Friday, January 6, 2017

Honeyed spruce (or pine) needle cookies. Yes, you CAN eat your Christmas tree!

Preparing for the holidays, I have made several huge messes in the kitchen, which my husband has lovingly cleaned up for his exhausted wife. I love cooking, but I get extremely flustered and tired when I'm trying to prepare multiple meals at the same time!

I think my husband was looking forward to a break in the mess, but fate interviewed, and oops! I did it again! At least I cleaned up after myself this time!

Beautiful fresh blue spruce

Fate came in the form of someone else's trash. As I was foraging, I passed a soccer field and saw that some unscrupulous Christmas tree vendor had dumped his unsold stock in the middle of the field! This is of course illegal, but they got away with it because no one was there over the holidays. I assume it was done to avoid paying the fee to have the unsold trees properly recycled.

Anyway, I had many times read about eating spruce and pine needles, but I'd never really tried it myself. I'd made tea in the past, and I thought that was quite tasty (properly sweetened at least!). The needles are jam-packed with vitamin C, one of the best sources you can get in the winter. Apparently the Native Americans made it to the early European settlers, who were suffering from scurvy.

I'm allergic to fir trees, and many pine as well, but spruce and I get along just fine, so I opted to take my branches from the gorgeous, and still quite fresh, blue spruce in the pile. The taste of the raw needles was quite bitter, but still had a lot of the resinous flavor I was going for. I decided to try a sweet dessert to offset some of the bitterness.

The result is truly unique. The flavor of spruce is unlike anything else. I've heard some say it's citrusy, but I disagree. I think resinous is the best word, slightly bitter, and somewhat like slightly minty ginger bread. It tastes like it smells. If you love the scent of spruce or pine, you should definitely try eating your Christmas tree!

Special note: women who are pregnant should avoid eating spruce. You could make these with pine or balsam fir instead, though!

Honeyed spruce needle cookies

Makes 13-16 cookies

1/3 cup spruce needles, pulled from the stem
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cup water
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
  1. Start by bringing the spruce needles, honey and water to a boil. Make sure to use a saucepan you can brillo, as the resin gets all over it, and you will want to scrub it well. Once boiling, reduce to a low simmer, and continue to simmer until reduced to about 1/4 cup. For me this took about 40 minutes, but you should check it and stir it to keep from burning.
  2. Strain the needles from the thick syrup, reserving both. Chop 1 tbs of needles as finely as you can, it will be hard cause they as sticky, but they don't need to be perfect.
  3. Add the syrup, 1 tbs chopped needles, egg, sugars, olive oil, and vanilla to a large bowl and mix completely, making sure there are no lumps. 
  4. In a smaller bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt. You can sift if you like, I opted not to. Adding a little at a time, mix the dry ingredients into the wet, until everything is one thick batter. Set in the refrigerator to cool for 30 minutes, or longer.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Remove batter from the fridge and form into small balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Press them semi-flat and place on the parchment paper, being sure not to touch. Work in batches if you have to. Optional: add a few honeyed needles to the top of each cookie to decorate.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes, or until slightly golden brown on the outer edge. Sadly, I overbaked most of mine, they were still tasty but somewhat dry. These cookies are much better chewy and moist. Let them cool and serve. 

Despite people's bad behavior with tree dumping, it was an absolutely spectacular day, with perfect temperatures, warm breezes, and something undefinable which filled me with an incredible tranquility. I know the phrase is "Nothing so rare as a rare day in June". . . but I feel like "Nothing so rare as a rare day in January" is more appropriate.

These honeyed spruce needle cookies weren't the only way I experimented with eating the Christmas tree! Stay tuned for more :)

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