Along the Grapevine


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Balsam Fir and Mint Cocktail

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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.

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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 Mint Cocktail on Punk Domestics

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)

 

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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

 


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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,