Early Spring Pickles
Updated: Jul 14
Looking for early signs of green on the trees while I meander through the ravine near my house I see buds on all the deciduous trees, but the conifers wake up a bit later. By the end of May the new, young branch tips start to appear on the spruce trees. They first appear as tight brown bundles, covered with a sticky papery outer layer. As the season progresses, they swell, and push the covering off. This new growth can easily be pulled off the end of the branch and collected for pickling.
When collecting tips, be mindful not to pick from branches that are low to the ground, where dogs may mark their territory. Also be kind to the tree and do not pick every new tip off one branch. Harvest spruce tips in a more random, grazing fashion, where you only take 5-6 tips from each branch. This may require you to travel further to get the amount you want, but consider it an opportunity to explore while you gather.
When eaten raw, spruce tips have a strong astringent taste. When pickled the vinegar mellows out the flavour considerably, leaving a light evergreen tang. Inspired from the recipe from, The Boreal Feast : A Culinary Journey Through the North by Michael Genest,
I have adapted this method to suit my personal tastes. This quantity will make one pint of pickles, and can easily be scaled up to make more.
2-3 large fistfuls of washed spice tips
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup water
1 ½ tbsp.sea salt
1 pint jar with screw lid
small sauce pot
Wash and sterilize your jar. To sterilize, preheat your oven to 230 F and place the jar inside for 15 min.
Boil the water, vinegar, salt and honey in the pot.
Once the jar has been sterilized, pack the tips into the jar and pour the boiled mixture over it.
Some tips may float, so placing a small weight into the jar will keep them all submerged as they cure. I use a small sake cup.
The bright green of the tips will dull to a lighter green colour, almost immediately after the vinegar touches them, much like how cucumbers lose some of their vibrancy when pickled. After 3 days of curing, these spruce tip pickles will be ready to eat. While you can hot water bathe the jars, to have a supply all year round. If you do this, you will also have to sterilize your jar lids and rings. I personally like to observe the seasonality of these early spring pickles and store them in the refrigerator till they are gone. In sandwiches I use spruce tip pickles as an alternative to the cucumber variety. Using different vinegars can create unique flavours, so be adventurous and try a few.