Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Pine Cone Jam

A recent weekend walk along the local barrier island shoreline (while the Frenchman ran along the low tide beach in the dense mist) led to a serendipitous discovery of tiny young pine cones (and also pollen - pines have male and female parts, but that is another story). I had been hoping to collect some this year, to make the jam I had only heard about. Russians like it. Eastern Europeans like it. Turks seems to like it. It is considered both treat and medicine. Good for coughs, they say.

The pines were mostly exotic Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), popular in  local seashore landscape and park plantings because of their salt-tolerance. Native pitch pine (Pinus stricta) occurs, too, and its little cones are very sharp and rough on the fingers. The black pine cones are much easier to gather.

It helps to have rubbing alcohol wipes handy (part of my basic forage supplies, against poison ivy): Your fingers get very sticky.

In research mode at home I searched my old Russian cookbooks for recipes, but came up with nothing. Online was one recipe that claimed Georgian heritage. I experimented with several batches (having returned to get more cones, later), and eventually settled on a routine of: boil in water, then four subsequent times in syrup, more or less in the tradition of Russian varenya, where entire fruit (or pine cones) are cooked and cooled multiple times in syrup.

It's hard to imagine but these hard little cones become soft and chewable after boiling, and are packed with bright flavor. A traditional Caucasian and Russian way to enjoy them is a medicinal spoonful stirred into black tea. I like them on crunchy toast, or cooked with pan-seared pork chops. Or in the pan where a duck breast cooked, deglazed with some bourbon or fruity vinegar.

To make pine syrup gin or vodka, add a quarter cup of the syrup with cones to 2 cups of the liquor. Leave for a day, shaking now and then, until the syrup has dissolved. Strain and bottle.

For clean up after cooking, use rubbing alcohol, again - to dissolve the very tenacious resin residue on the edges of your pot and any implements you use. Wipe it onto your pot after it has cooled.

For three medium jars of pine cone jam you need:

8 oz (about 2.25 cups) finger-nail-sized immature pine cones
2.5 cups sugar
2.5 cups water

Fill a stainless steel pot (easier to clean, later) with water and pine cones and bring to a boil. Cook at a gentle boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off. A layer of resin will collect on the surface like a little oil slick - carefully pour this layer off, tilting the pot gently over the sink. (And do yourself a favor: do not dump it through a sieve - the resin will stick the cones again and when cool will clog the mesh unless you boil the sieve!). Tilt it off.

Once all the water is poured off, add the sugar and water to the pot with the boiled cones. Return to the stove and and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and cool completely. Bring to a boil again. Turn off at once and cool (it it cooks too long you will lose too much moisture). Bring to a boil for a third time, turn off the heat, then cool again. One more time: bring to a boil and allow to cool for a fourth time.*

* When  boiling three times the syrup remains stickily runny.  Four boils (above) results in a taffy-like texture once cooled, but this melts again, in heat. Up to you. Play.

Ladle the cones and their warm syrup into sterilized glass jars. When cool screw on the lids.



  1. Wow, I've never heard of pine cone jam. So just to clarify, you don't want the resin, you pour it off to get rid of it. Then boil just the cones with the sugar water. Correct?

    I have a smidge of pine honey left from a visit to Turkey and I imagine this tastes similar.

    1. Actually, what is called 'pine honey' sometimes is this precise mix...confusing. Not honey from bees. Is yours hive honey? The boiling does not get rid of all the resin, but tones it down. I have done boiled and unboiled and prefer the boiled version.

  2. Well, they do say you learn something new everyday! I am not sure if I fancy trying this, not least because I suspect the pine cones here in the UK may not be suitable. Can you describe the flavour? Unfortunately, all that comes to mind is that it may taste of disinfectant! Thank you for sharing this interesting post.

    1. Why would your pines not be suitable? The flavor is hard to describe - tart, sweet, slightly resinous. Certainly not like disinfectant.


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