Don’t have a herb bed? Want a new interesting flavour in your food?
If you have one of these in your yard:
you have your own private herb supply – at least for a few weeks in the spring.
Yes, spruce tips, or spruce candles – the tender new growth at the tip of each branch – make a tasty herbal addition to your spring recipes. I read about them somewhere long ago and the idea intrigued me and stayed with me. So I decided this was the year to experiment. The flavour is quite delectable – piney and resiny – but also milder than I thought, with hints of citrus. If you like rosemary, then you will like spruce tips.
And since rosemary goes so well with potatoes, the first thing I played around with was this creamed potato and spruce-tip recipe. It was a hit.
The first time I made it, I only used 2 tablespoons spruce tips and the flavour was quite mild. The next time I used twice that amount - ¼ cup, and the flavour was full and ‘sprucy’ and herby. If you are unsure of how you like the flavour of spruce, maybe start with 3 tablespoons chopped tips. I think I’ll try oven-roasted potatoes with the spruce tips next. Mmm, some garlic, and olive oil, too.
The trick to harvesting them is to pick the tips when the new growth at the end of the spruce branches is just coming out of its sticky papery husk, or while the tips are still tender and green. Once the tips start to grow out and harden, they are past their usefulness, except as tea. So as long as they’re soft enough to cut through with your fingernail, they are still usable. Just snap them off the branches. I like to pick the side tips and leave the central one on so that the branch will continue to grow in length. Apparently you are doing the tree a favour and pruning it. By removing some of the candles, or tips, you are encouraging the tree to make more in other places, so it becomes bushier. Depending on the location and sun exposure of your trees, you may be able to harvest some longer than others. The north side of my trees is a bit later-developing, so will produce new growth longer.
Remove the paper husks, discard any with any bug-chew marks, and they are ready to use. The husks are a bit sticky with resin, but it washes off your fingers easily. If the spruce trees aren’t near traffic areas, and aren’t covered with dust or spider webs, you don’t even have to rinse them. The husks have kept them clean.
I did some reading up on the internet and found out that spruce tips (or pine tips or fir tips) are quite the delicacy, in demand by chefs of ‘fancy’ restaurants, even. They are high in vitamin C, and are used for jellies, syrups, salts, pickled, boiled like vegetables, in baking. . . the list goes on. I got properly excited.
I have a whole slew of spruce in my yard. So I got picking. I now have a batch of spruce tip salt drying on my counter, spruce tip vinegar steeping in a jar, and some spruce sugar that became a wet, sticky mass and I am going to try to turn into syrup instead.
The spruce tip potatoes with cream recipe will be a definite keeper. Last night I made a baked rhubarb and spruce tips compote that I still need to refine a bit, but will post soon. It has definite potential.
So go prune a tree, and do some foraging in your own yard (or the ditches or the forests or the neighbour’s yard – oops, maybe keep that one quiet.)
Channel your inner hunter-gatherer. But hurry before the season ends.
Spruce Tips and Potatoes and Cream
- 1½ pounds (680gms) thin-skinned potatoes (about 4 medium potatoes)
- ¼ cup (60ml) spruce tips
- ½ cup (120ml) whipping cream
- ½ teaspoon (2.5ml) sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon (1.25ml) pepper
Wash potatoes, leave peel on, and cut into eighths. Boil, covered, with about an inch of water until tender (15 to 20 minutes). Drain, return to pot and cover.
Chop the spruce tips. Reserve a pinch of them for garnish. In a small saucepan heat the cream, chopped spruce tips, salt and pepper until boiling. Pour over the potatoes in the saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until the cream bubbles and reduces a bit, about 2 to 3 minutes. It may look like a lot of cream at the bottom of the pot, but somewhere between the potatoes sitting in their serving dish and making it to your plate, the cream seems to magically thicken up and soak in, becoming just the right amount.
Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped spruce tips.
Serve as a side dish to grilled or roasted meat.
Serves 4 to 5.
Spruce Tip Salt
Use about equal amounts of kosher or sea salt and spruce tips (I used a half cup of each) and whir them together in a food processor or blender until the spruce tips are finely ground. Spread into a flat glass dish and leave on the counter for a few days, stirring occasionally and squishing any lumps with the back of a spoon, until the salt is totally dry.
I can’t wait to try this with all sorts of dishes . . . potatoes, seafood, salads . . .
Spruce Tip Vinegar
- 2 cups white wine vinegar
- 1 cup chopped spruce tips
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) sugar
Combine the vinegar and spruce tips in a jar and seal. Leave on the counter to steep for one to two weeks, swirling the jar occasionally. Strain out the spruce tips and store in a sealed jar.
I think I will add 1 or two fresh spruce tips to the jar after I’ve strained it, to look pretty and show what kind of vinegar this is. I can imagine that small jars of this would make novel gifts.
Use on salads and in dressings to add a novel flavour. ‘Rosemary of the North’.
Kitchen Frau Note: The taste of the vinegar after only two days is wonderfully rich and herby – actually not ‘piney’ at all. The spruce tips lose their bright green colour after a while, but that’s okay because you’ll strain them out.
*Vinegar and Salt recipes adapted from a combination of multiple sites on the internet.