Spruce Tips Part Three: Pickles

spruce_pickle

Why pickle a spruce tip? I don’t know, why not? After making a pint of ice cream, 3 quarts of syrup (and all the cocktails that followed suit), I still had a lot of buds left over. I thought about making a spruce sugar for curing or a spruce salt for finishing but I knew there was no way I would go through that much of any one spice before it would get stale. So when in doubt, pickle! I’ve read that these guys should be left to ‘cure’ for at least a month before trying. After which I figure they’ll be great on eggs, smoked salmon or to brine a martini. I’ll let you know as soon as I crack a jar.

Pickled Spruce Tips

Ingredients
2 c. cider vinegar (500 ml.)
2 c. water (500 ml.)
1/4 c. kosher salt
1/2 c. + 2 Tb. granulated sugar
1 Tb. juniper berries
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2-3 fresh bay leaves

Method
1. Bring all ingredients to a boil. Return to a simmer and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Keep very warm as you prepare your canning station.
2. Pack your jars with spruce tips about 3/4 full.
3. Ladle pickling brine into each jar, making sure to wipe off any liquid on the mouth of the jar.
4. Run a (sterilized) utensil (I like a chopstick), around the inside perimeter of the jar, pressing on the spruce buds, releasing any air bubbles.
5. If you are canning, replace jar lids but do not screw the bands all the way tight.
6. Process in a hot water bath canner, about 10 min. per batch.

In Season: Spruce Tips

  “Foraging for fir is possibly one of the hippest endeavors a chef can undertake, short of moving to Brooklyn, curling your mustache, strapping on suspenders, and donning a knit cap.” – a dumb website once said. But what that lame website also failed to explain is that my house smells like a Nordic spa right now and no one is complaining.

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I recently had a conversation with Katy McNulty, a co-worker (and former sous-chef at Blue Hill) about seasonality and the rewards that come from waiting.   We agreed that chefs want to be the first to have spring greens on their menu because it’s New York.  But they also want to be the first to have spring greens because just like everyone else, they’re sick and tired of beets and potatoes and after a winter as long and dreary as ours, geography matters little.  (This explains why you saw a sugar snap pea cocktail on March 21st.) “I get it,” Katy said, “but there’s nothing more satisfying than when you take that first drive home from the farmer’s market and your trunk is filled with baby greens and spring onions and tiny radishes and you get to have this moment to yourself where you inhale really deep and then roll down the windows because your whole car smells like dirt.  And it’s wonderful.  I would rather wait for that moment than burn myself out on produce that will naturally come around here in 2 months time.  The rewards are much greater.”

Basically what we’re saying is that if you want to see some of the meanest cut-throat competition in NYC, go to the Union Square farmer’s market in April and watch grown men have a temper tantrum over a bag of pea shoots. And if spring is off to a sluggish start, walk into any kitchen and you will see there is often little hesitation to buy from California. 

So when I stumbled onto two 1/2-gallon ziplock bags of spruce tips in my freezer a few days later, I had a thought.  Spruce tips, the tender beginning buds of the spruce tree, are a nice reminder of an important seasonal transition and the benefits to come.  They are piney little wonders that still smell of fresh clean snow but also remind of us longer warmer days, melting ice and new mossy growth. spruce_bag These foraged tips came from a small New Jersey based produce distributor that specializes in organic produce and dairy sourced from small sustainable farms in Jersey cow country. I came to work with them when I was a buyer because I knew one of the drivers (who later left the company to get hitched and start his own permaculture and biodynamic farming start-up, Fields Without Fences).  That was about a year ago and the bright green buds have been hibernating in my freezer ever since. ‘Turns out there’s an awful lot you can do with spruce tips.  So this post will be broken down into three parts: Spruce Syrup Cocktail, Ice Cream and Pickles (not pregnant here, I promise.)

PART ONE: COCKTAILS & SYRUP

Nénuphar Cocktail spruce_cocktail
The first project was to make a spruce simple syrup, which in and of itself has endless uses: cocktails, sodas, sorbet, reductions and sauces.  But it’s nearly spring and I’m thirsty for a drink that doesn’t involve apple cider or scotch.  A cocktail, it is!  

For this new seasonal quaff I chose Hayman’s Old Tom Gin. Dutch style gins tend to be very herbal and juniper heavy, a natural complement to the woodsy and herbal notes of the spruce syrup.  Finishing the cocktail was some St. Germain, an elderflower based liqueur and a garnish of lavender bitters from Scrappy’s and Bitterman’s Boston bitters, a bright blend of citrus and chamomile.  I promise that once shaken and poured, you will be transplanted to a far away mossy patch or at the very least, your fire escape herb garden.


Nénuphar
Fr. translation: white water lily

2. oz. Dutch style gin, such as Hayman’s or Ransom
.75 oz. lemon juice
.5 oz. St. Germain
.75 oz spruce simple syrup
Several dashes Bitterman’s Boston Bitters
Several more dashes Scrappy’s lavender bitters
Rosemary branch for garnish

Combine gin, lemon juice, St. Germain and syrup in a boston shaker full of ice. Shake vigorously until ice is crushed. Strain into a chilled rocks glass, ice optional. Finish with bitters and rosemary.

Nerd Tip: if you bruise the rosemary between your hands by “clapping”, it will make the drink even more aromatic.

Spruce Tip Syrup spruce_syrup2

Simple syrup is always handy to have and is incredibly easy to make. It dissolves easily into cold drinks like cocktails and iced coffee.  Infusing the syrup is easy and makes for a great blank canvas to flavor seltzer, tea, shaved ice or to glaze any number of desserts.

I used equal parts of each ingredient.  The result was a beautiful and rich honey colored sweetener with big woodsy and herbal notes.
For a thicker syrup you can decrease the water and/or increase the sugar.

Spruce Syrup
yield: 3 qts.

Ingredients
7 cups water
7 cups sugar
7 cups spruce tips, lightly packed (500g., appx)

Method
Bring all ingredients to a boil and turn down to a bare simmer for 30 min. Remove from heat and allow to steep at least 2 hours or overnight.

In Season: Key Limes

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Key Lime Pie Ice Cream

The term “seasonal” takes a bit of a leap here. Not only are there are no key lime trees in any Brooklyn backyard (that I know of) but key lime trees tend to bear the most fruit and flowers between the months of May and September- a bit of an anomaly in the citrus world. But here we are in citrus season nonetheless and when I saw small mesh bags of those impossibly cute golf ball sized key limes in Chelsea Market, I snatched ’em. Key lime pie ice cream it was to be!

After a little bit of research for this recipe, it seems that many folks forgo the use of eggs and sugar, using sweetened condensed milk instead to emulate actual key lime pie filling and then freezing it right away.  I’m sure it’s delicious and soft and creamy but HEY, that’s not really ice cream.  Also, I had already bought eggs.

IMG_2214I am really happy with how this came out.  What started as a dramatic yellow custard finished a lovely and creamy shade of barely there pastel green. It was sweet and tart and rich with a perfectly soft (but not soggy) graham cracker swirl.  The base did get very thick, very fast.  Not even two minutes went by before I was able to stand a spoon completely upright.  I don’t know if it was because I used 6 egg yolks or because key lime juice naturally sets the custard in key lime pie (fact!). If this happens to you, don’t freak out and continue heating and whisking your custard until a thermometer reads 170-175F.

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Key Lime Pie Ice Cream

3/4 cup sugar, with 2 Tb. set aside (150 g.)
2-3 Tb. key lime zest
3 Tb. fresh key lime juice
1 cup whole milk (250 ml.)
2 cups heavy cream (300 ml.)
6 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. vanilla
salt
1 ready-made graham cracker pie crust*, crumbled and set aside.

A tip: I would recommend adding a lil’ bit of booze to counteract the use of extra water (the lime juice).  I only had weird tasting digestifs in my house so I used an extra egg yolk to balance out any iciness and to contribute to key lime pie’s classic custard texture.

