Cooking with Douglas Fir
Every year I ignore Christmas until just after winter solstice… and then get a sudden case of the festives on the 22nd or 23rd which leads me to buy whole birds from the supermarket and bake large batches of cookies while listening to the exact same carols I have been trying to avoid.
This year I also tried to eat a Christmas tree. Or some needles, anyway. Douglas firs are one of the most common commercial Christmas trees, they’re common as dirt around Seattle and the one in my backyard conveniently dropped a nice-sized branch just as I came down with Christmas itch.
Needles from anything in the pine family – which includes Douglas firs, true firs, pines, spruces, hemlocks, and larches/tamaracks – are fine to nibble in small quantities, and many make good herbs. Some taste more lemony-fresh, some taste more resinous, some are less delicious than others; the best way to find out is to start chewing. But don’t put random evergreens in your mouth until you can tell the difference between the pine family and the yew family – yews are toxic! If you would prefer to positively identify a Douglas fir, look for the three-pointed bracts on the cones.
So this Christmas we had Douglas fir duck, Douglas fir gravy, and some Douglas fir-tangerine cookies with Douglas fir icing.
Lessons learned so far:
- Douglas fir is an interesting possibility in any context where you might otherwise think of using rosemary or lemon. It’s less assertive than rosemary, so if you’re substituting in a recipe, you should use extra.
- Most sources tell you to use just the fresh tips. Older needles also taste good, but they tend to catch a little bit in your throat, even if you’ve minced them. This isn’t a disaster but it is annoying; that is why humans created food processors and blenders. Puree, puree, puree.
- I don’t really understand this one but Douglas fir + tangerine = love. It’s like lemon + rosemary or orange + basil.
The Douglas fir gravy, incidentally, was a surprise hit. It started as a simple duck giblet gravy, with goose fat instead of butter for the roux. And then I realized I’d added too much flour to it… so I dug around in the freezer for additional stock. Way too much flour. A lot of extra stock. So it ended as a full sauce pan of chicken-rabbit-pheasant-duck giblet gravy, with caramelized onions and a generous handful of Douglas fir needles. We ate it Christmas morning over biscuits cut out with cookie cutters.