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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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

Ingredients

2 cups cedar leaves

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

juice of 1 lemon

1 pkg (85 ml) liquid pectin

Method

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.

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


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Chicken Rillettes

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If you are cooking for more people than usual at this time of year, it is a good idea to have some ready-to-serve dishes stashed away in the freezer to serve when you are too busy to cook or have an impromptu event where something a little out of the ordinary is called for. This rillette recipe fits the bill perfectly, and also allowed me to use a perfectly good, organic, albeit rather dry chicken I had to do something with.

Rillettes are really a French version of the English potted meats. They are made by long slow cooking of the meat in broth and white wine, and then potted with lots of herbs and butter. Served on slices of crusty bread with good quality pickles, they keep for at least five days in the fridge and much longer in the freezer.

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You can adapt this recipe to what you prefer in the way of herbs, but I used my spruce salt, juniper berries and some fermented dandelion buds as garnish giving it a distinctively local flavour.

Chicken Rillettes


Ingredients

1 whole chicken, approximately 4 lbs.

2 Tbsp oil

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups water

2 onions

1 large carrot

3/4 cup of unsalted butter

2 tsp spruce salt

1 dozen juniper berries

a handful of chopped parsley

Method

In a large Dutch oven, brown the chicken on all sides in the oil. Pour the water and wine over it. Add 1 onion and the carrot, both roughly chopped. Cover and put in a 300 degree F. oven for about 2 1/2 hours. The chicken should be well cooked and fall away easily from the bones. Strain the broth into a bowl and discard the vegetables (or better yet use them in something else) cool, and then store the broth and the chicken separately in the fridge. There should be about 2 cups of broth. This can be done a day or two ahead.

To make the rillettes, using a couple of forks, pull away all the meat in small bite-sized strips, discarding the skin and bones. In a saucepan, cook the second onion, finely chopped in 1/4 cup of butter until translucent. Add the chicken, the rest of the butter, juniper berries and salt. Continue to cook on a low heat until most of the liquid, but not all has evaporated. If you pull the meat to one side of the pan, there should still be liquid visible at the bottom, but the whole mixture will not be covered in liquid. Just before it is ready, add the parsley, mix well and check for seasoning.

Transfer it into serving dishes and/or mason jars and cool completely, cover and refrigerate or freeze. Bring back to room temperature before serving.

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I am bringing this dish to Fiesta Friday #47, hosted as always by Angie and co-hosted by Indu at Indu’s International Kitchen  and Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook. Many thanks to these three for keeping this party going this week. Feel free to drop by and see join in the fun.