*Don’t mock my ready-made pie crust. For $1.99, I had the exact amount of graham cracker crumbles vs. $4.99 for a huge box of graham crackers that I would never go through. (Or would go through, way too fast).
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Method

1. Combine zest and sugar in a blender or food processor. Buzz ’till well combined and zest is powdered. This will prevent having weird frozen strands of fruit zest in your finished product.

2. Heat milk, salt and zesty sugar in a saucepan. Warm all the way through, until sugar dissolves and the milk slightly thickens.

3. Crack eggs into a separate bowl with the reserved sugar. Whisk.

4. Temper eggs yolks by gradually adding up to a 1/4 cup of the hot milk to the eggs, whisking continually. When the yolks are warmed through, add them to your saucepan. Heat custard until it coats the back of a spoon or until 175F.

5. Chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

6. Whisk in cream, vanilla and key lime juice. Adjust salt level if needed. Churn away! Add in graham cracker crumbles when custard begins to look like soft serve.
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In Season: Not Much. Answer: A Pickle

pickle_shelf1
I work for a small company called Hudson Valley Harvest. We represent about 20 or so small family owned farms that grow sustainable organic veg and raise pastured, grass fed cattle and pigs. When I approach chefs and retail shop buyers, they look at my list and say, “Looks great! Call me in April.” I don’t blame them. My list starts with beets and ends with potatoes. Spring cannot come soon enough! Screw summer tomatoes, I would be happy eating a friggin’ spring onion sandwich at this point.

quickle_liquid
So this post on pickling is not necessarily a call to “preserve the season” so much as it is to resuscitate it.

quickle_prep

Now, you could call this a quickle (a “quick pickle” also known as a “refrigerator pickle.”) I’ve made this recipe before and these carrots, 4 months later are still sittin pretty in a half-gallon mason jar, always available for a salad, a sandwich or a bright pick-me-up snack. But since I was fairly hungover yesterday and had lots of time on my hands, I decided to properly can them so I could add them to my library of jam. But once they’ve been processed (12-15 min. in the canning pot), I guess they’re no longer a quickle. But that doesn’t stop me from saying the word quickle. Because why would you want to?

This recipe is super simple and very adaptable. You could swap out the fennel seeds for dill seed, the black mustard for juniper berries and on and on. I’ve been enjoying them in a kale and fennel salad with parsley and loads of bright goat’s milk feta. Saltie uses them in their clean slate sandwich along with pickled beets, yogurt and bulgur, all rolled up in some grilled perfectly flaky na’an.

pre_quickle

Recipe
(from my brain with a little help from Saltie)

6 medium carrots, peeled
1-1/2 large red onions
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tb. coriander seeds
1 tb. fennel seeds
1/2 tb. black peppercorns
1/2 tb. black or brown mustard seed
4-5 dried arbol chilies

Makes 2 quarts

Method
Slice the carrots as thinly as possible. I’ve done this with matchsticks, rounds and ribbons.  Any of these shapes work well.

Slice the red onion into half moons. Don’t slice them too thin or they will start to fall apart in the hot pickling liquid. You want your pickles to have some nice crunch.* Set aside your veggies in a large mixing bowl.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, spices and chilies. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour the pickling liquid over the veggies.

For a quickle:
Allow to cool to room temperature and store them in a glass jar.

For a pickle:
Have all of your canning tools ready and sanitized. I like having my canning mise layed out over a tea towel on my kitchen table. Have your jars clean and your (new) lids in a sauce pan of barely simmering water on the side.

With a slotted spoon or tongs, portion out your carrots and onions into each jar, about 3/4 of the way full. Using a canning funnel helps prevent a hot mess.

Ladle remaining pickling liquid (which should still be hot or very warm) into each jar, leaving about 1/4-1/2″ of headspace. Replace the lids, leaving the bands somewhat loose.

Process in a hot water bath 12-15 min. Remove and allow to cool. Test lids. If sealed properly, screw the bands tight and shelve!

*Speaking of crunch, keeping you veggies in an ice bath while preparing your canning station will help preserve their toothsome crunch.