Wild food: Pickled spruce tips
Today is Victoria Day, which marks the unofficial start of the planting season for most gardeners in Southern Ontario. I have yet to see much in the way of local farmed spring vegetables. On the other hand, foraged foods have abounded: fiddleheads, ramps, morels and, lately, spruce tips.
Spruce tips are exactly what they sound like: the shoots of new growth on the branches of spruce trees. When picked young, they’re tender and have a lemony, piney flavour that’s a nice complement to rich foods and sauces. They make a great seasoning for mayo, for example.
Lucky for me, I have a large spruce tree in my yard, so it seemed fairly straightforward to go and relieve it of some of its fresh growth. What I’d failed to consider, though, was just how large it was: none of the branches were within reach of the ground. Fortunately, branches are flexible, and I was able to use a pole pruner to bring one limb close enough for a small harvest.
Since it was my first time “foraging” for spruce tips, I decided to handle them so that I would be able to spread out my experimentation. In other words, I needed to preserve them. The obvious solution was pickling: obvious, because I’ve seen them for sale as a commercial product. After poking around my cooking library for pickling advice, I settled on a 10% salt, 3% sugar brine made with cider vinegar, poured over the tips while still warm. I’m going to let them steep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and then see what inspiration strikes.
What are your favourite foraged foods?