I wait and I wait. And I patiently wait, until out of thin air, the little brown paperbag-like sheathes slough off the tips of the branches and float away.... revealing the new little spruce needles that are the most beauteous little tender chartreuse new born tips of deliciousness. Seriously. They're like little slightly sour lemony chewy gumballs. Not as astringent and definitely more palatable than the more aged needles. I'm not certain I can even describe it correctly. It has a piney/balsamic character with a sweet almost fruity lemony woodsy-like under
tone. They some how remind me of the little yellow sour grass flower forest, (Oxalis I think they were) those clover blossoms that grew all over the side yard and I would pluck them by the handfuls and chomp and suck the sour juices from their stems. Kinda like that but not as sweet and juicy. And I guess not so puckery. Well, they have a wild, sour-wood flavor all of their own.
But, I am certain you will like them. These guys are nothing like their grown up, tough cookie, poky stabby goofy parent arms either. No they're not. They're tender
and tasty! Ok, the big guys aren't 'mean' poky stabby....they just like to reach out and pull your hair, err, play with your hair. They are silly creatures.... those Spruce. I naturally see them as tall and spiffy, jaunty, spruced up, you know, "a good-looking man; spruce and dapper" except they're not really tidy but they do stand tall and proper and are very charming. Boy, they are charming, they are silly hearted, tactfully honest, broad spectrum, full of dirty dry humor and absurdity kind of trees. My kinda trees. The kind that want you
to crawl in and hang out under their leaf littering poky branches and drink beer and shuffle around sifting through their needles looking for lost treasures while they try and crack you up with their foolishness. They're perfect.
And when you're in there, or climbing their arms, these are often the kinds of thing you might here from the Spruce....
So, clear the throat and in your best old man voice:
"Have you heard about the superhero 'Wood-Man'? He has an Alder ego - known as Spruce Wayne."
Or, "Did you hear the one about the redwood? It's tree-mendous!"You have to listen though...they don't tell jokes to just anybody.
One of my faves...."Why was the cat sooooo afraid of the tree? Because of its bark!"
Hmmmm. And they laugh and laugh. Listen. Listen to the Spruce. They have lots to teach.
Anyway, a while back I was reading up on Picea and its food uses and came across syrups and beers and I've made those and elixirs and oils, and then there was this balsamic. I heard these tender tips make a pretty damn good balsamic!....A 'poor man's balsamic' so to say. So this is simply a must. Seems I work so hard to stretch my coveted bottles of yumminess and try my best to make them last.....and I admit it's tough for me to share, so I'm making some. Poor Man's Balsamic it is!
Gathering the tips is, well, like gathering anything that you have to gather one by one. It's a dance. You skirt around the tree gently plucking them from high and low. Being sure to not pluck to heavily from one spot. Or one branch. Or one side....This is important because the Spruce will slap you, or pull your hair...I'm telling you. They don't like that. Here and there, circle the tree, get a handful, move to another tree.
And don't forget to notice the cones, peek in and poke around...they don't bite. Fiddle the pollen. Smell the bark. Talk to the bugs. Nibble a needle. Explore your senses...that is why we have them after all.
P.S. This is when they start with the humor bits too. Oh it's so good.
So this balsamic is a go. But what else, well, we've made spruce beer, spruce tip simple syrup, spruce infused honey, evergreen massage oil, of course I had to make something boozy... I whipped up a spruce tip/hawthorn berry cordial, and my kids' favorite wild and free evergreen tea! It's kinda like té de canela with a pile of evergreen needles and honey tossed in.
I must tell you, as my balsamic is doing its thing, the syrup is every bit as amazing as it sounds. I think the word amazing pretty much covers it too. It's like eating a sweet forest. Think every amazing foresty word smushed together...that's how it tastes! On pancakes, over vanilla ice cream, stirred into lemon verbena tea, in gin....goodness. I made a few different syrups and found that as a simple syrup, just plain raw organic sugar really allows the pure evergreen flavor to shine. I like to combine fir tips and spruce tips though.....you'll just have to experiment too.
Spruce Tip Vinegar, aka, Poor Mans Balsamic
Makes as much as you want!
You will need:
- 1 part spruce tips, I used a couple different spruces
- 1 part apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
- small handful of pepper corns, like 6 or so
- a blob...or dollop of honey (I think it adds that smidgen of sweetness that real balsamic has)
- big wide mouth jar with non metal lid
- could probably add in other spices that appeal to you if you so wish
- Pick through the tips and remove any of the sheathes that may still be clinging to the tips. I like to plop them all into a wide shallow basket and pick through them, swirling the basket and blowing away the sheathes in the wind...like I'm panning for gold or something. This method works really well with milk thistle seeds too by the way....
- Roughly chop the tips and toss them into your jar, cover with vinegar, add peppercorns and honey blob, cover, shake, rattle and roll.
- Leave at room temperature for a week or so. Give the jar a shake each day. Strain into a sterile bottle. Drink? Hmmm, splash or dribble on everything? Drink.
- Oh, by the way, I'm thinking it's gonna be pretty damn good over all that asparagus out there right now too...
Have you ever tried it? Are you going too? What's brewing or fermenting or cooking up in your kitchen?As always, please email any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Jessica Morgan, Morgan Botanicals.
Disclaimer - The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. You should not use the information in this article for self-diagnosis or to replace any prescriptive medication. You should consult with a health care professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem, suffer from allergies, are pregnant or nursing.
Jessica Morgan, Herbalist