It all started when I went foraging for young pine needles to make summer cocktails around June of 2014.
Native Americans were some of the first people to make culinary use of pine needles. They even made a type of bread from pine bark. The bread was unfortunately nutritionally empty and probably tasted the same. I have been given an authentic recipe and would like to experience bark bread. Unfortunately, bark collected for bread making is typically cut fresh from the living part of the tree. This is not a good practice.
Several trees had tender needles in abundance and I was able to collect a couple handfuls.
Pine needles are sustainable, flavorful and even contain phytonutrients. They are commonly used to make a refreshing natural type of tea. However, I personally feel that pine truly meets its calling when harmonized into a high proof cocktail.
The Deceptively Smooth and Delicious Pine Needle Martini
I continued to explore and came across a densely packed area of sawsgrass. There are several obvious factors that would make sawgrass a poor choice for culinary applications. Whatsoever the case, I recalled literature that briefly mentioned it was not poisonous to humans and collected some on the long walk home.
The sawgrass sat neglected for days and days. It began to resemble hay. When I see hay, it always brings back memories of the time I drove across town to the Beaver St. feed store. It was in the in 90’s (the year and actual temperature outside) and my newly acquired bale of hay sat patiently ready for take off in the backseat of my air-condition-less 84 Monte Carlo. The v8 engine was exhilarating. However, it somehow used the inside of the car to dump excess heat as part of its cooling mechanism. For humane travel, it was imperative to roll down two giant windows and let gusts of wind circulate inside the vehicle. I learned two lessons that day. A) dogs love running around in hay and B) I’m allergic to it. And, just as soon as it began, it was all over. I quickly lost all motivation to recreate Paul Bocuse’s dish Jambon au Foin (ham cooked in hay).
The memory of having a horrible experience with hay eventually gave way to the discovery that I wasn’t allergic to sawgrass.
For a dish to be genuine, an intimate connection should exist. Buying packaged ideas and configuring them can be a great creative exercise. It may even make a nice plate of food. However, we are best served to distinguish between eating a plate of food and experiencing a dish with food. The dish will resonate with memories and be tied to an immediate environment. It will nurture and share the experience.
It took well over a decade for me to revisit Bocuse’s Jambon au Foin and the journey has captured my imagination. I’ve expressed this in dishes that echo classical hay cooking techniques used by the great chefs of Gascony. You will find them and simple recipes, showcased in a section of the blog that will be devoted to cooking with sawgrass.