Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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How about adding some wild zing to your family’s morning pancakes? Better than maple syrup in an evergreen kind of way, douglas fir syrup is exciting because… you can’t buy it! You have to make it with your own hands. Ain’t that cool? It’s as simple as hike and forage on the trail. Yes, unbeknownst to many, some trees are edible and you can even turn them into tasty sweet treats at home. All you need to know is where and when. Follow these guidelines and enjoy.
For this experiment, I got inspired by Connie Green’s book The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes. On page 42, there’s a recipe for Buckwheat Waffles with Spruce Tip Syrup (sounds awesome, right?). Oh, spruce tip syrup I thought. Since there are no spruce trees in the Bay Area, what tree could I substitute? It didn’t take long to figure out that douglas firs would be the obvious candidate.
The Bay Area Forager (another awesome book) states: “Firs and pines are the most commonly used wild plants in the world. They are very rich in Vitamin C and can be eaten.” And then, on the next page, “The young, light green tips have a lemony taste and can be eaten fresh, added to salads or used to flavor a variety of dishes, teas and other drinks.” There, that’s your tip, if you’ll excuse the pun. Douglas fir tips is what you need for this simple syrup recipe. And tips are in season in spring.
Save the date on your calendar, folks!
Douglas firs are the easiest trees to find in the Bay Area if you are willing to go coastside. Go to any old redwood forest, Santa Cruz mountain park, Mt Tam trail, anywhere where woods grow near the coast or in wet mountainous areas. You’ll find them. I’ve attached photos of pine cones and needles for identification purposes but don’t just wing it. You can follow these more serious identification tips and learn to positively identify douglas fir. I harvested mine while coming back from a family backpacking trip on Mount Tamalpais with my girls and friends.
First you need to go hiking with a bag or several. My girls liked sharing a ziploc bag for 2, I like having my own. When harvesting, don’t go overboard and pluck one tree naked if you see tons of nice tender green tips. Chances are this tree has cousins nearby. Go easy and leave some tips on the tree.
We harvested the value of 4 cups of tips between the 5 of us.
As far as the recipe, it’s quite simple. You can pulse the fir tips in a food processor, measure the equivalent volume of water and sugar, boil with the water and sugar until boiling point, turn off the heat and add the douglas fir tips, let steep during at least 3 hours (the longer the more intense the flavor), sieve and bottle.
I chose to use a fruit jelly recipe by steeping the fir tips in warm water overnight, sieving the liquid, boil the liquid with the same weight in sugar (ha, you need a scale for this), bring to a rolling boil during 10 minutes, turn off the heat, bottle when cold.
If you want more ideas with yummy douglas fir recipes, here is a wonderful list of recipes on a blog based in Alaska.
The day after I bottled my douglas fir syrup, I made my book’s buckwheat waffles and served them for breakfast with the douglas fir syrup. I expected a rousing round of applause, the cheerleaders doing triple back flips, bells and trumpets, a Broadway line of dancers. My heart almost broke when my girls turned up their noses and declared they didn’t like the taste. Not the waffles, not the syrup. “It tastes weird,” they said. They even asked for maple syrup to mask the douglas fir syrup taste. Tragic.
Ah the hard life of a weekend forager. But rest assured, I don’t declare the experience over yet. Now I want to bake douglas fir and orange blossom butter cookies. I got just the recipe. Only need to go plan a douglas fir hike. Should be easy enough.
It’s spring, let’s eat the trees!