Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Firtini

I see a three-firtini lunch in my future…

Believe it or not, the new growth of many conifers, even pine trees, is edible. Certain species of fir and spruce are the most sought after for their tender and fragrant tips, and in my woods they're showing right now.

Simply chopped and sautéed in butter with mushrooms or potatoes, fir and spruce tips bring the forest right into your kitchen, with wafting evergreen aromas and the evocation of cool mountain shade. Infusions are another crowd-pleaser. You can use the pungent tips to infuse stock, cream, or alcohol. At the Herbfarm I've enjoyed a champagne cordial infused with a small shot of spruce extract.

For this drink, I first turned to The Wild Table for a quick primer on infusing alcohol with Douglas fir tips. Earlier this year I had the good fortune to be seated next to Connie Green at the Oregon Truffle Fest's big dinner. Connie owns Wine Forest Wild Foods in the Napa Valley. Her cookbook collects decades of experience in the foraging and restaurant communities of Northern California. Connie's instructions for infusing vodka with fir tips appear below.

1 cup Douglas fir tips
1 750 ml bottle of vodka

1. In a blender, combine fir tips with 1/3 bottle of vodka and blend for 2 minutes. Pour into a quart-sized jar. Empty remaining vodka into blender, swirling around to capture fir tip residue and add into same jar. Seal jar, shake, and refrigerate for 1 week.

2. Strain fir-infused vodka, first through a fine mesh strainer, then through a strainer lined with folded cheesecloth, and finally through a coffee filter for maximum clarity. The coffee filter will take a while, but this is how to get the most appealing result.*

3. Keep fir-infused vodka in fridge or freezer.

While the concoction was steeping, I checked in with my friend Andrew who has perfected a number of wild liqueurs and tinctures over the years. He advised me to allow the infused vodka to rest in between steps during the straining process, so that floating particulates can settle on the bottom. "The last step [with the coffee filter] may take several hours," he said. "But the end result is totally clean." You're left with a beautifully translucent, evergreen-tinted final batch. Pour this back into your vodka bottle.

To make a Firtini, add fir-infused vodka to a shaker with ice and a splash of elderflower syrup. Garnish with a tip.

* The photo at top depicts a jar of fir-tip vodka that's only a day into the infusion process and hasn't been strained through a coffee filter (I couldn't wait!), resulting in a more opaque cocktail. You can see the settling of the fir sediment in the jar. When ready to strain, don't disturb this settled layer of sediment.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Morel Tomfoolery

A couple weekends ago I took my kids on our first morel hunt of the season. We rode bikes a ways up a trail before stashing our transportation and striking out on foot. At first it seemed like we might be too early—or worse, that another morel hunter had scooped us. There was some grumbling within the ranks.

And then we stepped over an old rotting log and there they were.

The first morels of the season are sun worshipers. They stray far from dark woods, popping up in warm, exposed spots where many morel hunters would never think to look.

But we were not alone. On our way back we spied a couple covering the same ground we had just been through. When they caught a glimpse of us in the distance, they scuttled into the woods. My kids found this behavior curious. It's not like we didn't know what they were up to—they had a huge woven basket for crying out loud.

Being the rascally imps they are, the kids decided they would try to flush out these furtive mushroom hunters. Pretending to be birdwatchers, they lingered at the spot on the trail where the couple had vanished into the woods. The mushrooms, after all, were on the edges—not in deep, dark thickets. These coy morel hunters would have to come out of hiding at some point if they wanted to find any.

"Look, a yellow warbler!"

We stood there for 15 minutes calling out birds. All the while we could see one of the couple crouched behind a tree. She hid there obstinately and wouldn't move. I continued on the trail, but the kids weren't done with their torments. As I walked off, I saw them skulking behind some bushes, laying in wait. A moment later they came running up excitedly with news that the couple had emerged as soon as I'd left.


Another lesson learned on the mushroom trail...