Along the Grapevine


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Balsam Fir Body Scrub

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:DSC03458

  • 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.DSC03463

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. DSC03456This 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.DSC03460If you are hesitant to cook with this ingredient, you might change your mind after trying this scrub. Delish!

Related posts: Tips on SpruceDark Spruce Honey NougatA Forager’s Pot Pourri; The Edible Christmas Tree

Linked to: The Not So Creative Cook,  Everyday Healthy Recipes,  Fiesta Friday #201, 


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Foraged Wrappings

The presentation of gifts is an important part of the act of giving at this time of year, but it doesn’t hurt to be mindful of the waste we are creating and the fact that it is not necessary to use non-biodegradable papers and bobbles. This year I am using plain brown wrapping paper which if not reused can at least be composted. I have collected a few sprigs from the garden, and that combined with some ribbons I’ve collected over the years and snippets of disintegrated decorations serve well as wrapping.

If you are mailing and preparing things in advance, a stamp, pencil or a little paint will do well to brighten up the brown wrapping, but if you have the luxury of last-minute preparations, the things you find in the woods or garden are appropriate for the season, especially when you consider that is exactly what all the store-bought items are trying to mimic.

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I have used red dogwood branches, sprigs of pine and cedar, cones, unidentified dried flowers and euonymus. Flowering grasses, silver dollars, nuts and holly, to name just a few, would also be good.

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I did collect some beautiful twine for wrapping and a few other interesting bits, but they somehow got thrown out during a clean-up. Next year I’ll be more careful!

As for any leftovers, especially the evergreen, just pop them in a pot of water along with some spices and bits of citrus, heat on the stove as I did in this post, and you will have a beautiful potpourri to make you house smell super festive.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #99


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Introducing Herb Robert

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You’ve maybe come across Herb Robert before, otherwise known as geranium robertarium. He can grow just about anywhere, is shade tolerant but is just as happy in full sun. I usually find him in my flower beds, lodged in amongst rocks, and I recently saw him in abundance while walking in the woods. A delicate plant with lacy leaves and dainty pink flowers, too pretty to pull out, but too invasive to just ignore.

I only recently started to find out more about this plant which has a long history of medicinal uses, most notably the leaves taken as a tea to boost the immune system. If you are interested in reading more about this remarkable little weed, its history and uses you can read here. I was most interested in the fact that it is considered a natural insect repellent. It has what is considered a ‘foxy’ odour which rabbits and deer stay clear of, but is not that strong to humans. I have followed some advice I read and planted bits of it around my cabbages and cauliflowers to deter bunnies. So far, it seems to be working!

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It flowers from spring through late summer or fall and spreads its seeds on a regular basis.

When walking in the woods, I decided to try it as an insect repellent to defend myself against the hoards of mosquitoes. I rubbed the leaves and smeared them on my skin. I noticed some difference, but was not ‘out of the woods’ exactly. Then a fellow joined me, and I noticed all the mosquitoes attacked him, so it must have made some difference.

I decided to try an insect repellent that could be applied more easily and evenly than the leaf-rubbing method. After all, the heat and sun are nothing when gardening compared to the discomfort of the mosquitoes.

I put two parts herb Robert leaves and flowers, one part mint and one part lavender flowers and pressed them down with a plate or lid which would fit inside the pot. I barely covered that with water, brought it to a boil, turned off the heat. Then I left it to cool covered with another lid to keep the essential oils from escaping.

Strain off the liquid and mix with equal parts of rubbing alcohol. Apply it liberally all over.

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In the late morning, I headed out with my pitchfork to do some heavy mulching and see if my concoction worked and if so, how long it would be effective. I lasted a whole hour with very little trouble from mosquitoes. I finally gave up because now the heat and sun were my biggest problems.

I’m not sure what its shelf life is, but it can be easily replenished and costs next to nothing. It has a lovely fragrance, and I expect I will go through it rather quickly to help me through the season.