[It's pine cone jam season again! This is my post about making the jam, from spring 2019.]
Russians like it. Eastern Europeans like it. Turks seem to like it. Pine cone jam (sometimes the resulting syrup is referred to as pine honey) is considered treat and medicine. Used for coughs. The Italians call the honey mugolio, and you can buy it for a fortune, if you are lucky. Apparently the name is derived from the pine used - Pinus mugo.
The flavor is tartly sweet, resinous, and the "honey" is like molasses licked from a spoon in a pine forest.
And it's hard to imagine that the hard little cones become soft and chewable after cooking, but they do.
A traditional Caucasian and Russian way to enjoy them is as a medicinal spoonful stirred into hot black tea. I like them dotted sparingly on crunchy toast atop labneh. The candied cones or their honey are also good roasted with carrots and other root vegetables, stirred into the pan juices to pour over pan-seared pork chops, or duck breast (perhaps deglazed with some bourbon or fruity vinegar), or for dessert, mixed with the first strawberries.
There is always ice cream!
To make pine syrup gin or vodka, add a quarter cup of the syrup with cones to 2 cups of the liquor. Leave for a day, shaking now and then, until the syrup has dissolved. Strain and bottle. It makes noteworthy seasonal cocktails.
The pine cones I collect are mostly from exotic Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), popular in local seashore landscape and park plantings because of their salt-tolerance. Native pitch pine (Pinus rigida) occurs, too (its little cones are very sharp and rough on the fingers).
You want immature, small cones, green inside.
While you work, it helps to have rubbing alcohol handy: Your fingers get very sticky, and the alcohol is very effective at dissolving the resin. For clean up after cooking, use rubbing alcohol, again, or mineral oil, to dissolve the very tenacious resin residue on the edges of your pot and any implements you use.
Looking for recipes and a frame of reference for quantities, I searched my (new) old Russian cookbooks, but came up with nothing. Online was one helpful recipe that claimed Georgian heritage. I found bottles of pricey mugolio.
So I experimented with five different batches [the first year I made the jam, in 2019]. For the first three I boiled the cones in water (to remove some resin), then another three times in syrup, in the tradition of Russian varenye, where entire fruits are cooked and cooled - important - multiple times in syrup.
I also boiled four and five times, and for the final batch made the jam without the water bath, and using honey instead of sugar. That last version was much more resinous when cool, above! It all got stuck. I liked them all, but four seems the magic number, to me.
The point is that the jam needs to come to a boil often enough for the green cones to be pleasantly chewable, so the number of boil-cools will vary, depending on big your baby pine cones are. Do not skip the cooling. It's time-consuming, but will result in delicious pine cones, rather than hard nuggets.
Pine Cone Jam
For three 1-cup capacity jars of pine cone jam you need:
8 oz (about 2.25 cups) finger-nail-sized immature pine cones
8.5 cups water
2 cups sugar
If the baby cones still have a piece of stem attached, remove it. Left on it will become very tough during the cooking process.
Place the pine cones in a pot, cover with 6 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cook at a gentle boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off. A layer of resin will collect on the surface like a little oil slick - carefully scoop his layer off, and discard. Then drain the pine cones (and do yourself a favor: do not dump their water through a strainer - the remaining resin will clog the fine mesh unless you later boil the strainer!).
Once all the water is poured off, add the 2 cups of sugar and remaining 2.5 cups of water to the pot with the boiled cones. Stir. Return to the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers. For this first time, cook at a simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and cool completely.
When the mixture is cool, bring to a boil again, for 1 minute. Turn off and cool (it it cooks too long you will lose too much moisture).
Bring to a 1-minute boil for a third time, turn off the heat, then cool again. One more time (fourth boil): bring to a boil and allow to cool.
Now test a cone. Is it chewable?
If it is you can stop, and bottle the cones with their 'honey' in sterile jars. Or repeat the boil-cool steps until they have softened more.