Bowl of Spruce Tips
Preserves, Travel

Spruce Tip Jelly

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider,
every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.
~Martin Luther

Alaska Taiga HabitatOur cabin in Alaska sits at the base of a ridge overlooking a vast stretch of taiga. We always say that we are “going down to the tundra,” even though that’s not technically correct. The two habitats are similar, but taiga is warmer and wetter than tundra, and it is capable of supporting a small number of evergreen trees — in our case, white spruce.

While the taiga’s trees are undersized and spindly, on the ridge around us they gather together in a rich forest, shared primarily with aspen trees and low-growing shrubs like wild roses. The cabin itself is made of white spruce logs from the surrounding land, each one carefully stripped and perfectly fitted together.

As we were planning our recent trip to Alaska, I was of course wondering what I might find in the forest to forage or preserve so early in the season. It was my friend Nicole at Arctic Garden Studio who first suggested spruce tip jelly. (Nicole writes her beautiful blog from Fairbanks and she just posted a lovely, seasonal recipe for Spruce Tip and Rose Petal Shortbread. The rose petals are of the wild variety that are in a passionate, pink bloom all around Fairbanks right this minute.)

I arrived at the cabin, jelly recipe in hand, ready to go — but at our latitude and elevation, here’s what the spruce tips looked like.

Spruce Tip Jelly RecipeThey were not quite ready for the jelly-making business. However, there is one sure thing about the growing season in Alaska: When it finally happens, it happens fast. Within a week, I was picking and sorting tender, young spruce tips — which are the only kind you should use for a jelly like this. My research said it’s best to pick them when the papery covering has just fallen off. I had to help mine along a little bit, pinching away the coverings until I had three cups of clean tips. They infused the cabin with such a fresh, bright scent that everyone was drawn to put their nose into the bowl.

Bowl of Spruce TipsI found myself surprisingly aware of what I was doing as I was going from tree to tree, gathering these tips. I realized that I was taking part of the livelihood of each tree I touched — its most vulnerable new growth. It put me in mind of the word “reverence.” I was careful not to take too many tips from any one tree, not to take any tips from very small trees, and to say thank you many times. I’m often mindful when I’m picking the fruit or leaves of plants, but never have I felt in quite so much awe of my source. For example, with the wild blackberries in California, I am always grateful, but also likely to cuss and gripe about their grabby, scratchy ways. I stomp them down without much regret, knowing they’ll return with a vengeance. These great trees, on the other hand, made my heart go down on its knees.

Spruce Tip Jelly Recipe

The spruce twigs hang in the window to reduce bird collisions.

You’ll need to pick three to four cups of spruce tips to make the juice for this recipe. Because our tips were just coming in, I picked only three cups. If it had been a week later, the tips would have been more plentiful and I probably would have picked more for a slightly stronger flavor. That said, I’d be cautious about overdoing it. As is, this jelly is subtly floral with a hint of the citrusy, astringent bite of new spruce. It’s clear that using too many tips could lead to a resiny burn instead of a gentle bite. Different varieties of spruce may also lead to different results. I’d probably try three-and-a-half cups next time, to compare.

I made this jelly using a process similar to that for mint jelly, and I imagine I’ll use it in the same way I would use mint jelly. But I’m also looking forward to adding it to other preserves. Considering what grows wild around the spruce trees themselves, I’m thinking about a spruce-tip scented blueberry jam (wild blueberries are plentiful on the taiga), something with wild rose petals or rose hips, or — later in the year — a holiday mix of lingonberry and spruce. I don’t know whether I’ll actually get to any of those things, but it’s nice to dream.

Spruce Tip Jelly

3 cups spruce tip juice
4 cups sugar
1 package [amazon_link id=”B001EQ4DQQ” target=”_blank” ]MCP pectin[/amazon_link] (made by Sure-Jell)

Day One: Prepare the Spruce Tip Juice

1. Rinse 3-4 cups of spruce tips in cold water. Drain and then lightly chop them.

2. Place the spruce tips in a small saucepan with 3 1/2 cups cold water. Bring to a boil and then immediately remove them from the heat.

3. Transfer the tips and liquid to a heatproof bowl, cover tightly, and let rest overnight. (It was a cool evening, so I set mine out on our back porch. I don’t think it matters much whether you leave them at room temp or refrigerate them.)

Day Two: Make Your Jelly

1. Sterilize 5 half-pint jars.

2. Collect the spruce tip juice by straining the liquid through a chinois, jelly bag, or several layers of cheesecloth. (If you use a jelly bag or cheesecloth, be sure to dunk it in scalding water first — not just to cleanse it, but to hydrate it so a dry cloth doesn’t soak up that good juice.)

