It was the morning of Epiphany, and as we lifted the ornaments off the branches, it seemed like the most logical thing in the world. Why not cook the Christmas tree? Surely, that was far better aligned with our values than simply getting the thing mulched.
In retrospect, it was probably the guilt getting the better of me. The decision to get a tree had not been reached easily, as the whole idea seemed to be at odds with our approach to sustainability. What’s more, trees have never really been a tradition for us. In Japan, getting a tree simply wasn’t an option – and even before that, we had rarely spent Christmases at home. It wasn’t a choice we were 100% comfortable with. So we had hemmed. Then we had hawed. And, after careful deliberation, we had decided to indulge, just this once. A tree would allow us to hang ornaments that have sat largely unused for years, act as a festive backdrop to our Epiphany Eve party, and (perhaps most importantly) provide the cats with hours of entertainment.
Now that all that was in the past, all I saw was a tree that had been chopped down for no justifiable reason. It didn’t help that the cats, who go insane when a single flower enters the house, and who took great joy in beating up our little paper tree in Japan, had doggedly ignored the eight foot giant covered in shiny baubles from the day it had been put up. That had been a particularly cruel twist of the knife.
Cooking the tree would make all this right.
Yes, guilt was definitely a factor, as was the knowledge that such guilt lingers. The 1993 tree still haunts me … it haunts both of us. This was the only other real Christmas tree we’d ever bought. Our then nascent concern for the planet had compelled us to get a living tree for Christmas that year, one that would stay with us for years to come. Even before New Year’s came around, though, it was clear that we had managed to kill the thing. We didn’t have the gardening skills to even keep an evergreen green. As stewards of the planet, we were batting 0.
It’s also probably important to point out that I’d had a few drinks the night before, and that was definitely affecting my judgement – though not because there was still alcohol coursing through my veins. What I’d drunk the night before were some Dark ‘n Stormy’s, made with our homemade ginger beer. The ginger beer was dry, exploding with ginger, and had been a hit with the guests. I felt some lingering pride over the brew … and somehow that pride convinced me that I could do wonders with tree.
Pride and guilt alone, however, were not solely responsible for my new plans for the tree – nostalgia also played a role. Christmas trees and ornaments come with thoughts of childhood, and with those thoughts a memory of something I hadn’t thought of in years emerged: bierre d’épinette, a.k.a. spruce beer. This was a drink of childhood – a very regional one – and I the last time I’d had any was a home-brewed version at a little greasy spoon in Montreal, over 20 years ago. I can still taste it.
So, once Bonnie Lee was on board, we pruned off a few branches, boiled them for a while, then added some sugar and yeast and waited for the magic to happen, happy in the knowledge that we’d have a new recipe to share soon – one that would not only turn Christmas trees into food, but also cure scurvy.
It’s really hard to describe what a good bierre d’épinette tastes like. It has a pleasant complexity, and like many great local foods, the ability to repulse anyone who was not raised with it. Our version lacked some of that complexity, and, with it’s distinct pine freshener tones, lacked the charm to win over even the most diehard spruce beer aficionado.
Someday, if we move back to the land of pine trees, I will try this again – and if I make a good batch, I’ll share the recipe here. In the meantime, I’ll just leave you with my recipe for homemade ginger beer.
Ginger beer (8 cups)
- 8 cups water
- 1.5 lbs ginger, unpeeled, chopped coarsely
- ½ cup brown sugar (or to taste)
- 4 limes, unpeeled and coarsely chopped
- Toss everything in a blender, and blend at highest speed for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Strain through cheese cloth – and make sure you squeeze all the gingery goodness out of the pulp.
- You’ll note that I don’t ferment my ginger beer, so technically, it’s not beer. If you want a little fizz, you can leave the ginger beer out for a few hours. Depending on how sweet the ginger beer is, the temperature, and how much yeast was hanging out on your ginger to begin with, you may get some small bubbles. If you want something more like a commercial soft drink, you’ll need to approach this differently than I do.
Dark ‘n Stormy
- Pour about 3 ounces of ginger beer over ice.
- Add 1 ounce of dark spiced rum.
- Squeeze the juice of ¼ lime over top, and drop the lime wedge in.
|2L Coca Cola||2L of our ginger beer|
|Carbon footprint||500 g||350 g*|
|Sugar||240 g||100 g|
|Plastic waste||1 bottle||0 bottles|
|Gingery goodness (on scale of 0 to 10)||0||10|
* Used published value for brown sugar, and calculated results from Food Carbon Emissions Calculator for other ingredients (using conservative assumptions and reasonable substitutes).
Sorry to hear the tree was not up to your cats’ standards. Tough bunch.
The bierre d’épinette sounds interesting! I look forward to trying a proper one some day. Would it help to use “fresh” pine clippings? If you are like most Americans, the tree doesn’t come down until it is fairly dry… some time around… now. ;-)
I’ve done the ginger beer myself.. I added yeast and let it ferment in a plastic liter bottle. It had the fizz, and it was full of ginger goodness.. not sure you could call it “commercial” though.. cheesecloth probably would have helped.
Those Dark ‘N Stormys sound fun! I wonder why your pitcher-full came out so “opaque”..? (and so homogenous!) Is that due to good blending? (I didn’t blend)
Fresh clippings probably wouldn’t have hurt – and a little research on traditional Québec recipes might also have been a good idea. Next time I guess.
The ginger beer I make was inspired by that of a small Jamaican place in our neighbourhood. They also use the unfermented blender method (common in Jamaica, from what I understand), and get a nice cloudy brew. It’s the tiny particles of ginger in suspension that create the effect (and the flavor), and when you pour dark rum in, you get a nice brownish layer on top that looks not unlike dark storm clouds. Maybe that’s where the drink gets its name.
Great post!!! (Love those po-faced cats; they’re an unpredictable bunch, aren’t they? They musta realized you were trying way too hard to please them…)
I am about to invest in a continuous kombucha brewer, and your recipe is inspiring flights of fancy – I LOVE ginger and can’t wait to make my first batch of ginger-kombucha. Of course, pine kombucha comes to mind too — perhaps worth exploring with next year’s clippings…?
They are rather demanding creatures … no idea why I miss them while I’m away.
I hadn’t heard of kombucha (well, I had in Japan, but it’s a different kombucha) – though anything you can make with ginger is OK in my book, and I reckon you can make a pine version any time of year where you are now.
I have to smile, as our elderly cats are dismissive of everything, including Christmas (they are agnostics). Well done for trying to go the extra mile in upcycling your guilt-ridden tree, but I think bluejava is right about the dryness of the needles. It would perhaps be like trying to make a cake from potpourri? And you know how you heard of shakshuka twice in one day? Well, this is the second time in 24 hours I have heard about Dark ‘n’ Stormys. Must be a sign…
You definitely need to give Dark ‘n Stormy’s a try. I’m not usually one for cocktails, but these somehow hit the spot. Only slightly sweet, and nicely balanced.
Somehow I can’t imagine a day when our two are dismissive of everything; they get into everything – except Christmas trees, it seems, so I guess they are agnostics too. Maybe even atheists, though I suppose I’ll have to try them out on other faiths’ baubles before coming to that conclusion.
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