According to Beverley Gray of "The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North," spruce tips can be eaten raw, made into a tea, or added to salads, stews and soups.
The key is to harvest them when they first begin to emerge from their brown, papery husks. At this stage, spruce tips are tender and have a fresh flavor with hints of citrus.
To harvest, pull the spruce tips gently off the tree. Make sure you don't over-harvest one area, or take too many from a single tree. When you're done picking, remove casings from the tips and wash and dry with a dish towel before using.
As with all plants, the tips of spruce trees will develop more quickly in warmer areas, locations with good sun exposure and at lower elevations. In the coming weeks, there may still be spruce trees ready to harvest further up in shady areas where temperatures are cooler, but the season is fleeting. Explore the tastiness in your backyard!
Spruce tip infused oil
Think spruce tip dipping oil for slathering on crusty bread, featuring in salad dressings and mixing with mayonnaise and lemon juice for a spruce tip potato salad at your next barbecue.
1 cup spruce tips
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup canola or sunflower oil
Combine spruce tips and oils in a medium saucepan and cook for 8 minutes over low heat. Remove from heat. Strain oil through a fine-meshed sieve and then through a coffee filter that has been soaked in canola oil. Pour strained oil into a dry, clean jar or oil container. Use within a week to 10 days.
Spruce tip salt
This is delicious on everything from root vegetables to frittatas and salads.
1/2 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup roughly chopped spruce tips
Add salt and spruce tips to a food processor. Process in bursts until the spruce tips are finely ground. Let dry at room temperature uncovered on a baking sheet, stirring a few times a day until the flavored salt is completely dry. The salt will initially be very moist; break up any lumps as you see them forming. When the salt is dry, put it back into the food processor to break up any remaining lumps. Store in an airtight container.
Spruce tip shortbread cookies
This delicious recipe comes from local Mediterranean cookbook author Laurie Constantino. I make this recipe every year and freeze extra cookies to have them as treats throughout the summer.
Constantino says, "The trick to making shortbread is processing the dough just long enough so that it can be rolled out but still appears a little crumbly in the bowl. If you process the dough until it forms a ball or sticks together in the processor, the cookies will spread out on the baking sheet and their texture will suffer."
Makes 16 1- by 3-inch cookies.
1/4 cup fresh spruce tips
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Process the spruce tips and sugar until the spruce tips are finely chopped. Add the flour and process in bursts to mix well, being sure to scrape out any sugar or spruce tips trapped in the corners of the food processor bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch chunks, add to the processor bowl and process until the butter is evenly distributed and the dough holds together when pinched.
Dump the dough onto parchment paper and form into an evenly thick rectangle. Roll out with a lightly floured rolling pin until the rectangle is 6 inches wide by 8 inches long. Using a straight edge as a guide, cut the rectangle into 1-inch crosswise strips and then in half lengthwise to form 16 1- by 3-inch cookies. Prick each cookie five times with the tines of a fork. Carefully place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Bake in the preheated oven for 23-26 minutes, or until the cookies are set and just starting to turn golden (not browned). Let cookies cool before serving. Store in an airtight container.
Pickled spruce tips
Tangy and lemony, add these to smoked salmon dip, pizza or even your next martini.
2 cups spruce tips
1 cup water
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
In a small sauce pot, heat the water, salt, vinegar and sugar until the mixture is boiling and the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add spruce tips. Let cool and keep refrigerated.
Shannon Kuhn lives in Anchorage, where she writes about food and culture. Reach her at email@example.com.