Along the Grapevine


Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail


In my most recent post on a recipe for Balsam Fir Body Scrub I suggested using this conifer in edible recipes, which I have since done with varying degrees of success. One thing that I learned is that the wonderful flavour gets lost in cooking, so it is best used as an infusion. I began by putting a few sprigs in some olive oil and leaving it for at least a couple of weeks. This has proven to be a favourite for making dressings for winter salads.

Another way to preserve the flavour of the fresh needles is to make a syrup which then can be used to flavour all sorts of things – beverages, icings, fruit salads, or simply served on pancakes or waffles.

To make the syrup, bring one cup of sugar and one cup of water to a full boil. Turn off the heat and add two tablespoons of fresh ground needles and stir. Allow to cool completely, then strain into a jar. This will keep at least six weeks in the fridge, but for longer storage, freeze it.


I spent several weeks in the meantime pondering how to make the most delicious cocktail ever with this syrup. Cocktails are not complicated, but pairing the flavours is a delicate matter. I decided to use gin, as the flavour of the juniper would work well with the fir. Green tea seemed like an obvious vehicle, but I decided to make mint tea from leaves I had dried from my wild garden instead.  A little lime juice and/or some spruce tip bitters rounds out the flavour nicely

Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail

1 part gin

3 parts strong mint tea, cooled

1 1/2 parts balsam fir syrup

a splash of fresh lime juice

a few drops of spruce tips bitters (optional)



I singed some sprigs for garnish, but this should only be done if the needles are very fresh or else they risk being flambeed. Otherwise this was a huge success and I have definitely raised the cocktail bar with this one.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #208



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, 


Cedar Jelly

If you are one who enjoys grilled game, fish or fowl, this aromatic jelly is for you. And if you’re not one to consume any of those, you will still enjoy this with cheese and bagels, or simply on toasted sourdough bread. Either way it is a perfect condiment for any larder. 

Even knowing that cedar is one of the many flavourful and scented evergreens native to this region, I have hesitated to use it up till now. It contains a chemical called thuja which should not be consumed in large quantities, and definitely should be avoided by pregnant and nursing women. Recently I watched a cooking show about pre-colonial recipes, and noticed they used a cedar jelly as an accompaniment to game, so I figured that the quantities of thuja in this had to be tolerable. On further researching, I discovered that there are several greens which contain this chemical, most notably juniper, some mints and sage, all of which are found in most cooks’ pantries.  I also learned that early settlers used the leaves to make tea to prevent scurvy, and many campers continue to use it as an available source for a tasty drink. I therefore concluded that making a cedar jelly recipe to be consumed occasionally in small amounts would be delicious and safe, as long as you are not pregnant or nursing.

The cedar tree I am referring to is one that is commonly found in the north eastern parts of North America – the eastern white cedar. There is a similar western version, but I am only familiar with the one from this zone. It is a fast growing, hardy conifer favoured in landscaping but also easy to find in the wild. Its small scaly leaves cover the fan-shaped twigs and vary from yellowish to deep green. Its small cones grow in clumps of five or six pairs.

DSC03419.JPGThree things to note about cooking with these leaves are:

keep the simmering or steeping mixture covered to prevent the volatile oils from escaping;

use only the lighter green tips growing from sill-green branches;

the longer the cooking process, the more flavour will be lost.

So bearing these  in mind, here is the recipe I came up with.

Cedar Jelly


2 cups cedar leaves

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

juice of 1 lemon

1 pkg (85 ml) liquid pectin


Place the leaves and water in a jar and press the leaves down to submerge. Cover with a lid and set in the sun for at least four hours. This will extract a good amount of flavour without cooking it.

Strain the liquid, add the sugar, lemon and pectin. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until foam forms on the top. Skim off the foam and bottle.

To date, I have no way of measuring the ph level for purposes of canning, so I am just freezing as my method of storing. This recipe makes three 8 oz jars.


Linked to: Fiesta Friday #184; Food Eat Love; The Not So Creative Cook.


Wild Flower Cordial

DSC03429Queen Anne’s Lace (daucus carota), also known as wild carrot, bird’s nest and bishop’s lace is a white flowering plant in the familily Apiaceae. Its feathery leaves are similar to those of hemlock, fool’s parsley and water hemlock, all poisonous cousins, so it is important to identify this plant correctly. At this time of year when they are in full bloom it is easy to spot with its flat-topped white umbel, sometimes with a solitary purple flower in the centre.

Leaves, roots and flowers have all been used in cooking, sometimes as a sweetener as the plant is high in sugar. As this is my first time with this plant, I decided to use just the flowers, and to make something simple and versatile, so a floral cordial it was.

Somehow I got sidetracked by the pink milkweed blossoms from which for the first time I noticed a strong fragrant scent. And while I was at it, I added lavender to my collection. This recipe could be made solely with the Queen Anne’s Lace, but by using a mixture of flowers, I hope to convey the message that any edible, seasonal flower can be used the same way, either alone or mixed with others.


I counted out 3 dozen flower heads including only 1 sprig of lavender. I heated 4 cups of water, turned off the heat and set the flowers in the water until the water cooled. I then strained the liquid and added to that 1 1/2 cups organic white sugar and the juice of one lemon. I brought it back to a full boil and simmered for a couple of minutes.

