I’ve been slightly pine-crazy ever since we discovered Doug (which continues to be a hit – our latest plan is to serve it as part of a range of wild sodas). Compared with other trees, like beech (which we’ve been experimenting with), their foliage is rarely foraged for food. This is a shame, because their needles offer a range of strong and distinctive flavours.
There’s also something mysterious and almost alien about evergreen trees. Take a look at these, for example:
When I saw these growing on a local ponderosa pine, I had no idea what they were. They kind of reminded me of one of these:
They couldn’t be bunches of baby pine cones, because the tree already had pine cones on its branches too. I consulted a book on trees, and realised that, of course, they are flowers. This was a couple of weeks ago. Since then, all the little corncob-looking buds you see in the picture have opened up and dried out, looking like tiny orange versions of those furry boom microphones they use on tv. They’re full of pollen now – knock a branch and they release a cloud of yellowy dust. Not great for hayfever. But when I picked them, they were still solid and juicy in the middle.
To eat raw, they’re surprisingly good, each little bud pops in the mouth to release a refreshing, slightly resinous juice that tastes like a more piney, less nutty, version of a pine nut. This juice is bright yellow, and must be the liquid form of the pollen that the flower releases when it dries out.
We often make wild pestos at The Verulam Arms from wild plants like ramsons (mentioned here, chickweed, water cress and wild mint. A crucial ingredient of traditional pesto, though, are pine nuts. Until now, we haven’t foraged anything that can approximate the pine nut, so these unripe pine flower buds are just the ticket. We foraged enough to fill a couple of jars, and preserved them by covering them in oil. Now we can just grab a handful whenever we want to make a pesto. For instance, as part of this visually-stunning addition to our new menu – Anchovy-marinated cod cheeks and wild pesto arancini with lightly smoked semi-dried tomatoes and fine foraged herbs: