During spring time, pine, fir, and other evergreen trees grow by producing new tips at the end of each branch. The new growth is a lighter, vibrant green, and you can (and should!) eat it. The tips have a wonderful citrus-y, woodsy flavor that tastes awesome in all kinds of sautes, seafood, and roasted dishes. But the easiest way to preserve their flavor is steep them gently in a syrup, which will last in your fridge for weeks.
To gather the tips, look for the light-colored new shoots on established trees. You want the ones that are less than an inch long and very soft. Taste them to make sure they're still fresh enough – older ones will taste too resinous, like cleaning supplies. They should have a pronounced but enjoyable citrus peel flavor, similar to a hoppy beer.
These are from a Douglas Fir, and the color difference is obvious. Pick from around the tree in multiple places so you don't stunt the growth of the tree. If the tips taste too astringent and unpleasant, head to a higher elevation if you can. There can be many weeks worth of difference between growth, and you can pick these well into July.
Once you've foraged your tips, bring them home and make the syrup immediately to get the most flavor possible. It only takes five minutes to assemble, so you can mix things up even after a long day hiking.
1. Gather you fir, pine, or spruce tips. You might try hemlock or cedar, but they have a much more intense flavor. Taste before harvesting.
2. The magic ratio here is simple: equal parts tips, sugar, and water. Here, I used 1 cup of each. You can try a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water, which will make the syrup last longer in the fridge, but the final product will end up twice as sweet for the same amount of evergreen flavor. Your choice.
3. Bring the sugar and water to a boil, then turn off the heat. Stir in the pine or fir tips.
4. Cover the pot and let it steep at room temperature overnight, or for at least 8 hours.
5. Strain the syrup to remove the needles and store in a jar or bottle.
6. Mix it up, and enjoy!
To use the syrup, try mixing it with club soda, or in one of these recipes:
- 1 oz. spruce or fir syrup
- 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 2 oz. London dry gin
- Club soda
Stir the first three ingredients together in a tall glass. Fill the glass with ice, and top with club soda.
- 2 oz. rye or bourbon whiskey
- 1 oz. pine, spruce, or fir syrup
- 5 dashes orange bitters
- 2 pieces lemon peel
Muddle one piece lemon piece in a glass, and add syrup, bitters, and whiskey. Top with ice, then twist final lemon peel over the glass and rub along the outside rim and garnish.