As I sat down to write this post, a recipe caught my attention because it makes good use of spruce needles for a festive cookie – spruce glazed shortbread to be precise. Any recipe using evergreens ‘resinates’ with me, and this particular post I wanted to bring to your attention because the author makes a good case for using evergreen needles both for their nutritional value and superb flavour.
I began using evergreens in recipes for Christmas baking a few years ago, and have since found that they can be harvested at different times of the year for different flavours. My fermented spruce tips made in the spring, for example, last all year refrigerated and are now a much used ingredient. As for the cedar jelly, the only problem is that I failed to make enough of it.
While I have experimented with pine, spruce and cedar, I had never thought of using any fir species because we have none on our property. It seems the only variety in this area is the balsam fir, and if you are familiar with Christmas tree options, you will know that the firs, especially the Douglas and Fraser from the west coast, are favoured for their scent and longevity. So when I discovered an area where balsam firs grow profusely, I was curious to try it.
It is relatively easy to identify. It looks similar to the spruce, which usually grows in the same area. The three things to distinguish it are:
- The needles grow opposite each other from two sides of the stem, while the spruce grow out from all around the stem.
- The needles are flat, unlike the round needles of the spruce. If you can’t see the difference, you can feel it when you roll them between your fingers.
- The back of the needles is not as bright green as the top, and has a striped effect with the lighter colour divided by a dark line down the middle and along the edges.
Its flavour is sweet, with citrussy overtones – perfect for Christmas baking, which I fully intend to do, but I began with making a body scrub, not so different from others I have made but substituting the fir for orange or lemon zests. Because I had a good quantity of fresh branches, I ground some and mixed it with butter to be frozen until I get around to baking. To do this, simply remove the needles and grind them in a spice grinder or any appliance which will give you a fine grind.
For the body scrub, I removed the needles, chopped them coarsely and gave them a quick massage. I then steeped them in warm oil, warming the oil after it cooled four times. This is similar to the method I used with the cedar, except then it was summer and I was able to leave it in the sun for several hours.
I then strained the oil and added coarse sugar, mixing it thoroughly and then filling the jars. The proportions I used were 1 cup balsam fir needles, 1 cup oil and 5 cups sugar. I used 2/3 olive oil and 1/3 coconut oil. This made approximately 6 cups. I put most of it in 4 oz jars. It will keep for 2 or 3 months, but if any moisture gets into it, its shelf life is reduced to 1 week, so smaller is better. Also, it takes only about a teaspoon for a full body scrub.If you are hesitant to cook with this ingredient, you might change your mind after trying this scrub. Delish!