The milkweed gave it a rich pink colour. I presume that all the blossoms contributed to its delicious flavour.DSC03432

The photo above shows its colour in full strength, but I recommend diluting it with 2 – 3 parts water or soda water with one part cordial. Or if you are wanting something a little fancier,  dilute it 1:1 with vodka for a pretty summery cocktail.

Wild Flower Cordial on Punk Domestics

dsc03443-e1501854487122.jpg Linked to: Fiesta Friday #183; Caramel Tinted Life and Sarah’s Little Kitchen.


Spruce Tip Bitters

This is arguably the greenest recipe I have ever come up with – not so much the actual colour, but the aroma and flavour are as green as it gets. This is my second bitters concoction, a process I describe in full detail in an earlier post on rhubarb bitters.


When I collected this year’s crop of spruce tips, it occurred to me that they would be a perfect ingredient for a novel flavour of bitters, and mixed with other greens from my garden – namely dried hops, mint and fennel seeds, I had all l needed to come up with a unique recipe, which is what I did.


Spruce Tips Bitters on Punk Domestics

If there are no longer any of the tiny spruce tips on the trees, you will probably find that the new growth is still soft and relatively sweet enough they can be used for this recipe.

Spruce Tips Bitters

Step 1

Mix together the following ingredients in a large mason jar.

1 cup spruce tips

1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried mint

1/4 cup dried hops

zest of two organic limes

1/2 tsp cinchona bark

1 tsp fennel seeds

Cover with vodka, approximately 1 1/2 cups. Cover and set aside out of direct light for two weeks, stirring at least once daily.

Step 2

Strain the liquid off and store in another jar. Place the solids in a pot and barely cover with water. Simmer it for ten minutes and allow to sit for 4 days to one week.

Step 3

Strain off the liquid and mix with the vodka infusion from step 1. Add 2 tbsp of honey or maple syrup.

If you think that bitters are only used medicinally or for cocktails, you may be surprised to find just how versatile they can be with just a little imagination. I have found they are a great flavour enhancer for ice cream using about 1 tsp per cup of dairy. I have also used it in baking, and hope to have such a recipe with these bitters very soon.

Until then, I leave you with this dry vodka martini to which I added 1/4 tsp spruce tip bitters and in lieu of the olive a spruce tip I salvaged from the discarded solids.



Lilac Ice Cream

In this recipe I have, to my delight, figured out how to capture the intoxicating scent of lilacs and make it accessible to the taste buds. Having experimented before with wild flowers, I know how their delicate aroma and colour are not always easy to use for edibles, and I considered lilacs another one of those barely-worth-it ingredients. The flavour of the blossoms is bitter, and cooking them leaves little flavour apart from the sweetness of the recipe.


I decided to make a no-cook ice cream, realizing that the result might be bland or even bitter. Also, how to infuse the blossoms without using heat or alcohol?

Some flowers I ground finely with equal parts sugar. I also took one cup of blossoms and mixed them with milk, set them in a sunny place outdoors for three hours, which was as long as the sun lasted. I then left this milk/blossom infusion for another 12 hours in the fridge.

The rest was easy. I strained the blossoms from the milk, and feared the flavour was not as strong as I needed it. However, once I mixed the lilac sugar with the milk and an equal amount of cream, the flavour was definitely that of lilac – sweet, aromatic and superb.



So now I have another favourite ice cream which inspired me to use lilac in other no-cook ways. One is to preserve some in raw honey, leaving the infusion for a few weeks and leaving the blossoms in to serve. I will also try and preserve as much as I can in sugar which I have no doubt will be useful in all sorts of creamy ways.

Related Links: Honeysuckle Ice Cream

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #173; Love in the Kitchen and Her Life is Love.


Out with the Old, in with the Fermented

At this point in the holidays, some of us are looking for ways to render our indulgences somewhat healthful. These two shrubs are made with fermented ginger and apple. The ginger could be replaced with a dry ginger ale or better yet a ginger beer, but that would take the shrub out of it, which is the really healthful part. Likewise, the apple version could be made with cider vinegar. It is also worth noting that you could omit the alcohol, and that would be very healthful, but not to everyone’s taste.

Shrubs are usually made with vinegar and some kind of fruit syrup. They are delicious and definitely worth trying, but I find that using the liquids from fermented fruits are even better than the vinegar, and of course offer all the probiotics therein. If you have never fermented fruit before, this is a good reason to start. These are just two of my most favourites.

I have described the method for fermenting fruit scraps in the part on scrap vinegar in this post, and how to make the ginger ferment, called a bug, in this post.

These measurements each make one cocktail.

Cocktail #1: Apple Bourbon Shrub

1 part liquid from fermented apples

1 part bourbon

3 parts soda water

a splash of bitters (I used rhubarb bitter)DSC03333.JPG

Cocktail #2: Moscow Mule Shrub

2 ounces liquid from fermented ginger

3 ounces  soda water

1.5 ounces vodka

1 tsp lime juice

1 tsp maple syrup (or to taste)


As a Happy New Year greeting to all, I share this “Canadian Gothic” picture made with some of this glorious white stuff recently besnowed on us along with a few foraged bits and pieces.DSC03318.JPGLinked to: Fiesta Friday #152