Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Pine Cone Jam - what it is and how to use it

[Updated from May, 2019]

I began making pine cone jam in May 2019 (when I first posted about it on Instagram) after a wonderful shoreline walk on the edges of New York City, where I noticed tiny-tiny baby pine cones. I was actually hunting for pine pollen, but these petite cones intrigued me. They were much tinier than the larger green cones I'd used before to make fermented syrup. I collected a little bagful. 

Looking for ideas back at home, I chanced upon a reference to this jam, and one helpful recipe that noted Georgian heritage. For reference, I searched my (new) old Russian cookbooks, but came up with nothing. At the time there was very little online. Although I did find bottles of pricey mugolio, and learned about that, too (it's the richly-flavored syrup that forms during cooking the young pine cones). I think my Instagram posts about the jam and the recipe I posted back then nudged things along quite rapidly: You will now find many more recent sources. It's how things evolve.

Russians like it. Eastern Europeans like it. Turks seem to like it. Pine cone jam (sometimes the resulting syrup is referred to and sold as pine honey) is considered treat and medicine. Used for coughs. The Italians call the honey (which-is- syrup) mugolio, derived from the pine species used - Pinus mugo.

The flavor is tartly sweet, resinous, and the "honey" is like molasses licked from a spoon in a pine forest. It's really nice in drinks.

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. Their honey-slash-syrup is delicious 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. 

The first time I made the jam I experimented with five different batches. 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 (brief!) 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*

6 cups water

2 cups sugar

*I've made jam with much larger cones, too. Their size matters less than green-ness. 

If the baby cones still have a piece of stem attached, remove it. Left on it will become tough during the cooking process. Sometimes I skip this part but always regret it!

Place the pine cones in a pot, cover with 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. 

Once all the water is poured off, add the 2 cups of sugar and the 6 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. And if necessary, add some more water if the syrup is becoming too thick.

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Find more wild foods and recipes in:

Forage, Harvest, Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine

12 comments:

  1. My husband saw me looking at black pine trees and suggested I try the jam before buying a bunch of miniature trees. I ordered some pine jam on eBay. I can't wait to taste it!

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    1. Apologies that your comment was only published now. Blogger acting up. Yes, I would not buy pine trees only for the jam, unless they make sense in your landscape :-)

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  2. Can any pine be used? Are there any look alikes? *New forager*

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    1. Yes, any species of pine, as well as spruce, fir and hemlock.

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  3. Hi! I just foraged some spruce cones for jam. On the outside they are green but cut into the center is starting to brown. Can I still make the jam and once finished omit the cones? Is there any reason I shouldn't try to make it? Thank you so much!

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  4. Thank you for your great explanation. I bought some Pine Cone Jam yesterday in Mtskheta in Georgia and was told it is good for respiratory tract problems. I has a kind of medicinally perfume to it but the taste is pleasant. You put a spoon in black tea here as you do with other fruit jams which various healing-medicinal properties

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  5. Hi!
    I made the jam (with 4 boil + cool down periods), and the cones are still pretty astringent and bitter inside. Is this normal/what should I do?
    The syrup has boiled down to be very thick already, and it at least is super super delicious!

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    Replies
    1. Did you do the initial boil and in plain water? If you did, it's possible you just don't like the flavor of the cones themselves - they can be intense but I would not say bitter.

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  6. How should it be stored after opening?

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  7. My liquid isn’t super thick and it’s sort of gray. Thoughts?

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    Replies
    1. Sounds unusual. Did you use unripe, green cones (what kind)? What kind of sugar? How many cool-boils?

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