is the same sweetness it always is, and the way her hand grasps mine and how she pushes herself against me, is the same.