After the magical festive season has left us, after we have overeaten, overspent, and overdone with everything, a mass culling of trees begins, with 40 million of them only across the U.S. and UK.
For most people who celebrate Christmas, it would be hard to imagine the holiday without the iconic centerpiece of a decked out evergreen.
But, sadly, we enjoy it for only a month or two before dragging it to the curb.
But exist another solution?
Should we keep these trees hostage in our living rooms until next Christmas, for example?
Well…most Christmas trees are grown for seven to 10 years before they become festive adornments, and their average lifespan is around 400 years.
But, really, there are people all over the world who figured out how to eat and drink them, in different and fancy ways including Christmas tree-cured fish, spruce ice cream, tart Christmas tree pickles, and fir desserts, as well as an interesting selection of cocktails such as spruce-infused gin, herby pine vodka, and fir cordial.
Believe it or not, there are recipes from across the globe in which evergreens have been used with pickles and cures and to flavor meats, fish, and cheese through hot and cold smoking methods.
And, when it comes to drinking, pine, fir, and spruce flavors have become a popular bar staple for adding woody flavors to regular cocktails.
Further back, they were already used by Alpine communities in the form of digestifs and liquors such as genepi, zirbenz, and schnapps.
Head further north and you will find spruce and pine in Scottish highland ales.
A key component of the Greek white wine retsina is the sap of the Aleppo pine while, for indigenous people in North America, evergreens have tea, braises, and even stews.
But, interestingly, not all Christmas tree taste the same as, according to experts, pine is warming and subtle, fir can be grassy, and spruce is floral, sharing flavor profiles with vanilla. Not by chance, coniferin, which is found in Christmas tree needles, is a key component in artificial vanilla flavoring.
In short, they are delicious.
Most parts of the Christmas tree can be cooked with, from bark to bud, needle to nut.
But before you get adventurous with your Christmas tree in the kitchen, you need to know how it was grown.
You want a tree grown without chemical interference from fertilisers or pesticide sprays, and it’s important to know which trees you can safely incorporate into drinks and dishes.
Spruce, fir, and pine are basically the most common types of Christmas tree on sale, and yes, they are edible, while yews and cedars, which look like Christmas trees but are not often used, are extremely poisonous.
As usual, If in doubt, don’t eat it.
Although Christmas trees are a crop, they are not necessarily grown for consumption so they could have been sprayed with chemicals, or even painted green.
So absolutely not edible….
Instead, find a responsibly, and, ideally, locally grown tree that’s been treated with as few chemicals as possible.
The other important piece of information to note before eating your Christmas Tree is that trees with soft pine needles are best for use in cooking. Trees with pin-sharp needles are not a good idea.
And so…how you can eat your Christmas tree?
Using pine to infuse marinades for fish or roast meats is one of the tips, but you can also infusing honey.
Other tips include making pine tea by pouring boiling water over the leaves as you would with tea leaves.
Pine tea is known to be high in vitamin C.
Further research suggests infusing sea salt with fresh pine for flavouring meat or fish.
Or sugar, for buns and biscuits.
Both good ideas.
For pine infused honey, simply cut little clusters of the most tender leaves from the growing tips of the branches. Rinse them well in cold water to remove any house dust and bits of leftover tinsel, then pat dry thoroughly.
Be careful: If you are cutting from a live potted tree that you intend to keep for next year, don’t cut the end shoots off all the branches, as this will damage future growth.
Stir into organic honey in a sterilised jar, seal and leave for at least one month before using, to allow the flavour to infuse.
Or you can use it to make a fresh Pine Jelly. Set it with gelatine, readily available in sheets from good food shops. It will go with cold meats, especially spiced beef, really well.
You can roast your fish on a bed of fresh pine as well. Snipped sprigs of rinsed and dried fresh pine make a great bed for roasting whole fish. Lay the pine sprigs on a large roasting tray, as you would with fresh rosemary sprigs, and pop whole lemon sole, hake or black sole on top. Then dot with butter and season the fish before roasting in a pre-heated oven till the flesh comes away from the bone easily.
Something similar with roast chicken: use fresh pine sprigs to stuff the cavity of a free-range chicken, with a halved onion and an apple, or you can also add pine to your bread.
Breadmakers can use chopped soft-leaved pine needles to sprinkle over bread with crunchy sea salt before baking.
If you’re planning a festive barbecue during the holidays, throw a few pine needles over the coals to infuse the air and your food with fragrant forest (and Christmas) scents.
And why not use fresh pine to hot smoke salmon fillet?
Place sprigs of pine in the base of a dry wok or deep saucepan, to cover the bottom. Put a wire rack over the top and lay your seasoned fish fillets on this. Cover with a lid and smoke over gentle heat till the fish is just cooked through.
And, when Christmas has been and gone, and your evergreen has seen better days, you can burn its branches on an open fire.
Even the most dried out tree will send its aromas around the house as it burns.
A useful and very happy end to your Christmas tree!
Images from web – Google Research