3. Measure 3 cups of spruce tip juice into a 6- or 8-quart saucepot. (Use only 3 cups. Adding more could screw up your set.)

4. Measure the sugar into a separate bowl.

5. Stir the entire packet of pectin into the saucepot. (I had heard some great things about MCP pectin, so I decided to see what the fuss was about. I have to say, I was impressed. The set is fabulous — a real, smooth jelly set, not like Jell-O. Also, it dissolved nicely, without lumps. As someonewho doesn’t mind using boxed pectin in simple jellies — never marmalades — where I want an easy, reliable set, I have to say I am a new fan. If you use a different brand of pectin, be sure to follow the recipe directions in that box. I’d use the proportions given for mint jelly.)

6. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil — that is, a boil that you can’t stir down — on high heat, stirring constantly.

7. Quickly stir in the sugar. Return the mixture to a rolling boil and boil for exactly 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim foam. (I use a large, shallow, stainless steel spoon for skimming.)

8. Ladle or pour the hot jelly into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe the rims with a clean, damp cloth and secure the lids. Process in a water-bath canner, using the correct time for your altitude: 5 minutes for 0-1,000 feet above sea level, plus 1 minute for every additional 1,000 feet.

Yields about 5 half-pint jars. (If you want more than this, plan to make multiple small batches. As with most jelly recipes, doubling the batch size may mess with your set.)

With every visit to the cabin, our little kitchen gets better organized.

(Because the spruce tips were just coming in, I picked only 3 cups. If it had been a week later, the tips would have been more plentiful and I probably would have picked more — perhaps as many as 4 cups. That said, I’m not sure 4 cups would be an improvement. As is, this jelly is subtly floral with a hint of the citrusy, astringent bite of new spruce. It’s clear that overdoing it could lead to more of a resiny burn than a gentle bite. Different varieties of spruce may also lead to different results. I’d probably try 3 1/2 cups next time, to compare.)
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  • Reply Kate June 9, 2011 at 10:57 am

    I love the jelly in the window – what a gorgeous shot! What are your plans for it?

  • Reply kaela June 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    I love, love, love this. Every time I see pictures of the cabin and surroundings, I feel like I am there. Thanks, Shae, for the 3-minute vacation to points Far, Far Away….

  • Reply lani June 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Just the sight of that little cabin brings back so many memories my dad just sold his he is getting older and it was a lot to handle…but the jelly sounds divine.I was up by the barn a week or so ago and saw all the new little sprouts on the spruce tree and never even thought to use them…Great share and the cabin looks great

  • Reply Julia June 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    So very beautifully written, so glad you’re back! I can hear the time away in your voice. I love the idea of spruce tip jelly. And I’m really curious about that pectin. Thanks for mentioning it!

  • Reply Sunchowder - Wendy Read June 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Beautiful post Shae! I really like the idea of this jelly, but alas, I am here making Lychee as that is what this landscape affords :) Love the photos of your cabin, makes me feel like I am there with you.

  • Reply Karla B. June 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    What a cool recipe. I’m glad you showed what the tips look like, because otherwise I wouldn’t know what to look for.

    I saw something within the last month on making Pine “Syrup” and read that they make Spruce Syrup up in Alaska. You don’t tap the trees like you do when making maple syrup, but instead, you gather about 4″ of soft tips from the pine trees in early Spring. Half of our property is a pine forest, and I wanted to go out and forage so badly, but didn’t really know what the tips looked like. Ours weren’t soft like the photo I saw…instead they were kind of stiff and woody. So I didn’t make any. But am still dying to know what it tastes like. They say you can use it any way that you would use honey. Dean and deLuca sells a 3.6 oz bottle for a little less than $30. (more than I could justify paying right now.) I think the stuff they sell is made from Mugo pines. If you ever make syrup from your Spruce trees while in Alaska, I’d love to hear how it comes out.

  • Reply Doris the Goat June 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Gorgeous photos, Shae.

  • Reply Nicole June 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    How beautiful! I could sit on that porch all summer.
    I am always amazed at the difference in weather/season between Fairbanks and Denali. Your spruce tips are still so small at I time I know ours were almost past their prime. I didn’t get nearly as many as I hoped to this year. I did however put up a test batch for spruce syrup. We’ll see how that goes.

  • Reply Michelle G June 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Love this article! I’ll be up in Fairbanks myself in a few weeks, can’t wait to check out their farmers market.

