Sprucing Up

By , May 28, 2013

We’ve had an excellent run of sunny, warm weather in our corner of Southeast Alaska. With the exception of a few brief rain showers, we’ve been dry for more than a week.

You’d think that I’d spend these days feverishly cutting and hauling firewood for the coming winter. I’d think that too, but we live seasonally, which means that when a food ripens, particularly a wild food, we drop almost everything else to harvest it. Right now, spruce tips are blooming on the homestead.

Spruce tips, fresh from our homestead trees (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Spruce tips, fresh from our homestead trees (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Spruce tips, the budded ends of new growth in a sharp, stiff needled fir tree, seem an unlikely food resource. However, when young and tender, they are full of vitamins and delicious.

For years, we used spruce tips solely to make “honey.” They make a beautiful, nutritious orange syrup with a fresh, orange-like flavor (see Food Value). This is probably our most popular hostess gift when we travel.

Last year's spruce syrup (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Last year’s spruce syrup (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Then Michelle sampled a friend’s family recipe, which their daughter calls “hippie biscuits,” shortbread cookies with diced spruce tips. This led us to add them to scones and other baked goods. And then, last year, I tried making wine out of them (see A Wine by Any Other Name).

Stone the crows! What an excellent drink that is! All the sweetness of spruce honey in a light, refreshing white wine. We’re hooked. Now my spruce tip harvesting has kicked into overdrive to meet the demands of the homestead.

For the last few days I’ve wandered a circuit of the beach tree line, seeking out the ripening tips. It’s very pleasant, with hermit thrushes singing around me, loons calling from the water, and an occasional humpback whale passing by for a bit of excitement. Wearing rubberized palm gloves avoids being continually stabbed by the needles. Everything’s growing so fast these days that if I do a double loop, I can pick up another few pints of tips that ripen after I’ve passed.

I’m collecting 6-10 cups a day. When I’m done, I sit on the beach in the sun and winnow them, to remove any mature needles and all of the flakey brown caps as I can. The caps don’t seem to hurt anything, but a batch of cleaned tips soothes the cook/wine maker’s soul.

The timing of the bloom suits us perfectly. I just opened our last jar of spruce honey last week. We have just enough bottles of spruce wine to hold us until the first batches mature. This year, I’m pushing hard, and will have at least twice as much of both, plus enough extra for all our baking needs. We’re definitely spruced up this year.

One Response to “Sprucing Up”

  1. Jon Marshall says:

    That syrup looks so good. I have a 7 year goal of getting up to Alaska to start my little off the grid homestead. Your blog inspires me daily.

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