Any of the following recipes can be used with differing effects and flavors with firs, spruce and most pines, but assuredly with the Eastern white pine. Like with all foods, know your source and eat in moderation the first few times. Experiment and enjoy!
Preparation technique for using conifer needles in recipes: Rinse needles and spin dry. Trim needles tight to twig/branch with sharp knife. Chop only enough needles and only enough times necessary to release oils. Extra needles may be frozen for later use.
White Pine Vinegar:
For a balsamic-type vinegar that can be used on salads and vegetables. Place enough needles to almost completely fill a glass jar (your choice of size), and cover with a good organic apple cider vinegar -- make sure all needles are completely covered by a good inch. Place wax paper or clear wrap over top of bottle and place in a cool dark place. Leave for at least two weeks -- a month is better -- and strain.
Place strained liquid in a pretty bottle (with a non-reactive cover) and use like you would any balsamic vinegar.
For an attractive and thoughtful gift, place a fresh, clean bundle of needles in the bottle before closing and seal with beeswax.
White Pine Needle Tea:
Bring water to boil in a non-reactive pan. Add needles, reduce heat and simmer for up to 20 minutes -- or place in a glass jar and leave to steep overnight in the refrigerator. Strain needles and drink warm or cold. You can also put the needles in an unbleached tea bag. The tea should be slightly red in color with a light oil floating on top. You can add honey or cinnamon. This will be mild and a little tangy to the taste. High in antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin A. It has been found that pine needle tea has strong antimutagenic, antioxidant and antiproliferative properties, which help in preventing cancer-producing cells. Along with that, they also have anti-tumor effects on the body.
Conifer Simple Syrup:
In a small non-reactive saucepan, make a simple syrup by combining the water and sugar, and heating slowly until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat off, add needles, and let steep for at least one hour. Remove and discard needles when finished steeping. Makes great sorbet or carbonated drink.
Prepare your needles and dehydrate. Once dry, grind them in a blender or coffee grinder. Use as you would any seasoning powder. The spruce is stronger and can be used in the same places you would use rosemary; the fir are mild; and the Eastern White pine the mildest of all. These are good in/on vegetables, soup, meats, chicken, fish and desserts.
Harold McGee, the author of Keys to Good Cooking, is an expert on the chemistry behind food and cooking. McGee recently made his first trip to China, where he learned more about rice wine.