It’s spruce tip season: fresh, new tree growth at the tips of the branches of evergreen conifer trees present as vibrant, brilliant green nuggets about the size of a nut, varying between the sizes of a peanut and a pecan. They are instantly recognizable as a completely different color than the rest of the needles on the branch, from a distance looking like a Christmas tree has come down with forest chicken pox. For the past few weeks, they have been encased in a papery brown or fleshy red covering (that ejects clouds of a dense, yellow pollen when shaken), which they are now shedding to reveal the green tips. If the tips are not picked they will expand outwards to become a new, thick set of needles and an extra bit of branch. Spruce tips are full of Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and you can put them in salads and soups. They taste like an earthy citrus and make for unique cocktails and beverages like sodas and tea. Pictured above are the spruce tips that have just lost their outer coating. You can eat them while they are this size or when they have grown further to look eventually like this:
This is how the tree looks covered in its fresh tips:
Pick tips that are on shaded branches that may die off anyway and never pick all the tips off one branch if you want that tree to grow.
Spruce Tip Syrup
1 cup of water
1 cup of granulated cane sugar
1 cup of spruce tips
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
You can make more syrup, but the ratio must be the same: 1:1 of water and sugar. Slowly boil the sugar and water together until the sugar has dissolved and let it boil for a minute or two on low until it’s syrupy. Wait until the mixture has cooled to the temperature where you can comfortably dip a finger in it. Rinse the the tips in cold water and muddle them gently in pestle and mortar. If you don’t have the P&M, you can put them on a wooden cutting board and bash them gently with a tea cup or other blunt instrument. The idea is not to completely crush the tips, but you want to break each nugget to release a bit of juice. Cover the tips with the syrup and steep overnight.
In the morning, strain the syrup a couple of times in cheese netting and bottle. Unless you preserve the syrup by canning or other means, it will last for a few months in the fridge.
Spruce tip syrup can be used in cakes, biscuits, desserts and sodas.
Spruce Tip Soda
1 ounce of spruce tip syrup
8 ounces of soda
Pour the syrup into a highball glass with a couple of ice cubes. Top with soda and stir well. Sodas like these are better for you because you can control how much sugar you’re getting and the quality of it. There are 774 calories in the syrup recipe described above and the yield is roughly one cup of syrup, depending on how long you boiled it for once the sugar had dissolved. There are about 8 fluid ounces in a cup, so the syrup is roughly about 100 calories per ounce. Try not to use a straw when drinking the soda, so you don’t get used to the very sweet syrup at the bottom.
Spruce Tip Vodka or Gin – Serves 2
2 ounces of spruce tip syrup
2 ounces of vodka or gin
8 ounces of sparking water
1 slice of lemon to garnish
For a refreshing alcoholic beverage pour the vodka or gin and syrup into a shaker and shake vigorously for a few seconds. Pour into a highball glass filled with ice and top with sparkling water.