The More You Know

A quick update for anybody who was interested in my spruce post: I left a bunch of the intact tips in a bowl, figuring that they’d dry out on their own and then I’d grind them to powder. But after months, they still retained a springy resistance to breaking up into fine dust, even under the stern ministrations of the surikogi. So recently, since I had some things going in the sous vide machine, which I normally cap with a cookie sheet for heat retention, I stripped the needles off the stems and sprinkled them on the hot metal as I had done with the first batch that ground up nice and fine. Within an hour or so, these too had become brittle and powdered easily, so I dumped them all in the suribachi and Milo and I took turns turning them into powder for the spice jar.

So if you’re looking to make spruce into a spice rather than just using it like a dried herb (which works great, though it needs some hydrating time and can get a bit flossy in quantity, like rosemary) you’ll need to dehydrate it with heat for some time before it will grind fine. The aroma that came off the sheet while it heated was wonderful, and filled the kitchen with a delicately evergreen perfume. The smell out of the suribachi as we ground it was sublime. I like it best for gravlax, duck, and pork, but there’s no end to its uses. If you infuse your own gin you need to do this, though fresh is miles better in that regard; it has a bright citrusy note that’s to die for. The spruce vinegar I’m fermenting smells like gin. Ginegar.

The bright and complex flavors of fresh plants, flowers, and seeds at their peak are impossible to preserve in their entirety; dried versions tend to capture one or two strong notes but lack all of the subtle overtones. The spruce that I steeped in vodka and which is fast becoming vinegar has more of the complete flavor spectrum than the dried powder–and more than the spruce simmered in cider that ferments next to it–but the powder is still a valuable ingredient. I’m slowly coming up with a variety of powdered local spices that replace or supplement the standards in a variety of dishes, so think of this as a little appetizer on that subject while I get the actual work of harvesting and creating the stuff finished. Given that spruce tips won’t appear until spring, this might not be timely information. So picture the concerned-yet-amiable celebrity of your choice in demotically casual (and yet very expensive) attire telling this to you and then that sparkly star thingy streaks across the screen when they’re done. Do they even do that any more? I haven’t watched TV in five years, which is why I have time to do all this arcane shit. Now that’s a PSA worth airing.

4 comments to The More You Know

  • This probably seems like a DUH thing to say, but I had some sage trimmings that I had been using. They had remained fairly fragrant for a few months and then yesterday they were, well, changed. All the sage had gone out of them. I wonder.. how does spruce do once dried… how low before they go bland?

  • Peter

    So far, they’ve stayed pretty pungent, though as I said that marvelous fresh green flavor is gone. Since the powder is now in a jar, I’m hopeful that it will last until May when I can go pick some more.

  • You are such an ispiration, Peter. I love the springy spruce so, so much. I tend to pick them when they are a bit younger, mere buds actually. Using it in lieu of dill is terrific.

  • Peter

    Hey, nice to see you again; I figured you were stranded on Gilligan’s Aleutian Island or something. I would have picked them younger, but we had a lot of rain and they just exploded. Wait till you see the spruce vinegar.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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