Pine needle & sloe gin mincemeat

Christmas is done. Phew. The only sign left of festive cheer  is an expanded waist line, a prolonged hangover  & malingering tree you need to take outside.  But the shower of pine needles that fall like missile splinters everytime a butterfly even thinks about batting her wing is enough to put you off moving it out. You’re in no fit state to do anything to your tinkling tree apart from eat it.
If you don’t know me, you’ll probably think im joking but, those who do know me know I am very serious indeed. You could do an awful lot worse than chewing on a pine needle in January & here is why…

Pine trees are good to eat for 2 very important reasons,  they are  really good for you and they taste incredible – really really incredible. And food that is very delicious & very good for you shouldn’t be sniffed at (in pines aromatic case it should of course)

Firstly the health bit;  pine needles are full of vitamin C & fat soluable vitamin A – they are thought to be good for the cardiovascular system, skin, eyes and fighting colds. Used as a super tea in North America for hundreds of years, the early settlers were taught by Native Americans to drink the brew to fight scurvy – and from all accounts it worked! If you want to be convinced by the health benefits of pine, do a google for it – you’ll be amazed!

But, I am greedy & even if it wasn’t good for health, i’d still be eating it for its flavour. From pine infused vinegars that make green perfumed dressings, to flavoured sugars for cakes and shortbreads, infused salts and oils for basting on fish & meat through to pine needle flavoured vodka & gin, once you discover pine as a flavour, you’ll never be able to look a Christmas tree in the eye again without wanting to nibble…

This months recipe is a post Christmas mincemeat – fruity, nutty & slightly boozy. Full of the goodness of pine, it’s an ambrosia for the depths of January & certainly too good to stop eating once the decorations are down…

Pine & Sloe gin mincemeat

This spring I made a bottle of beech leaf & pine gin – since May this little bottle has sat next to the remnants of last years sloe gin, waiting to be turned into something to do justice to the aromatic flavour that could ruin the most puritanical of mothers.
Recently I mixed the piney gin with a slug of syrupy sloe gin, poured the tempting elixir over wet walnuts, russet apples and raisins. The result was tasty. Woody, aromatic, fruity & rather boozy. This years mincemeat was born – it’s too good to keep to myself & you can emulate the spring flavours with your Christmas tree.

It’s too early to make beech  & pine gin this year – but in the spring force some zingy  & sour beech leaves & pine shoots into a 2/3rd filled bottle of gin – you’ll thank me.

you’ll need:

100g shelled wet walnuts or dried walnuts
250g chopped russet apples (russet apples hold their shape when cooked & are a perfect mincemeat apple)
250g raisins
a large sprig of pine
150ml sloe gin
150ml gin – the more botanical the better.
sugar or zyiotol (a delicious sugar free sweetener extracted from birch trees) to taste

chop the walnuts & russet apples until they are the size you like your mincemeat to be (no rules, you know how you like your mouthful)
add them to a bowl with the raisins, pour over the gin, stir in the sweetener & taste to check for sweetness.
Press into the mixture a handful of pine sprigs.
Cover the mixture.
Pour yourself a gin, make a cup of tea, unload the dishwasher (reload the dishwasher with the dishes you just unloaded but look dirtier than when they went in)
Wait for a couple of days…tasting every so often.
When the fruit is plump & tastes of pine woods take the pine sprigs out &  it’s ready to cook into mincepies that will make you want to eat your Christmas tree.
There will be quite alot of liquid left at the bottom of the bowl. What ever you do, don’t throw it away – pour it into a hipflask, go into the woods & drink it with the Whisps.

*You can use pine needles from dougla fir, scots pine  and spruce. Just remember not to mistake Yew trees for pine as they are incredibly toxic & you won’t see January out let alone next Christmas if you nibble on Yew leaves.
Pregnant women also should avoid pine, as it can have abortive properties*


Pontack is a legendary sauce made with cider vinegar, elderberries and spices. Use it like a wild worcestershire sauce or as you’d use a balsamic vinegar. All our customers have their own ways of using it, from splashing it over tofu to marinating squirrels with it…here are a couple of our favourites:

For hunters….haunch of venison marinated in pontack sauce
rub 2 tbsp of Pontack into a haunch of venison, leave in a casserole over night and then add a wine glass of good red wine, 2 bay leaves and 8 juniper berries. Cover the venison in a very fatty bacon (thinly sliced lardo – cured back fat, is ideal) Seal the casserole with a tight lid and cook slowly (120c)  for hours.. and hours. Occasionally check there is enough liquid and baste the venison well. Serve with a buttery potato and chestnut mash and irony greens.
(If you like this you’ll love deglazing the pan of any dark meat especially liver with a splash of pontack)

For gatherers…Home made coleslaw with a pontack and honey dressing
good coleslaw is one of life’s simple pleasures. The flavours of pontack pair amazingly with sweet carrots, onions and cabbage.
To make the dressing, pour a tablespoon of honey and 2 of pontack with twice the amount of good olive oil and a pinch of salt into a jam jar, seal and shake well. Finely shred equal amounts of carrots and cabbage and add a finely chopped red onion. Mix in a tablespoon of lightly toasted cumin seeds, and a handful of sultanas; stir through the dressing, leave for a while for the flavours to take hold and tuck in!