For Bhumi on Her Birthday (a Raw Lemon Myrtle and Davidson Plum Cake)
As the thunder rumbles outside, the intense heat of this summer’s day is about to break. Outside, the sound of thousands of frogs and insects almost overwhelms the approaching storm, and inside thousands of flying ants flick against the light of the computer screen and crawl across my hands and arms as I type. Aside from the roaring forest and thunder, the sound of kirtan emanates sweetly from the cd player in the kitchen and Bhumi is soundly snoring next to Stefan behind me. I am filled with content. This week we celebrated Bhumi’s second birthday. It’s almost unbelievable that the last two years have passed so quickly… but at the same time I feel a whole lifetime has passed. I have watched her blossom from a tiny and fragile new-born to a wild, strong-willed, yet sublimely soft little girl. I was hoping to share with you the story of Bhumi’s birth but the last days have been so busy with preparations, celebrations and visitors that I couldn’t find the time… and of course there was this cake, which simply must be shared.
Remember the mango flowers from this post, look at them now!!! The fruit bats are enjoying them already but there are plenty to go around. Very soon they’ll be ready for a green tomato chutney.
As soon as we returned from our last trip to Europe, I noticed the Davidson plum trees just outside our verandah were dropping their last fruits of the season. Seeing their beautiful deep purples and blues littering the ground I said to Bhumi “take your basket and let’s go and pick some plums”. She excitedly ran for her shoes and basket. As I took her by the hand, I had a little smile in remembrance of our days picking sweet soft figs, juicy white peaches, crispy apples and dew-drop filled berries in the south of Switzerland. Knowing Bhumi’s utter delight on all these occasions, I was keen to re-create the experience as we stood under the rainforest trees just outside our home. At the time I was feeling the strong pangs of separation from our travels…and from so much time together, every moment connecting us closer and closer as a family, the three of us feeling so much at home, without our home. But now, we were home but away from each other, Stefan back at work and Bhumi and I back to a routine. We no longer woke in a different place each morning, rising to all-new smells and sights and feelings of places we would fall in love with but perhaps never return to.
The brilliant blue Australian sky shone beams of golden sunlight through the canapy and as I breathed the fresh but warm morning air I whispered gratitude to this land I call home for now. So, with this gratitude, we bent down to collect the fruits. Bhumi was thrilled. She grasped the first plum she saw and took a gaping big bite. Proudly, I pictured it (above) with only enough time to see her screw up her face in a most pained expression (Davidson plums are intensely sour).
“Ka kaa!” she said as she threw it down the hill, and then…
At that exact moment I also noticed that my hands were also burning with a thousand tiny splinters. It was the especially prickly variety. I’d totally forgotten. As I hurriedly used the end of my skirt to brush the little barbs from Bhumi’s hands and face I stood on a thorn that pierced the sole of my shoe and went right through the sole of my foot. Hopping around a little, I tried to salvage this joyous fruit collecting occasion. Desperately trying to centre myself before I too was thrown down the hill I placed my bare foot down on the soil…only to be bitten by a giant jumping ant. There is no other bite quite like it.
“Oh sh*t!” I exclaimed in agony.
“Oh sh*t!” cried Bhumi, in my exact intonation. How is it that they learn to swear (just like you) before they can pronounce the word ‘water’?
Regardless of the experience, I have come to fall completely in love with the Davidson plum. It’s Aboriginal name is Ooray and it’s also called the ‘Queen of Australian rainforest plums’. They are a deep juicy red on the inside with two unusual, frilly seeds. The deep bluey-purple skin is slightly tough and coated with fine hairs (one variety pierces the skin more than the other). The Davidson Plum adds a tart and alive flavour to sauces, pastes, jams and desserts, hence their rising popularity as an important fruit in the modern bushfood industry. It is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, plus higher levels of lutein than avocado for healthy vision and eye function (even though you may be squinting initially with the fruits insane sourness).
The other very exciting and beautiful occurances in our garden have been the flowering of our Lemon Myrtle trees. Their dainty flowers wafting a divine fragrance through the house and garden. The sweet little sandpaper figs are also ripening, not unlike a small Davidson plum in appearance, but I may have to leave them for another story.
