Forbes Wild Foods is a unique source for a wide variety of foraged Canadian edibles. Frankly, though, some of their prices are a little steep so I have to admit that instead of buying from them I’ve borrowed ideas from their website or market table that inspire my own foraging. Most recently, I gathered spruce tips and used them to make the pickled spruce tips recipe below.
Spruce trees grow upwards in the usual, obvious way but because they don’t drop and regenerate their needles every year the outward growth is a bit more complicated. Every spring the tip of almost every branch has a bud-like tip that sheds a papery brown husk and produces a new bunch of needles.
Just after they have shed their paper-like wrappers the spruce tips are a light, bright green and have a bright citrus flavour with some hints of woodsy pine resin. Those tastes will be familiar to fans of hoppy IPAs and in fact spruce tips are used by some to flavour beer in place, or in addition to hops. The texture is soft but chewy. The trace amounts of resin in a young spruce tip has a slight mouth-numbing effect that is similar to Szechuan peppercorns.
It’s important to harvest spruce tips just as they’re shedding their brown jackets. As they mature and darken the resin content increases and they become brittle, rendering them inedible except as a tea substitute. Luckily, spruce trees are in many backyards (and pine and fir tips can be eaten as well) so this foraged edible falls with dandelion (and not say, hawthorns berries) in the “easily gathered” category.
I used a 50:50 mix of water and rice wine vinegar (for it’s faint sweetness but either apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar would work just as well) to pickle the spruce tips. After being pickled and spending a week in the fridge the spruce tips lost some of their vibrant green (I imagine this is difficult to fix without increasing the pH and negating the preservative effect of acid, right?) but maintained their appealing chew. The flavour is calmer and emphasises the citrus more than the resin.
The pickled spruce tips make an excellent garnish for grilled or roasted white fish, or a variety of egg dishes.
This excellent post on Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska was my foraging guide and inspiration. It’s full of more photos and recipes ideas.
Pickled Spruce Tips
Spruce tips are a readily-available wild food. This recipe for pickled spruce tips preserves them in a rice wine vinegar brine. These are an excellent garnish for fish and egg dishes.
Yield: one 125 ml Mason jar.
- a large handful (enough to very loosely fill a 125 ml Mason jar) young spruce tips, brown, papery husks removed
- 50 ml rice wine vinegar
- 50 ml water
- 4 g kosher salt
- 2 g granulated sugar
- Having cleaned the spruce tips of their brown jackets place them in a very clean 125 ml Mason jar. Heat the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar in a small saucepan until boiling. Pour brine over spruce tips, into Mason jar. Allow to cool at room temperature for six hours or so. Cap the jar and refrigerate for a week before starting in on them.