Thursday, July 29, 2010

Baby Pine Cones in your dinner?

We went up to the sweet beautiful mountain breezes of Northern Arizona last week to get away from the crazy world and visit hometown USA. I saw (and smelled) my first small town rodeo. Up at our cabin, my sons where all about the edible plants. "Mom can eat this? What is that? Can it be eaten? How do you know you can eat it?" My favorite was this Little Man with some local foliage...
His exact words, " Would you like a spot of tea?" Then they started bringing me flowers. It was heavenly to be showered with blooms from little hands trying to show their adoration. It's what every mother lives for...well that.. and slobbery oatmeal garnished kissed and stepping on Hot Wheels in the bathtub. I'm convinced I will miss those moments most of all when they grow up and leave me. Sniff, sniff.

We do have about four hundred juniper trees on our land. It was fun to explain the culinary use of a berry on a tree.
Wikipedia says: " Juniper berries, here still attached to a branch, are actually modified conifer cones.A juniper berry is the female seed cone produced by the various species of junipers. It is not a true berry but a cone with unusually fleshy and merged scales, which give it a berry-like appearance. The cones from a handful of species, especially Juniperus communis, are used as a spice, particularly in European cuisine, and also give gin its distinguishing flavour. According to one FAO document, juniper berries are the only spice derived from conifers, though tar and inner bark (used as a sweetener by Apache cuisines) from pine trees is sometimes considered a spice as well. "

This is what the berries look like now, but in a few months they will be more purple.

Which brings me to a very interesting email I got from Stan Potts in the cold country of Canada. He is the winner of two jars of my spice blends for sending me this amazing information about the local pine cones he has growing.

The young cones he actually uses in the kitchen!

Stan says, "These pea sized, tender,immature pine cones are packed full of flavor. They are definately the right garnish for a dandelion or purslane salad, and I wouldn't think of stewing lambs'quarter greens without them!! Probably like Juniper...only more like sap! When I googled pine needles, I was surprised to find alot about them being edible...I don't think I'll make a habit of it. I like Rosemary, and its alot like pine needles, but somehow better! Where I grew up we had alot of bush pasture. Occasionally there would be a cow that would take a liking to the new growth on the spruce trees, especially if the grazing wasn't good. We considered the needles toxic and believed the cow would abort if she ate enough...I can't find any information on that, but I still believe in moderation! These trees are a sort of white pine.
I used to take my nephews camping, and a highlight for them was when I'd make pine needle tea! They are all in their 30's now and it still comes up when I see them. The tea was good, but what they didn't know is that I'd slip in a bag of Earl Grey when they weren't looking!The tender pea size berries only last a few days...they mature and become woody fast! Still, everyone ought to try pine at least once! ---Stan."
Well, we looked up on our trees, but it's summer here and it seems the young cones are past the picking stage. However, I had such a wonderful time looking for baby pine cones with my kids that I had to publically thank Stan for his outstanding letter. Thank you! God bless you Stan. We made great memories.


Donna said...

I learned, years ago in a wilderness survival class, that pines were universally edible. That means that every part of it, everywhere in the world, could be eaten (the other two universally edible plants are grasses and cattails). Our guide even brushed his teeth with pine needles to demonstrate. Unfortunately, I'm highly allergic to juniper, as is everyone in my family, so no gin or juniper berries for us!

aswesow said...

Don't know about surviving on them. Even pine beetles don't survive by eating the tree but rather by using it to farm the fungus that they feed on. Generally speaking...the more suitable it is for human consumption the more pests we have to fight for it and the pests we battle tend to go higher up the food chain in proportion to the desirability! Still, it is always good to try new things! My kids did beg me not to use pineberries in our veggivore soup again!
I ain't been to a rodeo in for ever. Everybody ought to try steer riding at least once too Tess!

DannyBoi said...

So, those baby pine cones grow on a pine tree, right?

Chef Tess said...

Yes. Pine trees for the baby pine cones. Juniper berries are on Juniper trees.

Unknown said...

Any sites in some recipes for these little things please???