Spring has sprung! This is one of the best times of year to forage as there are so many options and there is little else coming up through the gardens and fields around us (with the notable exceptions of rhubarb and asparagus of course)! One of the easiest things to forage are spruce tips (the soft new growth of the tree). There are many options to eat them including this pickled spruce tips recipe.
Spruce tips taste like a cross between rosemary and hops (the bitter taste you find in India Pale Ales/IPAs) although some will find the flavor that comes from the resin inside the tips to be harsh. You can soften their flavor by picking the smallest tips, soaking them in water for a few hours or transforming them into quick pickles where they take on a caper-like taste.
If you’ve never pickled before, stick with us – this recipe takes 5 minutes or less and will store on your shelf for months (and indefinitely in the fridge)!
When picking spruce tips you should know a few things:
- You can pick them from any type of spruce tree you’d like. The blue spruce varieties tend to be stronger in flavour so I’d recommend you start with tender green tips.
- The tips refer to new growth – this is a spring ingredient only. When the tips look and feel like the rest of the tree the season has passed you by.
- When you pick a tip it will not grow back. You are best to pick 1 or 2 from each branch or pick in areas that are shaded by other branches and least likely to grow and pick a small amount from a number of trees rather than a large amount from a single tree.
- You want to pick from a tree that is far enough from a road to avoid the tree absorbing runoff from local traffic.
- Some people have a strong allergic reaction to spruce. You may want to test yourself with a small sample first.
Other than pickling spruce tips there are many things you can do/cook with them including:
- Brewing beer (spruce beer is it’s own category of beer). The tips offset hops and create a bitter profile many love.
- Eat them raw. This is especially true for the smallest tips which are very tender and mild in taste.
- Infuse liquids by letting them soak (this is most common in water, vinegar or meat brines) to add a bitterness. They would be equally pleasant in something sweet like maple syrup or honey. Just submerge the tips and taste after a few hours and remove once you are happy with the flavor (for the sweet stuff you may want to wait a few weeks while the others should take a few hours on the counter).
- Use in any recipe that calls for rosemary. Especially good with game and/or red meat and the flavors will pair well with the char flavor of a BBQ. They could also work to enhance the flavor of gravlax or bacon.
- They are often chopped small and added to shortbread or muffins – I think cornbread would be a great pairing!
To pickle them you simply rinse them and cover them in a boiling brine made (mostly) of vinegar. The recipe below is very straightforward but note that I use ground black pepper in this pickle. While I use peppercorns for larger cucumber pickles I find that grinding it for this recipe will ensure you don’t bite into a spruce tip and accidentally chomp on a nugget of peppercorn!
In case you have no idea what you’d use these pickles for, here’s a few ideas:
- Add a few spruce tips and a bit of the liquid brine to a Bloody Mary/Bloody Caesar.
- Chop a few pickled spruce tips and add to a salad.
- Eat alongside a sandwich, beer or salted nuts.
- They are a great addition to a cheeseboard – the acidity and bitterness will be a pleasant contrast to the fat of the cheese.
- Add a small touch of the vinegar to salad dressing, stir fries or brines to add a citrus-like acidity to whatever you are cooking.
- Eat them out of the jar on a fork!
Pickled Spruce Tips Recipe
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 3 heaping TBSP honey
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 dried chilies
- ¼ cup of water
- 2 tightly packed cups spruce tips
- 1 pint (500 ml) jar
- Place the first 6 ingredients (everything BUT the spruce tips) in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.
- While the brine is heating, clean the spruce tips in a large bowl by rinsing in cold water.
- Pack the spruce tips in a mason jar.
- Once the brine reaches a boil, carefully pour into mason jar.
- Leave jar to cool on counter stirring 3 or 4 times in the first few minutes to ensure all spruce tips are submerged in the hot brine.
- Once cool cover with a lid. Will store in a cool dark place for months or indefinitely in the fridge (if it goes moldy you will know it has spoiled - otherwise this should be fine to eat).
What would you do with these?