The spirit of the Christmas holiday season can be reflected in the life of the Christmas tree; anticipation slowly builds searching for the tree with just the right shape and amount of lush, the season culminates for a singular moment where the tree is lit up and gifts are passed between loved ones, and it ends outright with the once auspicious tree in the gutter and a trip to the mall for returns. But what if we could savor the season just a little longer and give the Christmas tree one last purpose?
The pine needles from coniferous trees (i.e. the assortment of trees that make up the traditional Christmas tree—spruce, pine or fir) can be used for cooking to brighten up a meal, impart a piney, citrusy taste, and give off an earthy, woody aroma.
The easiest and most traditional way to use pine needles is to make pine needle tea. Simply take a handful of young pine needles (you can identify them by their bright color and slightly softer, more tender feel), rinse them in warm water, cut them into small pieces—chopping off any brown ends, as needed—and place them in a cup before pouring boiling hot water over it. Allow time to steep before drinking. Get the full recipe below, but just make sure your tree doesn’t have any pesticides or herbicides before using the needles.
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Another popular way to use needles is by making an oil or spice mix to incorporate into your cooking. The former can be coated on top of a grilled fish and the latter can be sprinkled into rice as you cook it, or rubbed into any meats that you’re roasting. The two will make for a nice green aromatic and flavor. Check out how to make pine needle oil and seasoning, here and here, respectively.
The piney smell from the Christmas tree can continue well after the holidays if you decide to go the smoking route. The next time you plan to barbeque chicken, heat up the gas grill to medium-high, spread the coals out and add pine boughs. If the pine boughs catch fire, cover the grill and let the flames die out before adding the chicken. Once the chicken is placed, turn, baste, and marinade it until brown and crisp, which should take approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Next, place the chicken on a platter and garnish with pine boughs. The full pine-smoked chicken recipe is linked here.
Using your surroundings and immediate outdoors for cooking will have you following in the footsteps of Chef Damon Baehrel, a renowned, farmer, forager, chef, restaurateur, cheesemaker, and gardener, just to name a few. Chef Damon Baehrel sources his ingredients for his restaurant, self-titled Damon Baehrel, from his 12 acres of land in Coxsackie, NY. And among his many specialties, are his pine needle cured meats.
The Christmas and the holiday season are way too fleeting, so why not make the most of it. The Christmas tree, after all, took years to grow and traveled a far way to only hold center stage for a month or so before hitting the curb. The least we can do is give it one last hurrah.
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