Tasting the Evergreens
Life in Western MA has its many pleasures. So many times I feel really lucky to live where I do and to be surrounded by so much beauty. The mountains, the rivers, the farmland, the flora and the fauna are just some of the things I appreciate. I live in the Pioneer Valley and I am always trying to find ways to connect with my surroundings. I have a five year old daughter name Thu with whom I love spending time in the outdoors. There are many activities we can do to connect with nature and where we live which bring the two of us closer while helping my daughter form a relationship with nature itself.
One of the things I love to do with Thu is go on an outdoor adventure and forage for wild edibles. You most probably have something growing in or near your own backyard that is edible, and maybe even some wild edibles waiting to be discovered! Once kids start learning about the wild edible growing around them, families can look forward to what’s going to pop up next. As always, get to know what you are looking for and make sure you properly identify it- if you are unsure, just don’t eat it.
In the Springtime one of the easiest things to forage for are spruce tree tips. Most of us, if not all of us in the Pioneer Valley are in walking distance to one of these trees. If you have never done any wild harvesting or feel that you wouldn’t have a clue as to where to start, then foraging for spruce tips is a great activity. Children love being part of the hunt. They love spotting these evergreens from far away and once they learn that parts of it are edible, it makes it even more fun. Foraging for wild edibles becomes a tool which can help children learn more about what grows around us. Searching for spruce together can help kids start to learn more about different tree species and appreciate their beauty even more.
Your first task for you and your child is to identify the spruce tree. They will soon be able to spot them from a mile away. You can identify spruce trees by their rough dark-grey to brownish bark, narrowed conical tree shape and the sharp pointed needles. If you are unsure if it’s a spruce tree, get a single needle and cut it in half. Look closely and you’ll see it’s square shape, four sides to a single needle. Red, white and blue spruce species are pretty common in Massachusetts. In late April and early May, you will start to notice that the tips of spruce trees have a very bright, lime-colored tip to them. This is new growth which is formed at the very end of every little branch and twig. Compared the the older needles on the branch, the spruce tips feel soft and new.
My daughter is five years old and not exactly the tallest of her age group. So whenever we have harvested these little treats, I usually pull the branch down and she pops off a few of them or if I have the energy she gets to sit on my shoulders and pick them off. It’s best to not take too many tips off one single branch, but rather to take a few from different ones. It’s good to teach yourself and your children, to never take too much of anything at one time. I love doing these simple things with my daughter, she gets to connect with nature but also we get to connect with each other. Then, we get to go home and do one of our favorite things which is cooking together.
We have made a few things with spruce tips. Two of my favorite recipes are spruce tip shortbread and a spruce tip syrup. Spruce tips have a fresh, citrus flavor and are high in vitamin C. It’s exciting to see your child’s face when tasting something you both harvested and made together. So my suggestion is to go on a walk with your children and enjoy these beautiful evergreens that our little valley gives us, then make something you won’t forget.
Recipe for Spruce Tip Syrup
1 cup of spruce tips
1 cup of maple syrup
1/3 cup of water
Place tips in food processor until finely chopped. Place water and syrup in a sauce pan over medium heat. Whisk as it starts to boil, then let simmer for one minute. Mix in spruce tips, then remove from heat. This mixture should steep overnight or at least a few hours. Strain the tips from the syrup using cheesecloth, squeezing to extract all the syrup. This tasty syrup will keep for a month if refrigerated. I have used it for pancakes, but would love to experiment it with different recipes. Make sure your little one lends a hand in the kitchen, with measuring, mixing, or whatever you feel they can handle.
Recipe for Easy Spruce Tip Shortbread
¼ cup of spruce tip needles
¼ cup of maple syrup
1 cup of organic whole-wheat flour
½ cup of butter
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Put spruce tip and maple syrup in a food processor. Add the flour and process until well mixed. Then cut the butter into small ½ inch squares and add to the food processor until a dough forms. Press the dough into a 8 inch square pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a golden-light brown color. As soon as you take them out of the oven, take a knife and cut the shapes you want, keeping it in the pan. When they cool, take them out and enjoy with some tea.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leslie Lynn Lucio
Leslie is from Texas but has always been drawn to New England. She lives in the town of Northampton and loves living in Western Massachusetts. She spends a lot of time with her five year old and connecting with the community. Her interest include cooking, DIY projects,writing, biking, being outdoors, photography, restoration, food preservation and social activism. She spends some of her time farming when she can and also you can spot her working with the Pedal People.