Rebecca and I are a little handicapped when it comes to picking the featured herbs for our Wild Things Round Up. You see, she lives in LA, and has a nearly backward growing season because of the heat. On the other hand, I live at a high altitude, and have to contend with a shortened summer growing season. It's not easy to judge what herb both of us, and the greater part of the US will have to cook with, given these circumstances.
And that's why I'm just now making spruce tip jelly. For the Wild Things Round Up in March, when conifer tips were the herb of the month, I ended up making all of my recipes from spruce needles. No complaints, really, because I still managed to make some fine dishes. But it's a real joy to finally have my hands on the super tender and tasty tips. And I'm feeling inspired all over again.
When you go out to collect your tips, be sure to harvest the ones that are just emerging from their papery husks. They should be bright green, and tender enough to cut with your fingernail.
Spruce Tips Jelly
Roughly chop your spruce tips, and add them to a pan. Add enough water to cover, bring to a boil and let simmer ten minutes. Turn off the heat, and let steep overnight.
Strain the resulting spruce tea through cheesecloth or a fine sieve, measure how many cups you have, and return to the pan.
Add roughly an equal volume of sugar to the amount of tea you have (or to taste). I might like mine to be slightly less sweet, but worry about the jelly not being acidic enough to preserve well.
Bring the spruce tea and sugar to a boil. You now have a volume of spruce tips syrup that is about double your original amount of spruce tea. For every 2 c. of syrup, add 3 Tbsp. lemon juice, and 2 tsp. calcium water (per directions in Pomona's Universal Pectin*).
Reduce the heat so that the syrup is no longer rolling bubbles, and for every 2 c. of syrup, add 1 1/2 tsp. Pomona's Universal Pectin mixed with 1 1/2 tsp. sugar. Whisk it like mad for a few seconds, so that the pectin doesn't make clumps, then return to a boil for two minutes. Alternately, you could add the pectin the way Pomona's suggests, but what fun would following directions be? Pshaw, live a little. Whisking is more fun anyhow.
To test the thickness of the jelly, pull up a spoonful, and place the spoon in the freezer for a few minutes. If the jelly is a bit too thin, add a touch more pectin, whisk and boil again, then retest.
Once the spruce tips jelly has reached the desired thickness, remove from heat and pour into sterilized jars. Then process the jelly in a water bath five minutes, adding one minute for every 1,000' above sea level).
I bet you'll never guess what spruce tips jelly tastes like. Go ahead, guess...
Bet you didn't guess grapefruit, did you? (ok, smarty pants, this is a preemptive comment strike). It's true that there are subtle pine-y tones in the jelly, but it is astonishing how much of a citrus taste comes from a conifer tree. But you see, that's really the charm of these spruce tips - their unexpected zing.
And gotta say, I wasn't really certain what color the spruce tips jelly would turn out either. I suppose a less cynical soul would say it looks like honey. But my eye sees something the color of a urine sample - thus the addition of a festive fabric hat, which is a step I normally wouldn't bother with. Is that too much information? bad food blogger! hand slap! Hope I didn't ruin it for you. Honestly, the spruce tip jelly tastes fab. You'll love it.
*If you haven't tried Pomona's Universal Pectin yet, go out and find it. It has changed my preserving for the better. Now I can experiment with recipes without fear of ruining them with too much sugar, because Pomona's doesn't require any sugar to set the pectin. And Pomona's has in no way paid me to say these things (although, uh hello! pectin peeps, call me).