Thursday, June 20, 2013

Spruce cured salmon

The flavor of the spruce tips we recently came across- citrus, pine, faintly berry, seemed a good pairing for salmon. Having some coho fillets in the freezer from last fall, we essayed to cure and smoke some salmon for summer snacking. For a first try, the cure was:

1 1/2 c kosher salt, processed with 2 T spruce tips until the tips were finely ground, then allowed to infuse overnight;
1 c white sugar (brown sugar seemed to overpoweringly sweet, with the molasses element competing with the spices)
1 heaping T coarse ground black pepper
1 heaping T coarse ground white pepper

I didn't use all of the cure, but patted two fillets (small fillets, a little over 2 lb each) with a cup or so, then wrapped them tightly with plastic wrap (leaving the excess cure on) and refrigerated them, under weight, for twelve hours. We then unwrapped and rinsed the fillets, which had lost about a half a cup of moisture.

Patted dry, they went on a rack in the refrigerator overnight to develop a tacky surface to aid smoke absorption.

Next morning, the fillets went on the smoker. This time I used cherry wood, courtesy of a dwarf tree that decided life in southern NM was too much for it. Five and a half hours later (what Fearnley-Whittingstall calls "rough smoking", that is, neither true cold-smoking below 90 F, nor hot smoking at a temperature to cook) I declared the salmon done.

The verdict? More spruce. Next time, I'd use three times the amount of spruce tips or as much as I had available. Also, more of both peppers, and a little less salt. The spruce is very faint and the pepper isn't detectible at all. That said, the cherry wood produced a very nice smoke and the finished salmon is quite good. Perhaps we'll serve it with a spruce tip mayonnaise.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Spruce cookies

Relying mostly on a recipe from the Boreal Gourmet, A and I took some of our recently gathered spruce tips (actually, douglas-fir in our case) and made shortbread.

Removing the "paper", the brown capsule around the tip, is a bit time consuming but not onerous, akin to removing elderberry stems or shelling peas. The flavor from the fir tips when chopped very finely with sugar is quite interesting. A bit of pine (unsurprising), lemon, and a hint of raspberry (!). The flavor is long lasting but doesn't express itself right up front.

I'd say these would be fantastic Christmas cookies- a little bit of spice and fruit with a nice green garnish. We used:

1/4 c (packed) doug fir tips, papery brown husks removed and minced very fine is a food processor with 1/2 c plus 1 T sugar
1 cup of butter
2 1/4 c flour
and 1/4 t salt
Baked at 325 F until light brown. Reserve a tablespoon of spruce sugar to sprinkle over the top of the cookies.

Worth collecting some tree limbs for the cookies alone, salmon and spruce to follow. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Chesapeake (Bay retreiver) heritage foods

Booker has, over the course of the last few years, informed me that certain types of eats fall under the category of "Chesapeake Heritage Foods". I'm sure others who are familiar with the breed (I'm looking at Chas and Chad)   have encountered this phenomenon.

Considerable thought has led me to conclude that Chesapeake Heritage Foods are those things that are particularly appealing to Chessies because of the role those foods played in feeding Chessies and proto-Chessies over the development of the breed. Basically, some things speak to the Ur-dog, some flavors call up the memory of generations of water dogs in the past and are, accordingly, particularly appealing to the Chessie of today.

Some Chesapeake Heritage Foods are not particularly surprising given the breed's long association with coastal areas and parts of the South- for instance,  oysters, fried fish and hush puppies are very clearly Chesapeake Heritage Foods, the latter so strongly favored that they are known to us as "corn dogglers". In fact, Booker prefers a hush puppy to a piece of fish out of the same oil. However, other items that qualify as Chesapeake Heritage Foods call for a little research about the history of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers in the U.S. and, in turn, American history.

A recent example is spruce tips. Booker assures me that these are, in fact, a Chesapeake Heritage Food.

I surmise that spruce tips (which are quite tasty and no doubt good for you) probably entered the category of Chesapeake Heritage Food through the experiences of Seaman, who, while not a CBR, was a Newfoundland, one of the breeds that went into creating Chessies. Thus, spruce tips got in at the ground floor of the breed, so to speak, as Seaman no doubt shared spruce tips with the rest of the Corps of Discovery during their various times of privation, and possibly during times of plenty as a bit of change of pace as well. A famous dog when he got back (sturdy from lots of elk, bison, and Vitamin C from spruce tips), Seaman most likely contributed to the foundation stock of CBRs, directly or through a couple of removes. That genetic memory no doubt has led to the popularity of spruce tips as a Chessie snack today.

Saturday, June 08, 2013


A and I took a little break last weekend and headed up into some of the local mountains- our first trip to any sort of elevation this year. Ostensibly, this was a scouting trip for deer (in very different places from spring to fall), mushrooms (only if it starts to rain pretty seriously, and soon), and whatever else we might see.

We did pretty well in the "whatever else" department, seeing a few turkey, including a hen with chicks, elk, deer, and signs of things to come in summer or fall.

Here's the first of those: elderberry flower buds-

It doesn't look to be as heavy a crop as last year, but, if there's a little moisture we might get to play with elderberries again come next fall. So far, those have been one of the most exciting (vegetal) wild foods I've encountered. Elderberry membrillo next to a slice of wild pig tasso ham and a piece of good manchego cheese is a very fine thing indeed, the jam is an absolute favorite, and A and I have been talking over some other possibilities for the intense, funky, dark fruit flavor of elderberry juice.

We also encountered lots of green currants and a few currant bushes flowering, all in a fairly concentrated area. These promise jelly, again if there is a little rain up high and if we can beat the birds and bears to the ripe fruit. Worth a look, anyway.

In a couple of the cooler, shadier draws up high the douglas fir and blue spruce were still budding out. We recalled reading about using spruce and fir tips as an ingredient, maybe here or here. The blue spruce buds were big,  but had a fairly strong resinous or pine flavor, along with a lemony note. The doug fir, on the other hand, was quite tasty- lemony, somewhat pine-y, with something a little reminiscent of raspberry to them.

We spent half an hour collecting tender little tips and have probably spent another hour peeling the brown paper-like covering off of the tips.

So far, we've made fir shortbread, adapting this recipe, and are curing salmon (to be smoked) with fir-infused salt. More on those culinary efforts later.

Sunday, June 02, 2013


"Peter Parker is the guy who got bit by the radioactive spider, the toxic bug if you will, and became Spiderman. Normally he's a nebbish. No money, no prestige, and no future. But if you try to mug him in a dark alley, you're meat. The question he keeps asking himself is: 'Do those moments of satisfaction I get as Spiderman make up for all the crap I have to take as Peter Parker?' In my case, the answer is yes." Sangamon Taylor
"Zodiac" by Neal Stephenson.