Native to the sub-tropical rainforests of South-East Queensland the Lemon Myrtle is a leaf that we have come to use on a very daily basis. Every person who steps foot inside Stefan’s dread shed is offered a bottleful of tea made simply with a few Lemon Myrtle leaves, a little natural sweetener and boiled water. Its a staple in our home and we almost always have a pre-made bottle on the kitchen bench to swig at through the day.
The medicinal uses of Lemon Myrtle are vast and impressive. Lemon Myrtle can help treat sinus infections, bronchitis, fatigue, depression, common cold, influenza, raw throat, indigestion and irritable gastrointestinal disorders, allergies, dental infections, itching, athletes foot, acne and headaches. It also contains significant anti fungal and antimicrobial properties, more so than Eucalyptus and Tea Tree.
We have a large Lemon Myrtle tree just outside our house where we harvest leaves regularly. I often pick a leaf or two as I pass, crushing them between my hands and inhaling the refreshing lemon fragrance. Citral accounts for over 90% of the plants essential oil (note: lemons have approximately 3% citral). It is these high levels of citral that has been found to relieve cramps, spasms, rheumatism, headaches, fevers and have an anti-cancer effect as well as strengthening the immune system and reducing cellulite.
Aren’t they just so beautiful? Just a glimpse at their softness makes me forget the harsh-ities of the Australian bush while all at once, connecting me with it. Just looking on it fills me with a sense of gratitude for the endless goodness, flavours and medicines we are so bountifully supplied by Mother Nature.
At this moment, I truly hope you are not feeling “…oh dear, not another difficult to obtain and obscure ingredient that I will never have access to.” But it is my hope that by spreading more information and recipes about these two invaluable and delicious native Australian bush tuckers I might help in standardising a food source that is easy to grow, providing food, flavour and nutrition to your table and habitat for native animals.
Now that you recognise them you might also be surprised by how many of these trees are actually around. The Northern Rivers council often plants vast numbers of Davidson plum and Lemon Myrtle trees along the sides of highways and in bush regeneration plots. So, you may actually find that when you know what your looking for, they are quite easily (and freely) available. If you can’t find Davidson plums (they were available at the Mullumbimby Farmers Market just last week) then you could use any kind of sour plum and probably go without the added coconut sugar or sweeten to taste. The Lemon Myrtle could be substituted for Lemon Verbena leaves or lemon rind. If you cant find Lemon Myrtle and are eager to try this recipe, write to me and I will post you some leaves.
I wanted to make this cake light and palatable and as locally sourced as possible. Therefore, I decided to use macadamia nuts from a local farm instead of almonds and locally grown, organic bananas and mango instead of Iranian dates. The base of this cake sang with flavour and texture and was so refreshingly different from my usual raw bases.
For the base…
- 1 cup macadamia nuts
- 10 dried banana halves (ensure that your dried bananas are purely the dehydrated fruit with no additives)
- A large piece of dried mango (again, as with the bananas ensure the mango is simply dehydrated fruit…it should resemble the fresh fruit with no powdery coating)
- A handful of desiccated coconut
- A handful of whole buckwheat
- 1 Tbsp tahini
- A pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 cups cashews, soaked for at least four hours
- 4 Tbsp coconut milk
- 4 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract or the inside of one vanilla bean
- 4 Lemon Myrtle leaves (or the rind of one lemon)
- A good dash of almond milk
- 1 1/2 cups de-seeded Davidson plums (or any sour plum)
- 1/4 cup coconut sugar
In an effort towards pre-preparedness I made this cake two days before Bhumi’s birthday, hoping to be able to pull it out of the fridge or freezer and serve it up to my dad and his wife when they came to visit from Sydney for the occasion. My first creation never made the occasion and was completely finished on the first day. So I made it again last night and again, by this-evening, there is none left. Anyone who tried it was completely overwhelmed with eye-rolling taste-bud ecstasy (and Im not exaggerating). I seriously think this is the best raw cake I have ever made. It’s better than chocolate. I would totally recommend going out of your way for these ingredients. They are so worth it…just watch out for the jumping ants.