Along the Grapevine


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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.

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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.

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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.

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Spruce Tip Panna Cotta with Mint Rhubarb Sauce

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The season for spruce tips is quickly drawing to a close, so I wanted to present one more recipe using this not-to-be-passed-up-on ingredient while there is still time.

I’m told there are slightly different flavours on different trees and that a common favourite is blue spruce. I have been sampling tips wherever I find them, and really can’t say my taste testing has helped me come up with a favourite, but you might want to sample some for yourself. The flavour should be citrussy, sweetish and with a light resin taste.  This is the tree I picked from.

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Something that pairs extremely well with the flavour of spruce is cream, which is why I decided to make a panna cotta. Less rich and certainly less work than ice cream, it makes for a light and refreshing dessert, especially when combined with fruit. Rhubarb happens to be the only fruit I have in the garden just now, so that and a little mint which goes with just about anything is what I used to embellish this dessert I am taking to Fiesta Friday #69.

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Spruce Tip Panna Cotta with Mint Mint Rhubarb Sauce


Ingredients

2 cups cream (10%)

1 pkg gelatine

1/4 cup hot water

4 Tbsp sugar

1/4 cup spruce tips

Method

Dissolve the gelatine in hot water. Heat to just before boiling 1/2 cup of cream and mix with the gelatine until it is completely dissolved. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Mix the rest of the cream and the spruce tips in a blender or food processor until the liquid becomes a smooth green with not tips visible. Strain through a sieve and mix with the gelatine mixture. Pour into 8 ramekins or other moulds and chill until set.

For the rhubarb sauce, sprinkle 4 Tbsp sugar over 1 cup of rhubarb. Allow to rest until the sugar dissolves. Heat the rhubarb until soft. Add 6 finely chopped fresh mint leaves and 2 Tbsp white wine. Bring to a gentle boil for 1 minute, cool, pour over the panna cotta and serve.

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Salted Caramel Spruce Ice Cream

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After having harvested and preserved a few cups of tender young spruce tips for yesterday’s post, what to do with them today? I wanted to make something special for Angies’ Fiesta Friday, but I don’t have a whole lot of experience cooking with this particular ingredient. I did make teacookies and a vodka infusion all with pine needles, so I have to take it to the next level. Also it was difficult to decide which preserve I should use – the salt, sugar or syrup. The syrup is very easy to eat, with much of the resin flavour barely perceptible, so would be good for those who are not yet ready for a large dose of the spruce’s distinctive flavour. On the other hand, the sugar and salt are such excellent vehicles for this unusual flavour, I wanted to experiment with them first.

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Finally, I decided on ice cream – an ice cream that combines sugar and salt, and of course these gorgeous little green shoots. So first I made a caramel sauce, let it cool, and stirred in just a little of the salt and spruce mix. I figured that if it was really bad, at least I wouldn’t have wasted my home-made ice cream. Well, it was not really bad. In fact, it was superb and I could have just eaten it all, but resisted and saved it to swirl into my plain ice cream. You could take this sauce and just serve it with a vanilla ice cream. You could also use it with your own favourite recipe. But I will share with you my simple ice cream made with a custard base along with the caramel sauce and, of course, the spruce-flavoured salt.

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Salted Caramel Spruce Ice Cream

The Ice Cream

1 cup milk

1 cup heavy cream (35%)

1/4 cup sugar

3 eggs, beaten

Heat the first three ingredients until they start to boil. Remove 1 cup of this mixture, and add just a little at a time to the eggs. Return the egg mixture to the pan and continue to stir on a low heat until it coats a spoon (or is about 170 F). Allow to cool. Put it into the fridge until cold. Pour it into an ice cream machine and allow to freeze.

The Caramel

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp. spruce salt

Over a medium heat, add the brown sugar to the melted butter and once dissolved, add the milk. Continue to stir for about 8 minutes, until the mixture thickens. If not sure, remove a small amount on a spoon and when it is cool, it should be of caramel sauce consistency. Remove from the heat and let it cool completely. Add the spruce salt.

Spruce Salt

1 part spruce tips, 1 part coarse sea salt

Blend these in a food processor until the tips are roughly chopped. Spread on a tray to dry.

To finish, take the ice cream from the machine, stir in the caramel sauce gently using a knife to create a marble effect. Place in a covered container and freeze.

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Tips on Spruce

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This is the best time of year to collect edible evergreens. Not all evergreens are edible, but if you make sure you are picking only spruce or pine, you will be safe. The non-edibles or even toxic include yews, evergreen oleander and hollies.

I have picked spruce tips to begin with, mainly because I have so many on my property, but also because they are easy to identify and very easy to pick. I have not had time to experiment much with them in cooking, but if I wait until I work out more recipes, it will be too late for you to collect them while they are still at this desirable stage. They can be dried for later use, or infused in vinegar or honey or vodka. The new growth on the trees, small, pale green tips on the branches are at their very sweetest now. Just pluck off the small tip as you would a berry, remove the little brown husk covering the tip, and they are ready to use. Try one raw, and chew well to release the citrussy flavour which follows the initial taste of resin.

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I am beginning with three methods of preserving: in salt; in sugar; as a sweet syrup. All these are easy to do, and will keep until you are ready to use them. And they are all delicious.

With salt: Blend 1:1 in volume coarse sea salt and tips. Chop in the food processor and spread on a sheet to dry.

How to use: Add to mayonnaise, salad dressing, fish marinade, roasted vegetables.

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With sugar: Blend 1:1 in volume sugar and tips. Chop in the food processor and spread on a sheet to dry.

How to use: Use in baking, add to tea, coat the rim of a cocktail glass.

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Syrup: Mix together 1:1:1 sugar, water and tips. Bring to a full boil, turn off the heat and let cool in the pan. Strain.

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How to use: As a sweet topping, add to drinks hot or cold, soft or hard.

 

Lambsquarters Triangles on Punk Domestics

Check in later for a special spruce tip dessert I am working on.