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MAY 28, 2011, 10:58 AM

Urban Forager | Spring Sprucing By AVA CHIN

Ava Chin for The New York TimesSpruce tips are chock full of citrusy goodness. Who knew?

Some weeks ago, I started noticing nascent light-green buds on the branches of every city conifer I encountered from Central Park down to Staten Island. Unlike mature pine needle tea — a resiny, survivalist food at best — fresh, young evergreen tips are a citrusy surprise to the palate, and I couldn’t help nibbling on a choice few. At the College of Staten Island, I discovered a midsize, classic Christmas-tree-looking conifer, which friends at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden identified as a Colorado blue spruce. It had very lemony-tasting tips. Blue spruce (Picea pungens), a k a Colorado blue spruce, has blue-green needles that spiral around stems like pipe cleaners, and this time of year they produce light chartreuse -colored tips like little candles peeking out from brown papery coverings. Native to the Western United States, blue spruce is the state tree of Utah and Colorado, and can be found in parks, woodlands and college campuses in parts of the Northeast. Spruce can be confused with Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), another fine conifer with edible spring tips. Spruce needles attach to the stem via a swollen petiole, a connector that in close up looks like a hook growing out of a coat rack. Inspired by a chapter on conifer tips in Connie Green’s “The Wild Table,” where she describes how the chef Daniel Patterson attempted to make an evergreen-tip oil, I decided to try my hand at producing a spruce-tip infused oil. After gathering a handful of tips from the campus blue spruce tree — being mindful of the spiky nature of mature needles and only pinching back a single bud per branch (they generally grow in clusters of three) — I carted my booty back to my home kitchen. (Note: pinching buds back in specific places is a kind of pruning that can help the tree to grow bushier in other places.) The following steps in making spruce-tip infused oil were done under advisement from my friend, the chef and cooking instructor Arlene Jacobs. Spruce-Tip Infused Oil Ingredients

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May 2011