It's always a sad thing to take down the Christmas tree, but our regular guest bloggers, Nick and Rich, have found three ways to let the festive magic continue well into the New Year...
"Christmas is over and the streets are lined with sad looking spruce trees waiting to be sent to recycling centers. But before waving goodbye forever why not preserve some Christmas essence by bringing the flavour of spruce to your kitchen?
"Young spring buds of spruce and pine are perfectly edible and can be used in a surprising number of recipes as a flavouring and main ingredient (pickled spruce buds anyone?). But winter needles can also be used to add a distinctive citrusy, woodland twist to some kitchen staples. Each variety of tree will produce slightly different results, although our trials found spruce to be generally more effective than pine. Here are three simple recipes to try…
1. Spruce oil
Use scissors to snip the needles from a branch and drop into a sterilised bottle or jar until one third full. Gently heat some mild flavoured oil and pour it over the needles until the jar is full. Leave for two weeks then strain. The resulting oil is delicately flavoured and makes an interesting addition to dressings as well as for use in cooking.
2. Spruce vinegar
To prove we’re not making this up, spruce vinegar is common enough to have its own name – although ‘poor man’s balsamic’ isn’t the kindest moniker! For this recipe, fill your sterilised jar or bottle with needles. Heat some vinegar (we used cider vinegar) and pour it over the needles until they're all covered. Leave in a dark cupboard for four to six weeks before straining.
3. Spruce vodka
Inevitably, we had to see how spruce needles worked as an alcohol infusion, so this Christmas we experimented with several methods of making spruce gin and vodka. You can read the full trials here, but our preferred method is as follows: break up two tablespoons of needles with a teaspoon of sugar using a mortar and pestle. Add to a 350ml bottle of vodka, shake vigorously, and leave overnight before straining. The resulting spirit is especially good in cocktails.
Warnings 1. Commercially produced Christmas trees aren’t grown for human consumption, so some growers cover them in pesticides which are likely to make them unsuitable for these recipes. Check your tree’s provenance before using.
2. If you would rather forage for wild needles then make sure you avoid the similar looking yew tree. It is most definitely poisonous.
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