Grand fir (Abies grandis) is a conifer that has more Vitamin C (among other things) than you can shake a stick at AND it smells like oranges and Christmas. Combine that with farm fresh eggs, heavy cream and sugar and you have yourself heaven by the spoonful. We experimented with this recipe at our first Urban Wild Foods Walk and by the sounds of diligent jar scraping, we’ve decided this one’s a keeper and will definitely make regular appearances at future walks. Thank goodness, grand fir’s a glorious evergreen!
I prefer to use the tips of older boughs, rather than the new growth of spring. Spring tips have their own wonderful flavour, but it’s more citrusy, lacking that delightful fir taste of older needles. Note, I say older—not old. You want needles that are a glossy, forest green and bend without snapping. Do be kind to the trees you’re harvesting from. Don’t take tips from saplings and try to clip from more than one tree if you can.
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup fresh grand fir tips (~3 inch long tips, tightly packed)
- 4 farm fresh egg yolks
- 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bruise the grand fir tips a bit to release some of the oils. I just crunch them up in my hands until I can smell Christmas.
In a small saucepan, bring the cream, milk, grand fir and orange zest just to a boil over medium heat. Turn off heat; let steep, tightly covered for at least an hour up to overnight. I made mine at 8 PM and left it covered the fridge until the following afternoon for a strong grand fir flavour.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, remaining orange zest and salt. Reheat infused cream over medium heat; slowly whisk into yolk mixture. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl to extract as much liquid. Compost the grand fir.
Put jars in a baking pan that’s deep enough to accommodate your jars and enough hot water to cover the custard fill line.
Pour the mixture through a fine strainer again directly into the jars, making sure the jars aren’t touching one another. I used my canning funnel and a tea strainer and it worked like a charm.
Pour hot (not boiling) water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the jars. And try really, really, really hard to avoid splashing water into your custards. I’ve never had it happen to me (touch wood), but I suspect they’d be ruined. I add the hot water from my kettle once the baking pan is already on the rack in the oven as I learned pretty quickly that I’m not great with sloshing, scalding water.
Bake until the custard is set, 30 to 35 minutes. Mine took closer to 40 minutes, but my oven is…not great. They should still be a bit wobbly in the centres.
Carefully remove baking pan from oven and using canning tongs, remove the mason jars and leave them to cool on a wire rack for 30 mins. Cover the custards with plastic wrap or a clean towel and chill in the refrigerator until custards are firm, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
Just before you serve them, garnish with your best snippets of grand fir and maybe even some orange zest. Lovely, loveliness.