I have been really anxious to start harvesting edibles from the forest this spring! I read up on what’s available at this time of year and the thing that jumped out at me was spruce tips. Back during the Alaskan gold rush, homesteaders used spruce tips in jellies and teas as a source of vitamin C to prevent scurvy. As it turns out vitamin C is my favorite vitamin (growing up on a citrus orchard and all). So off I went to harvest some tender young spruce tips to make a batch of jelly.
It was a nice day so I didn’t wear long sleeves, or gloves. Big mistake. By the time I was done, I was poked something awful and had a momentary reaction in which my arms swelled up and it looked like I had the measles. Does this make me allergic to spruce? Not to be deterred, I continued on with my mission.
Spruce tips are only available during a short window in the spring. Apparently, once the tips grow into branches, they are not quite as tasty. And much more dangerous as the needles turn from soft feathery edibles into mean razor blades.
I have never made spruce tip anything before–I didn’t know what to expect from the jelly taste at all. Alaskan’s Winter Ale is made with spruce tips and I’m a big fan so I figured the jelly must be good. And guess what? It’s divine! Nearly perfect, in my humble opinion. It’s herbal, it’s acidic, it’s sweet. It’s definitely worth the skin piercings and heavy doses of benedryl (ok, I’m being a little dramatic. Next time, I’ll just wear long sleeves and gloves). In fact, I am going to be heading right out during this short window to pick buckets more to make some home brew. I’m sure I can enlist Brian’s help in that endeavor.
Spruce Tip Jelly
I based mine on this recipe, but I didn’t really want to make a giant batch so I halved it. Mine could be more gelatinous (***see update in ingredients) but the flavor is really good. I imagine it would be awesome mixed with some kind of fruit. I think I’ll make a batch of tea to freeze and mix with salmonberries when they ripen. I used Sitka Spruce tips because that’s what we have in our yard, but you can use any spruce, pine or fir tips. Makes eight 8 ounce jelly jars.
Pick roundabout four cups of spruce tips–just after the brown papery covering has fallen off and before they get too mature. Rinse in cold water and give a light chopping. Cover the tips with water and simmer for 10 minutes. Let stand overnight, strain with cheesecloth.
3 1/2 cups spruce tip juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 package fruit pectin (Updated May 2013 to add: I used Sure-Jell when I first wrote this post but as my experience has grown, I have switched to Pomona Pectin… I sometimes cut back the sugar, sometimes not… I have had much better setting results with Pomona)
5 cups sugar
Mix juice with lemon juice and pectin, stir until dissolved. Bring to a full rolling boil for 2 minutes and don’t let it boil over (it was a giant mess to clean up). Pour into jars and place in a boiling water bath* for 10 minutes.
*I don’t have any fancy canning products. I just use a big pot with a small towel in the bottom instead of a rack (to cushion the glass jars and keep them from banging together and breaking during the boiling). Here is a good website to read more about canning. It always seemed so intimidating to me before I started doing it… but I haven’t had a bust yet. So give it a shot!