Forest Flavors

It’s not uncommon to see people here emerging from the forest with bundles of flowers or baskets of mushrooms, among many of what foresters call “non-timber forest products” that are harvested here.
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wild lilies of the valley

But what about the trees themselves? Can you use those as foods? Actually, there are many trees that produce edible substances other than fruit or nuts. In Sweden, a company called Grythyttan makes wine out of birch (björk) sap. The leaves of conifers also contain many interesting flavor compounds. I first became interested in them from reading Playing with Fire and Water, an amazing molecular gastronomy blog. She did a series on the flavors of conifers recently.

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I have not encountered good juniper berries in the forest here, but I did find this juniper vinegar at the ecological market that is at the Fyris river every Saturday morning in good weather. It tastes, not surprisingly, like gin. I’ve been using it in excellent salad dressings alongside the honey I extracted in my beekeeping course.
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I also made young spruce shoot beer, from the blog’s recipe. The method utilizes a simple mixture of sugar, yeast, and flavoring. The yeast eats up the sugar to provide the carbonation. The mixture has to be placed in a plastic soda bottle so you can check the gas level easily, but also to prevent explosions. Some really old fashioned recipes use natural fermentation. Yeasts are ubiquitous in nature and if prodded along you can use them for cooking, like this intimidating recipe for sourdough bread with juniper yeast. But these recipes take over a week to make, so I stuck with the yeast. It turned out wonderfully sparkly, but next time I would use less lime juice because it seemed to overwhelm the spruce.

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