How to Eat Your Christmas Tree
A London-based design duo says that come January 6, instead of throwing out our Christmas trees, we should turn them into beetroot and spruce-cured salmon, spruce pickles, and pine-smoked cauliflower.
Your Instagram feed may be filled with pictures of cutesy Christmas trees, immaculately decked with handmade baubles and carefully strung fairy lights but come January 6, these beauties will be lining the pavements of our streets, limp and lacklustre. Is there a sadder sight?
Designers Lauren Davies and Julia Georgallis say it doesn't have to be so.
Instead of throwing our trees out for refuse once the festivities are over, the pair says that we should be eating them. A willing guinea pig to their edible experiment, I'm about to find out whether dining on a 4-foot fir tree is a good idea or not.
Unsurprisingly, Davies and Georgallis share a passion for cooking using interesting ingredients. Davies' design practice HEKA takes on projects inspired by the "alchemy of nature" and Georgallis runs a nomadic bakery called The Bread Companion.
"My design work concentrates on aromatics and Julia experiments with unusual ingredients and recipes," Davies explains. "We're both interested in finding exciting ways of looking at sustainability and waste reduction."
"The idea of cooking with a Christmas tree seemed fresh and in line with our ethics," adds Georgallis. "So we did some research on what people have done with conifers in cooking. Still, there's not a huge amount of information about people who've cooked their Christmas trees."
Davies and Georgallis set themselves the challenge of seeing whether it was possible to reuse Christmas trees as food.
Of course, the first thing to check was how safe it is to actually eat trees.
"This was a biggie at the beginning," says Davies. "All spruce, firs, and pines can be eaten, but yew trees are extremely poisonous. They're all part of the conifer family, though, so very early on we had to familiarise ourselves with the unique characteristics of yews so we could avoid them like the plague."
"Now we know what we're looking for, we spot yew trees everywhere," says Georgallis. "The main things that make them stand out are that they have red berries and that the needles grow in a spiral pattern from the twigs."
I'm relieved. When you're about to be served a meal, it's always reassuring to know that it's not going to kill you.
With the poisonous varieties suitably removed from the runnings, the pair concentrated on what they could do with the particular flavour profiles of the other, non-toxic, Christmas trees. It being a little too early to find Christmas trees on sale in London, they had to drive to Kingswood Christmas Tree farm in Kent, where they were also advised on the palatability of different trees.
"The main varieties people buy are Nordmann Firs, Douglas Firs, Blue Spruce, and Norway Spruce," says Davies. "Scandinavian countries do a lot of smoking over pine and a lot of salt curing so we just experimented with some of these processes and added different varieties of pine, spruce, and fir until we had some successes."
"For one of our early experiments, we made pine-breadcrumbed Scotch eggs and Nordmann Fir mayonnaise which was the worst of all our experiments," says Georgallis. "It seriously made us question our abilities and the whole concept!"
But they persevered.
"We ended up concentrating on Blue Spruce, which has a very strong, citrusy fragrance and flavour, and Douglas Fir, which is subtler, with a more typical Christmas tree-scent and a green, grassy flavour. It's not as overpowering in recipes," says Davies. "We got through a whole Blue Spruce with all our experiments though, so we had to drive back and buy another one."
"We had a lot of trial and error before we came up with recipes that made us realise it was doable," says Georgallis. "We discovered that Blue Spruce was very good when sweetened, and that it had a balsamic kind of flavour when infused in vinegar. Douglas Fir is particularly good with apple and lemon. These were exciting triumphs!"
Once they'd decided it was not just possible, but potentially delicious, to eat your Christmas tree, Georgallis and Davies decided the best way to prove this was to test the fruits of their labours on a London supper club.
Which is how, on a blustery December night, I came to find myself seated at a North London dining table faced with a menu that almost parodies the famous Monty Python SPAM skit. Every dish of every course features pine: beetroot and spruce-cured salmon, spruce pickles, lamb and Retsina tagine, pine-smoked cauliflower, spruce tzatziki, couscous with pine nuts, fir jelly, and even spruce ice cream.
"There were some things we had to buy in—like Retsina which is wine infused with pine resin, and pine nuts," Davies explains. "But everything else pine-y was from straight from the Christmas tree source. And surprisingly, it wasn't actually that weird to eat."
If you thought that eating your Christmas tree would be like downing a bottle of Jeyes cleaning fluid, then you've got it all wrong. It's sweet, subtle, sharp, fresh, warm—lots of different things, depending on how the pine is paired and prepared. Not only that, but rather than an eccentric offering that's pretty much impossible to replicant as an "ordinary person," I find myself thinking that I could make a lot of these things myself.
In short: it possible to eat your Christmas tree.
"It's fun experimenting," says Davies. "Pickles, chutneys, and cordials are a good and cheap place to start, and everyone should try making ice cream. Look, all the plates are completely scraped clean."
That they are. If you fancy a change from eating turkey leftovers, devouring your Christmas tree could be the way to go.