  • Reply heather June 10, 2011 at 7:07 am

    lovely post! so glad you voiced your awareness gathering and its impact on the trees.

  • Reply Megan June 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Oh, this sounds so lovely! I bet you could make a similar jelly with pine or fir tips, too. Right?

    What a perfect way to preserve such a special place. That’s really one of the best things about preserving – being able to capture a place or a particular moment and save it for later, perhaps when the reminder of that place or moment is particularly needed.

    @Karla B. – I’ve tasted that Mugolio pine syrup and I strongly recommend that you not pay even $5 for it. :-) It does taste piney, but not pleasantly so, more like burnt, caramelized pine.

  • Reply Karla B. June 10, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    @ Megan. – LOL…good Mugolio description. My big fear was I would spend the time and effort into making some, only to have it come out tasting like Pine Sol or Turpentine. Thanks for the tip…and for saving me the $30.

  • Reply tigress June 11, 2011 at 2:54 am

    welcome back shae. thanks for the beautiful post. I love seeing photos of your Alaskan home. and I never would have imagined you could make jelly out of spruce -wow!

  • Reply The Turnbulls June 11, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    The jelly is great! and, something we’ve often considered doing here as we are surrounded by evergreens but the cabin in Alaska now that is a DREAM. It is stunningly beautiful and I imagine a difficult place to want to leave. As always ~ awesome post and great photos!

  • Reply Liz Baker June 12, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    As I gaze across the urban tundra that is Los Angeles, I have serious geographic envy right now. I will have to console myself with the 12 half-pints of strawberry balsamic black pepper crack jam I made this weekend. And yes, that is the new name for your amazing concoction in the Baker household.

  • Reply Michelle June 13, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    Could you still use spruce tips after they’ve opened from their casings?

  • Reply Michelle June 13, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    I forgot to mention they were still bright green and soft.

    • Reply Shae June 13, 2011 at 6:50 pm

      Hi Michelle: This was my first time using spruce, but from what I read “bright green and soft” is what you want. In fact, I wished mine had already been out of their casings; it would have made it easier to work with them. I wouldn’t want to use tough ones, but other than that, it’s all about settling on what you prefer.

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  • Reply pam berglund June 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    I LOVE your website and so look forward to every single line! I summer in AK and can’t get enough of all that is Alaska. Keep up with your pics and sharing great recipes from the Greatland, PLEASE! I presently live in FL and want to relocate to AK ASAP. You inspire me to get going with my plans to come to the west coast, then hang a BIG RIGHT!

    I am so glad I found your wonderful, inspirational, and informative site.
    Thanks, Pam

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  • Reply Caroline June 28, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you for writing such a terrific article! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading it. I’m looking forward to making your Spruce Tip Jelly. We are currently mining in remote Northern BC in a tiny town called Manson Creek (population: 16.) My husband, baby and I live 100% off grid in a cozy cabin in the remote Omenica gold fields. It was so wonderful to see your cabin. It’s beautiful, and so well organized!

  • Reply lisa August 8, 2013 at 11:36 am

    on our recent trip to Alaska we tried spruce tip jelly which we all enjoyed.
    I am going to try making it in the spring when they come in bloom. I just want to make sure, is there any kind of pine you shouldn’t use and is there a particular pine that is better. looking forward to this. thank you

    • Reply Shae September 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm

      Hi Lisa: I went only as far as the spruce — specifically black spruce, though I imagine other types of spruce would work just fine. You’d have to do some research on preserving with other types of pine. I did once make a douglas fir vodka. :-)

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  • Reply Dusty June 10, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks, I just finished my first batch.

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  • Reply nathan February 19, 2016 at 7:15 am

    hello is there anywhere to get more detailed photos of the cabin other than tiny house talk, I’m building a similar one and id like to see more of this one

    • Reply Shae February 19, 2016 at 2:30 pm

      Hi Nathan: You can find more photos of the cabin if you visit my other blog, Fairfax to Fairbanks. The cabin was built organically from the ground up, without plans drawn out in advance, so we wouldn’t be able to provide details. That said, there are two posts on that blog specifically about building the cabin and you might find the stories and accompanying photos interesting (especially the photos with Part 2). Thanks! — Shae

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  • Reply Connie March 11, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    I love the kitchen in your cabin.
    I would love to see a floor plan.
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  • Reply Rose June 22, 2017 at 2:35 am

    Thanks for the recipe! I made this for the first time ever this year. My kids love it!

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