What is pine cone jam?
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 both treat and medicine. Used for coughs. The flavor is tartly sweet, resinous, and the "honey" is like molasses licked from a spoon in a pine forest. The Italians call the honey mugolio, and you can buy it for a fortune, if you are lucky.
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, or cooked in the pan juices to pour over pan-seared pork chops, or added to a pan where a duck breast cooked (deglazed with some bourbon or fruity vinegar), or for dessert, mixed with macerating 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 pines I collect from are mostly 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, and 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 - to dissolve the very tenacious resin residue on the edges of your pot and any implements you use. Wipe it onto your pot after it has cooled.
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 mugolio.
So I experimented with five different batches, the first time I worked with the cones. For the first three I boiled the cones in water, then three times in syrup, in the tradition of Russian varenye, where entire fruit (or pine cones!) are cooked and cooled - important - multiple times in syrup.
I also boiled four times, and for the final batch made the jam without the water bath, and using honey instead of sugar. That last version was more resinous. But I liked them all. After two springs of pine cone jamming, here is a good method:
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
Water to cover
2.5 cups sugar
2.5 cups water
If the baby cones still have a piece of stem attached, remove it. Left on it will become very tough during the cooking process. Trust me.
Fill a steel pot with water and the pine cones 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 pour this layer off, and discard (And do yourself a favor: do not dump it through a sieve - the resin will clog the fine mesh unless you boil the sieve!).
Once all the water is poured off, add the sugar and 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. Cook at a simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and cool completely. Whne it has, bring to a boil again. Turn off and cool (it it cooks too long you will lose too much moisture). Bring to a boil for a third time, turn off the heat, then cool again. One more time: bring to a boil and allow to cool for a fourth time.*
* When boiling three times the syrup tends to remain stickily runny. At this point you can stop and keep the liquid as pine cone 'honey'- not really honey, but delicious. Four-to-five boils (above) results in a taffy-like texture once cooled, but this melts again, in heat. Up to you. Play.
Ladle the cones and their warm syrup into clean glass jars. When cool screw on the lids.