"Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible." Americans of a certain age shall never forget this folksy wisdom drilled into our heads by Euell Gibbons in a TV commercial for Grape Nuts cereal in 1974.
What Euell didn't say is that pine trees, other than the delectable pine nut, might indeed be edible, chock full of vitamins A and C, are desirable only under near-starvation conditions. Stories of "famine bread, nutritious but not very palatable," are at the heart of Euell's writings, along with vile stews, nasty syrups and deeply repulsive candy.
Euell recounts how "I tried boiling this fresh inner bark as the Indians did, and it reduced to a glutinous mass from which the more bothersome wood fibers were easily removed. I'm sure it was wholesome and nutritious, but in the area of palatability it left much to be desired."
In conclusion, "You must have gathered by now that I care very little for their taste. Nevertheless these lordly trees can furnish substantial and nutritious, if somewhat ill-tasting, food in times of need, but the emergency will have to be pretty dire before I consume any large quantity of it." [Source: Stalking the Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons.]
My partner Steve Russell is a scion of the estimable and ancient Weare family of New Hampshire. The proud Weares count among their ancestors the first post-colonial Governor, Meshach Weare who took office in 1776.
The edibility of pine trees has been handed down through the Weare generations, doubtless formed in earlier settler times, when famine bread may well have kept the Weare pioneers alive.
So, despite Euell's rather discouraging assessments, we were inspired by the masses of the delicate first shoots of new growth on our white pines, the tender "candles." With the convictions of ingrained Weare wisdom, we decided to put them to use.
The result? This sublime recipe for White Pine Sauerbraten. Without a trace of turpentine flavor Euell mentions more than once, the pine candles impart deliciously woodsy dimension, distinct but not overwhelming.
Ever eat a pine tree? We have, and liked it!
P.S. I have no idea why I couldn't get this post to be in regular font rather than italic.