Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Pine Cone Jam

May was pine cone jam month, in my kitchen.

Russians like it. Eastern Europeans like it. Turks seem to like it. Pine cone jam (sometimes the resulting syrup is referred to as pine honey) is considered both treat and medicine. Used for coughs. The flavor is tartly sweet and lightly resinous. It's hard to imagine that these hard little cones become soft and chewable after cooking, but they do.

A traditional Caucasian and Russian way to enjoy them is a medicinal spoonful stirred into hot black tea. I like them on crunchy toast, or cooked with pan-seared pork chops, in the pan where a duck breast cooked (deglazed with some bourbon or fruity vinegar), or for dessert, mixed with macerating strawberries, or churned into a wonderful ice cream. 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.

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

You want immature, very small cones, green inside; they are already about a year old by the time we harvest them (the current year's cones form on the tips of the growing pine "candles"in late spring and early summer - I find those just disintegrate when cooked).

It helps to have rubbing alcohol handy: Your fingers get very sticky, and the alcohol is very effective in dissolving the resin. 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.

In research mode I searched my old Russian cookbooks for recipes, but came up with nothing. Online was one recipe that claimed Georgian heritage. I experimented with five batches. For the first three I boiled the cones in water, then three times in syrup, in the tradition of Russian varenya, where entire fruit (or pine cones) are cooked and cooled - important -  multiple times in syrup. I also boiled four times, and for the last batch made the jam without the water bath, and using honey instead of sugar. That last version was more resinous. But I liked them all.

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. Can i use harder green cones?

    3. These are hard. Do you mean large ones?

  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.

  3. Hmm? You "tilt off" the resin down your kitchen sink drain? Do you then pour boiling water down the drain so as to not have a clogged sink? But then, I'm guessing it eventually cools along the pipes to clog somewhere else, for someone else? Ever since our landlord charged us extra for a clogged drain over 10 years ago, I've been extra diligent in keeping sticky stuff, oils, and various solid matter (despite a garbage disposal) from washing down the pipes. I keep non-recyclable containers handy for such purposed, like non-plastic coffee canisters.

    The mention of pine cones particularly caught my attention, because a posted photo of Monterey pine pollen on my blog ended up earning me some money. I gave permission of my photo to use in a book, and then the book got translated into several languages. Who knew!?

  4. Oof. In chime with Diane O'Connell, have you never heard of Pine-Sol? It had a distinctive smell that reminds me of wet, gross floor mops. My mom used this commercial cleaning agent in the U.S.A. back in the 1980's, but I've never used it as an adult and apparently the original mix has changed.

  5. Link for you (you don't have to publish this - I was simply curious to know what my mother used as a kid, so I looked it up): https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_oil / https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_oil

    1. Gosh, you do have a lot to say. Ray o'sunshine.

      I know Pine Sol. I have even used it. It fascinates me that someone who has never made pine jam, never eaten pine jam, never seen pine jam, knows for certain that pine jam must smell like Pine Sol. It doesn't, even remotely.

      Take a deep breath. Exhale.

  6. In other news. ..
    This is incredible. Never heard of it. Thank you for introducing this to the rest of us.


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