Here at Gather we adore Emily Han! Equally at home in hiking boots as she is in the kitchen, her work has inspired us for years. One of the first to transform wild edibles from survival food into good cuisine, her recipes make wild foods accessible, simple to prepare—and most of all, delicious.
You can imagine how thrilled we were to be invited to feature one of the recipes from Emily’s truly stunning new book, Wild Drinks and Cocktails. From traditional pioneer cordials, to cocktails and fizzy drinks and medicinal tonics—everything is amazing and best of all, easy to make! What was difficult was choosing only one…
After much humming and hawing and oohing and ahhing, we settled on Douglas Fir Liqueur and for some very good reasons. First, Douglas-fir tastes amazing—intensely green, woodsy and resinous with candied orange peel top notes. We knew we definitely wanted to make our own supply for the holiday season. And because no other tree is more iconic to the Pacific Northwest (our home) than the Douglas-fir.
Among the world’s tallest trees, these stately conifers once blanketed all of Vancouver Island. Often called the skyscrapers of the forest, Douglas-firs are a straight-trunked tree with a spire-like crown, and can grow up to 30 stories high. Their upper branches point up while the lower branches droop down, and it’s dark brown, greyish bark is considered the most gnarly of all the conifers—deeply ridged and grooved.
The Scottish botanist David Douglas, sent by the Royal Horticultural Society to study the tree in the late 1700’s, is responsible for its name even though it isn’t actually a fir tree at all. Here on Vancouver Island we have mostly the P. menziesii var. menziesii, called the Coastal Douglas-fir, which thrives during our dry summers and wet, mild winters.
The indigenous peoples of Vancouver Island have many stories about the Douglas-fir. One legend tells of animals fleeing before the flames of a big fire. The mice, with their short little legs, were not quick enough to outrun the fire so they asked Douglas-fir for help. The mice took shelter inside their cones and survived the terrible fire. To this day, if you examine the cones of a Douglas-fir closely, you can see the little hind feet and tails of the mice sticking out from beneath the scales of the fir cones.
Today, aggressive logging practices have decimated Coastal Douglas-fir populations and only a fragment of these green giants with their unique old-growth forest systems remain. In 2006, the BC government designated it an ‘at risk species’ and many local activists are fighting to save the old-growth stands that still survive.
And so, with no small amount of reverence, we set out for the woods to harvest needles for our liqueur. Snipping small amounts of newer growth from several trees and (as Emily cautions in her book) taking care to not cut the tops of any trees (leaving them vulnerable to disease & decay), we left with gratitude, lifted spirits thanks to the aromatherapeutic qualities of the Douglas-fir and a keen desire to make some coniferous cocktail magic!
A couple of kitchen notes: This recipe is simple to follow. We used fresh hawthorn berries and left out the allspice berries because we really wanted the evergreen flavour to stand alone. That, and we were out of allspice. No matter, we think it turned out brilliantly. Aromatic and warming, we enjoy it chilled, neat and served in a Grand-fir sugar-rimmed glass. Yes, we mixed our firs-that-are-not-actually-firs. We’re unorthodox that way. We’ve tucked a bottle away for a solstice toast and have promised each other we won’t tipple behind the other’s back. We’ll just see how that goes…
Without further ado, here are Emily’s (blessedly) straightforward instructions—verbatim!
Douglas Fir Liqueur
Recipe reprinted from Wild Drinks & Cocktails by Emily Han, with permission from Fair Winds Press, copyright 2015
In Spring, Douglas Fir tips are bright green with a crisp lemony flavour, and as the year progresses, the needles become more and more aromatic. You can make this liqueur with Douglas fir needles at any time of year, but I usually reserve the young tips for teas and syrups, such as the Pine Syrup on page 62 [Wild Drinks & Cocktails], and use the more resinous autumn needles for an infusion that combines sweet hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna, C. laevigata) berries and warm allspice, like this one.
Pine (Pinus spp.), spruce (Picea spp.), or white fir (Abies concolor) will all work well in place of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), too. Try it with gin cocktails, such as a gimlet, to amp up the foresty feel, or pair it with whiskey or bourbon-based cocktails, like a Manhattan, to enhance its warmth.
Combine the chopped conifer, hawthorn berries, and allspice in a quart (1 L) jar. Pour the vodka into the jar, making sure the ingredients are completely submerged. Cap the jar tightly. Store it in a cool, dark place for 1 to 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter or flour sack cloth. Stir in the Simple Syrup. Age for at least 1 week, then bottle and store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.
YIELD: ABOUT 1 QUART (940 ML)
Made from equal parts sugar and water, this indispensable syrup may be used to
sweeten alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks including cocktails, liqueurs, teas, and
1 cup (235 ml) water
1 cup (100 g) sugar
Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for another minute. Remove from the heat and let cool. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, or up to 3 months with added vodka.
YIELD: ABOUT 1 CUP (235 ML)
And if you want to learn more about the culinary and medicinal uses of Grand Fir and other evergreens click here. Recipes for Comfort & Joy: The Healing Magic of Conifers.