This Christmas, the chef Heston Blumenthal re-invented the humble mince pie with a special pine sugar that released the smell of christmas trees when sprinkled on the hot pastry.
As thousands of Christmas trees are thrown away this Twelfth night, can we “do a Heston” and use them to make delicious food?
In an op-ed for the New York Times, award winning chef Rene Redzepi writes: “Nature takes enormous time and effort to produce something that we use only briefly. Why don’t we make greater use of this living tree, as we make use of so many other kinds of plants on earth, by eating it?” It’s like hyper-local foraging, from your own home.
In London alone, almost a million Christmas trees are thrown away each year – and fewer than 10% of those are recycled. Some councils have special “treecycle” schemes to stop trees going into landfill. Once the baubles and fairy lights have been removed, a lot of pine needles are left.
So, here are some ideas for ways in which to enjoy your Christmas tree to its full potential, by eating it:
Pine needles can be dried out, ground into a light, citrus-y spice and used as a garnish for soups, salmon or pork. In his food blog, Peter suggests soaking them in vodka. Rene Redzepi says it can be sprinkled on cookies, added to rice, or rubbed on a chicken.
If you can’t be bothered to make the powder, just use the sprigs, as you would rosemary or thyme. Chuck them into some steamed spinach or broccoli to give a lemony aroma. Or, after cooking steak, flavour the meaty juices with some pine needles. Fresh fish, salted for a day and covered in fresh needles absorbs the green colour and festive aroma.
Absolutely Wild, who run foraging courses in Hampshire, suggest using pine needles to make syrup. Douglas fir needles are best. They also make flavoured oil for salad which has been used in Nordic cooking for centuries.
Pine butter is another option. Mix butter with pine needles (to taste) and a sprig of thyme, some lemon juice or even a splash of brandy in a blender until soft and green then pass through a sieve.
Eat Weeds wild food guide suggests pine needle vinegar as an alternative to balsamic vinegar. It can be splashed into hot drinks to help ward off seasonal colds and also goes well with fish.
Here is their recipe. It makes 500ml.
- Take your clean, sterile glass jar and add enough pine needles so the jar is packed tight.
- Bring 500ml of organic cider vinegar to a rolling boil and immediately remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature. Sieve if necessary.
- Pour the cooled vinegar over your jar with pine needles in, and fill to the top. Screw on the cap.
- Leave in a darkened cupboard overnight, then use in sauces, with salads, peas or even with fresh fruit. It may sound bizarre but its sharp flavour works well strawberries and vanilla ice cream.