Spruce tips set to ferment in water with sugar

Spruce Tip Soda

Spruce tips are easy to forage, but you only get a good chance at them for a few weeks in spring.

Spruce needles—like our incredibly abundant Eastern white pine needles— are available year round, but the fresh new spruce tips are so lemony, tender, and good that I greatly prefer them to dishes made with the fully mature needles.

Handful of spruce tips
Handful of spruce tips

I generally wait until the new tips are around one or two inches long. They will be lighter in color than the older growth, and very soft to the touch. I eat them straight off the tree, and can tell when they get to the perfect stage.

I picked these spruce tips toward the end of May this year, and brought about half a bucket of them home to make spruce tip soda with.

Filling my bucket with spruce tips
Filling my bucket with spruce tips

Here’s how I made my Spruce Tip Soda:

1. Snip off any woody ends of the spruce tips.
2. Rinse lightly.
3. Fill jars about three-quarters full of spruce tips, and 2-4 tablespoons of sugar per cup of water.
4. Keep warm and covered for a week or so. (If the yeasts are warm, well-fed, and energetic, you’ll need to “burp” your jars.)

Wild yeast is what will make the soda bubbly, and the sugar is in there to feed the yeast. As the yeast consume the sugars, they give off carbon dioxide, as well as a teeny bit of alcohol.

The longer you let your brew ferment, the less sweet it will taste, because the wild yeast will have eaten all the sugar.

When it’s ready to drink, I stick it in the fridge to slow any further fermentation.

Spruce tips set to ferment in water with sugar
Spruce tips set to ferment in water with sugar

My jars were slightly fizzy after a few days, but since I like more carbonation, I decanted my spruce tip soda into glass flip-top bottles, adding another tablespoon of sugar into each bottle, to allow them to ferment a second time.

Spruce soda second ferment
Spruce soda second ferment

Controlling for various factors

I’ve made kombucha a hundred times or more, and I know the fermentation process can go well or not well, and it’s sometimes hard to predict. There are a number of factors to control for.

Well water or distilled water works best, and the brew needs to be covered or getting only indirect light. Jars or bottles also need a warm—but not too warm!—environment.

This particular batch of spruce soda didn’t get as bubbly as I like, probably because I left it sitting for a couple of days on the kitchen table where the sun got to it. I just forgot! Heat will kill your wild yeast and then they can’t carbonate your beverage. I once ruined an entire batch of winter-brewed kombucha because I left the cardboard box with 10  or 12 bottles in front of a space heater. I was trying to keep it warm, but I killed my yeast. Dangit.

After that incident I bought a temperature-controlled warming pad to sit my kombucha bottles on, and some stick-on thermometers to put on a few of the bottles in each batch.

Every few days I might crack open a bottle to try and judge where the fermentation process is, because I like lots of carbonation but don’t want my bottles to explode. (None of mine ever exploded.)

Sometimes it’s also important to have super-clean—like boiled water clean— glassware for a new batch, too.

So it can be fun, and also disappointing when you don’t get the results you hoped for. I’ll probably try another batch of spruce soda this year, although I won’t have the tips. That’s okay, I can use the fully mature needles and see how it goes.

Other ways I enjoy fresh spruce tips

Spruce tips (and pine needles) are great in a gin and tonic! Be sure to muddle the needles well in the bottom of the tumbler first to release the oils.

Alternately, you can make a simple syrup with the spruce tips, then add directly to club soda or tonic.

Pine needles and spruce tips are good brewed for tea.

I always like fresh, lemony spruce tips in salads and cooked greens.

And of course, spruce tips are great in cookies!

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