Pick a handful of soft new spruce tips from your backyard tree to add a wonderfully interesting flavour to a spring salad - herby, resiny, and softly citrusy. (Skip to recipe.)
My yard has been sleeping. I've been waiting so patiently for the spruce trees to wake from their winter slumber and share some of their tasty, tender branch tips, but they've been reluctant to come out of hibernation.
Then this past weekend we drove through the Rocky Mountains to spend the weekend with mom in Prince George, British Columbia, and spruce buds were popping everywhere! The season is almost over, even in the colder, high altitude areas in the national parks. We stopped at Mt. Robson (highest peak in the Canadian Rockies) and the spruce tips were already feathery and fingerlength, though still tender enough to use - nature's little spring offering of fresh citrusy herbal flavour with a pop of vitamin C.
While we were gone, the spruce trees in our yard finally yawned and stretched and decided to wake from their nap. We returned to find their branch ends are now bedecked with little brown nubbins and soft, apple green tips just waiting to be shared for flavouring all kinds of spring dishes.
If you've never cooked with spruce tips, I urge you to give it a try. You'll be surprised at their flavour - piney with a strong shot of citrus. Consider them spring's first herbal offering; a unique treat you can probably forage from your own yard (or filch from a neighbour's 🙂 ). I've been tossing a few chopped tips into my spring salads for several years now, and we love them.
If you're new to the flavour of spruce tips, start with a small amount first to see how you like them, then add more to taste next time. The resiny notes are quite an unusual (but interesting) flavour. The tips can be tossed into any green salad. I've given a recipe to use merely as a guide and included a dressing that enhances the delicate citrus flavour of the spruce tips. Light, spring greens are a fitting foil for this unique delicacy.
You can use spruce tips in all kinds of delectable ways, both savoury and sweet, like in these:
Kitchen Frau Notes: If you collect your spruce tips from a location where they aren’t exposed to exhaust fumes from vehicles, you don’t even need to wash them, because they will be clean and protected inside their papery husks. Just check for bug bites, but those are rare. If the tips are older, or near a road, give them a quick rinse and shake them dry.
You can use the tips from any needled tree. Taste them first, as some are more ‘piney’ than others. You may need less of the stronger tasting ones.
Don’t worry about damaging the spruce trees – you are actually doing them a favour, and pruning them to grow even bushier by nipping off the tips. Try to spread your picking around different parts of the tree, rather than picking one area clean. Just don’t pick the tip off the leader at the very top of a young tree, as that could disturb its growth.
The spruce tips last for up to a week in the fridge if kept loosely covered.
I have tried adding spruce tips directly to the salad dressing, but they acidity seems to obliterate their flavour. I find them much more flavourful when added directly to the salad. I say that if you're going to go to the trouble of picking and using spruce tips - you might as well taste them.
This salad can be prepared several hours to a day ahead. Prepare the salad ingredients and toss them in a salad bowl. Moisten a paper towel and lay it on top, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Prepare the dressing separately and keep refrigerated in a jar - toss with the salad greens just before serving.
- 1 head curly-leaved lettuce or butter lettuce
- about 6 large radishes (120gms)
- 2 stalks celery
- a 5 - 6 inch (13-15cm) piece of cucumber
- 2 green onions (scallions)
- ¼ of a red pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
- 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped spruce tips (start with 3 tablespoons if you're not familiar with the flavour of spruce tips)
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup (60ml) mild-flavoured oil (like grapeseed or avocado)
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
Wash and dry the lettuce. I like to shake the water off the leaves, then wrap them in a clean tea towel and place them in a plastic bag in the fridge for several hours or overnight to crisp up and dry. Tear the lettuce into bite-sized pieces into a salad bowl.
Slice the radishes and celery very thinly and add them to the lettuce. Peel the cucumber if it is not a soft-skinned variety. Cut the piece of cucumber in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise into thin half-moons. Add them to the salad. Thinly slice the green onions and the pepper (if using) and add them to the salad.
Chop the spruce tips finely, and add them to the salad.
Stir together the dressing ingredients and toss the salad with the dressing just before serving.
Serves 5 to 6.
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