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



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.



Making Maple Syrup


Since tapping a couple of sugar maples last week, the weather has been mostly below freezing, so until today there have just been a few hours of collecting the sap. Today, with relatively seasonal temperatures, we were able to collect two large pots worth (5 gallons each) of sap and have a go at boiling it down to make syrup. The result is 1 1/4 litre from the first pot, and about 3/4 litre from the second. The second is thicker and came dangerously close to crystalizing.

If  you are thinking of tapping your own trees, this site has good pictures and instructions on how to do it. As for the cooking down, we strained the sap through a clean, wet tea towel. For fuel we used up left over propane gas, hooked it up to the base of our turkey frier, and boiled it gently for about an hour.


You can also do it over any open charcoal or wood fire. It needs to be done outside, as there is a lot of steam, sticky steam, released. Once it was boiled down considerably, to about 2 litres, we brought it inside, strained it again and cooked it even more gently on the stove top for another half hour.


I then strained it again through a coffee filter into sterilized jars. It was a much faster and easier process than I had thought, although it has to be watched constantly as it can boil very hot and spill over if you are not careful.




After all the time spent outdoors, I was not up for baking, but was up for a cocktail to celebrate our success at mastering this art. This recipe is from Serious Eats where you will find a number, 12 to be exact, of cocktails using maple syrup. I chose the one for which I had all the ingredients for today – and it turned out beautifully.

Simply measure 1/2 oz syrup, 1 1/2 oz rye, 3/4 oz lemon juice and 1 fresh egg white into a shaker and shake for about 20 seconds. Add 1 ice cube and shake another 10 seconds. Strain into a glass and add a few drops of angostura bitters on top. I am using the leftover egg yolk to make pancake batter for tomorrow morning which will be served with our own home-made maple syrup.


Hope to try some of the others soon, and maybe even add a few of my own.

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This is turning out to be a great year for grapes, at least in Eastern Ontario. I have managed to cut down on the labour of picking them by putting stems and all into the food mill. If you don’t have a food mill, it is a great investment for around $20. You often see them in flea markets, and they do exist in some kitchen stores too. I use it for apple sauce, ketchup, grapes, tomato sauce, etc. and especially at this time of year, it is indispensable.


In an effort to come up with more ways to enjoy this bounty of grapes, I made a margarita-like drink with some of the granita from yesterday’s post, and named the drink marganita. Definitely a success, and with this hot weather continuing at least for to-day, will have another when my day’s work is done. Here is the recipe.


For each glass, mix in a blender,

1 oz. tequila

juice of 1/2 lime

2 ice cubes

1 generous Tbsp. granita

Pour into glasses which have been wetted and dipped in a mixture of chili pepper and salt. Garnish with lime zest.