It’s a long holiday weekend here in the States! Summer is in full swing and the mountains no longer require skis to access the high country. I have been itching to get more trail time, both hiking and trail running, without the distraction of mushroom foraging. It’s mostly past morel season and too soon for the other mushrooms I forage in my neck(s) of the woods. Soon, but not this day. Now is the time to get outside and admire the hillsides that are under snow for much of the year because that snow has given way to the most spectacular wildflowers. This is a special time in the high country – that short window of summer when life explodes with color and activity and those precious things that are so easy to overlook and take for granted.
take a hike!!
mountain bluebells and buttercups
jeremy and neva hiking the continental divide
neva waits for a snack after swimming in the lake
Hiking for us means hiking for Neva, too. We are seeing incremental improvements with her behavior on trail and especially around distractions like other dogs and hikers. But the most amazing thing has been the new car, or rather, how Neva feels about it. Neva’s cool with the Forester! We’re not entirely sure what made the difference, but she now voluntarily jumps into the back with gusto. Her enthusiasm for our destinations means we have traded nervous drooling for excited crying. I’ll take it. And since we arrived in Crested Butte last Thursday, she has been running into the garage to wait for us to open the back of the car. She used to be afraid of the garage because it had The Car, but I suppose it was really The Other Car. Who is this dog?!? Neva has also been getting more time on the water, learning to swim back to us on the SUPs (stand up paddleboards) instead of heading toward shore. Now if only we could teach her not to be afraid of the fireworks that will inevitably go off tomorrow (there are some being set off as I type and Neva is cowering under my desk at my feet).
a jewel-colored stormy sunset in crested butte
the lupine are at peak
neva rides along as we raft our paddleboards together
a happy dog on a happy hike
running down after climbing up
blue columbines lined parts of the trail
scarlet gilia being all red and racy!
A couple of weeks ago when Erin and I were hiking in to forage morel mushrooms, I pointed to the spruce trees lining the side of the trail. Just a few days earlier, Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook linked to his post on spruce tip syrup and I made a mental note to try it. The branches are typically covered in sturdy dark green needles, but in late spring, our conifers send out new growth like everything else in the mountains. The tender tips of the branches emerge a lighter green and smell of evergreens with a touch of citrus. If left alone, they will mature and darken to match the rest of the tree. But during this period, you can pluck some of the tips to make spruce tip syrup or fir tip or pine tip syrup – whatever you have got – just don’t pick yew because it’s toxic. I grabbed a ziploc bag (I always carry extra bags because you never know what you’re going to collect in the mountains) and began selecting delicate tips, taking care not to pick the tops of baby trees or pulling too many from the same branch or tree.
new growth on a spruce tree
spruce tips, water, sugar, and lemon (optional)
Having sampled several tips from various hikes in the past two weeks, I can tell you that some tips smell stronger than others. So if you do decide to collect some to make a syrup, pull a tip and break it apart to get a good whiff. If it doesn’t smell like much, then don’t take the tips from that tree. Once home, I gave my spruce tips a quick rinse to dislodge any hitchhikers before roughly chopping the tips. Make a simple syrup from the water and sugar, bringing it to a boil. As soon as you stir the tips into the hot liquid, they will give up their lovely spring green color and transfer their flavor to the syrup.
chop the spruce tips
i have about a cup here
make the simple syrup
stir the tips into the hot syrup
the color will begin to yellow
Place the lid on the pot and let the tips steep at least until the syrup has cooled completely, but I recommend letting it go 24 hours. I steeped my batch for 12 hours and felt the flavor was on the light side. You should probably taste it periodically to determine when it achieves the intensity of flavor you want. Strain the syrup through a cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve. I got a yield of 12 ounces. You can add lemon juice to brighten the syrup, but I decided to add my lemon as needed to the various beverages I made with the syrup.
strain out the solids
12 ounces of spruce tip syrup
bottle and refrigerate
Jeremy and I did try the syrup with soda water, which was refreshing with hints of citrus. The effervescence brings out the flavor, which makes for a different, but pleasant beverage. Then Jeremy wanted to make a cocktail using the spruce tip syrup. The obvious match would be gin. After a little research, he decided to make The Fitzgerald, but with spruce tip syrup in place of the simple syrup. We named it The Muir – because John Muir is so the man.
grapefruit bitters, spruce tip syrup, gin (we love caprock), ice, lemon
some lemon juice
spruce tip syrup
We have a small, but much-loved, selection of bitters in our “bar” (I put that in quotes because our bar is anyplace we can fit a bottle). Grapefruit is my favorite because it has a natural bitterness that I think is fantastic in fruity cocktails. I think most bitters would work fine, but a citrus bitter is probably best in this cocktail.
2 dashes of grapefruit bitters
add ice to your shaker and give it a good 30-second shake
strain into your glass
The Muir is a well-balanced, bright, and sylvan drink. The pairing of spruce tip syrup with a lovely floral gin like CapRock turns a simple cocktail into a walk through mountain forests. It goes down so easily you might start feeling pretty relaxed before you realize you’ve had two or three. Such a delightful way to toast summer in the mountains, or anywhere.
garnish with a spruce tip and a lemon twist
it tastes of mountain forests
spruce tip syrup
Hank notes you can use most types of conifers: spruce, pine, fir with varying results in flavor – but avoid the yew as it is toxic.
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup spruce, pine, or fir tips, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1/2 to 1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)
Stir the sugar and water together in a medium saucepan (with a lid) over high heat to dissolve the sugar. When the syrup comes to a boil, turn off the heat and stir the spruce (or pine or fir) tips into the syrup. Cover the pot with a lid and let cool. Steep the tips at least until the syrup is cooled, but overnight for a stronger flavor (or up to a day). You should taste the syrup to ensure you get the flavor strength you desire. Strain the syrup through a cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve. Stir in the lemon juice to taste (if using). Bottle and refrigerate. Makes just over a cup of syrup.
the muir cocktail
2 oz. gin
1 1/2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsps spruce tip syrup
2 dashes of bitters (I used grapefruit bitters)
Combine the gin, lemon juice, spruce tip syrup, and bitters together in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake. Strain. Makes 1 cocktail.
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