I love the fresh growth on pines, spruce and larch and make fresh, citrussy-pine needle teas from the young needles. I also adore this spruce ‘honey’ (a pouring pine syrup), made as soon as the new bright young tips appear on the spruce trees. I am indebted to the lovely Meriel Cairns for this inspiration, a treasured neighbour when I lived in Perthshire. She makes it every year in a huge pot that simmers gently on her Aga all day, infusing her house with the fresh, clean smell of Spring.
8 cups (or 2 litres) of water
2 cup (500ml) young spruce needle tips (or pine needles)
2 cups (500ml) sugar
(Or 1 cup (250ml) honey plus ½ cup (125ml) cheap brandy)
Put the water into a large stainless steel saucepan with a well-fitting lid. Put into the stove and bring to a boil.
Chop the fresh needles roughly. Once the water is boiling, add them to the pan. Simmer on a low heat for half an hour with the saucepan lid on.
Switch off the heat and leave to steep for two to three hours. Then pour through a sieve or filter bag to strain off the needles.
You now have a strong spruce ‘tea’. Put the strained tea back on the stove and simmer for another hour until the tea has reduced to half the original quantity. Remove from the heat.
Measure the tea. You should have about 2 cups.
If using sugar: To each cup of spruce tea, add a 1/2 cup of sugar. Slowly add the sugar to the warm tea and stir until dissolved. Now bring back to the boil, and boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Pour into sterilised bottles and cap. There is no need to keep this in the fridge until it has been opened.
If using honey: To each cup of spruce tea, add a 1/4 cup of honey. Slowly add the honey to the warm liquid until you reach the thickness that you want. You will need to add brandy to help preserve this mixture (as it does not have the preservative properties of sugar) and store it in the fridge once bottled.
Dribble over vanilla ice cream!