I had a firm reminder this morning of why this blog exists: because I have things to say, thoughts to think out loud, about cooking and drinks, and did not have anywhere else to say them. The cooking message boards out there are either small, poorly organized, or focused on some specific area that's too confined for me - the molecular gastronomy boards are useful for me as a reader, for instance, but those guys don't need to hear my thoughts on huckleberries. I didn't want to be in many places, so I was in no place, until I had this place.
The message board that isn't small, poorly organized, or narrowly focused is eGullet. And eGullet is kind of terrible. I used to post there, though never much, but in the last few years it's gone through an immense decline, with valuable regulars (both staff and posters) leaving, questionable new policies/practices, basically everything you expect in the life cycle of any online community. This morning I noticed that a thread on the demise of food forums - which wasn't about eGullet specifically and talked a lot about various forms of online community in general - had been locked by a moderator with a "thanks for your feedback" note, ignoring the fact that it wasn't fucking feedback, and that locking the thread interrupted an ongoing on-topic conversation.
I just have no interest in adding anything to any discussion transpiring in conditions like that. I still search the archives regularly - recommend the archives, in fact, because they're a good resource if you get a new ingredient to play with or are curious about the different ways people make a particular dish. I do three searches when I have something brand new in the kitchen - one on Wikipedia, one on Google Blog Search, one on eGullet.
Anyway, fuck everywhere else. Let's talk about spruce tips.
The young tips of evergreen trees are little clusters of needles that are still tender enough to eat, and which I think have a greater concentration of some vitamins and other components than the mature needles do. I'm not positive of that second part! But you see buds and tips used even in contexts where the texture doesn't matter - pine buds are used for tea in Russia, for instance, and if you're just steeping them in hot water, the tough texture of mature needles is irrelevant ... so there must be some other change that's part of needle maturation. Since those teas are often used to treat colds, I'm assuming it's vitamins. But maybe it's just that the flavor changes.
The buds of Douglas fir trees are used to make my beloved Douglas Fir eau de vie from Clear Creek.
And spruce tips, spruce tips are used to make syrup, which was the only context I had previously had them in. But I've always loved the smell of spruce trees, and was keeping an eye out for spruce tips in case I could get a good deal on them.
Which indeed I did. A seller on eBay in Ketchikan, Alaska - where Caitlin used to live and had just been for her brother's wedding, coincidentally - was selling them by the pound, and a pound of spruce tips goes far. They keep well, and freeze well, so I've got a lot to play with.
Spruce tips taste a lot like the way spruce trees smell, reasonable enough. But they also have an acidity and a tannic astringency. Caitlin picked up a lot more bitterness from them, when eaten raw, than I did - I'm not sure why, but they dried her mouth out right away, while I only get the tannins in the aftertaste, after chewing for a bit. The needles are tender - you're not going to get anything stuck between your teeth - and the acidity is kind of lemony.
Can't tell you about the spruce-cured salmon, because something went off in the curing process that had nothing to do with the spruce as far as I know. Just a texture issue I wasn't happy with. I still have tons of spruce tips, I'll try it again at some point.
But the spruce tip ice cream - this was cool.
I steeped spruce tips in heavy cream that was heated on the stove for a few minutes with enough sugar to sweeten it, cooled completely, strained, refrigerated, whipped, and frozen. A very basic ice cream technique. The flavor is strongly sprucey, and it went really well with huckleberry-rhubarb crisp, particularly with the huckleberries.
The spruce-huckleberry taste combination is very cool, very interesting. I can't decide whether to steep some spruce tips in either my huckleberry bounce or huckleberry gin - or wait, and add them to a new batch the next time I make one or the other. The advantage of the latter is that the alcohol content of the finished huckleberry liquors is slightly lower, which means they'll draw slightly less flavor out of the spruce tips. But without making an infusion, I'm not sure how strong the flavor will be anyway, so don't know if that'll make a difference.
I'll almost certainly add a few chopped-up spruce tips the next time I make a huckleberry pie, if nothing else.