Ah, December—how we missed thee. 'Tis the season—a very special season—for, oh, so many reasons. When we walked into the barn and turned the calendar page to December 1st, we were greeted by the following tidbit: "the beginning of winter." Although that is not quite true, technically speaking, it sure feels like it. We have had our first snow; the fire in our wood stove burns on perpetual; and, yes, Christmas is nigh! In our family, this is cause for celebration—true, full-hearted and full-bellied celebration—all month long. Believe it or not, winter is our favorite season (as it well should be, given our Northern locale); and Christmas, perhaps more believably, is our favorite holiday.
As such, we needed to get a few things straight around here. First, we set "A Charlie Brown Christmas" a'spinning. Next, we had to get our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. We trekked over a river and through the woods, past the furthest pastures on the farm. With our trusty bow saw in tow, we searched and searched for the wimpiest pine we could find. We found it, thanked it for all of the joy it would bring into our home and for all that it had provided in the forest, and cut it down. We hauled it back through the woods, back over the river, and up the farm road to our home; and when we got there, we found that our wimpy Charlie Brown Christmas tree was still too big for our space. We trimmed it's leggy limbs until it fit just right, snuggled between our two couches. But what to do with all of those fresh, fragrant pine branches on our cutting floor? Well, 'tis the season, indeed: and if a Christmas tree was our first priority, then Christmas cookies were next in line.
Seasonal adventures call for an adventurous seasonal recipe—and was this ever. The first step was to triple check that the Eastern Hemlock tree that we cut down was not the same poisonous hemlock used to carry out Socrates' death sentence way back when in ancient Greece. It isn't. Whew. From there, our task was a bit less daunting, but no less important: figure out a way to incorporate pine needles into cookies that doesn't feel like you're just eating pine needles. Thankfully, my favorite kitchen tools—the mortar & pestle—were up to the task when the food processor was not. Our (mis)adventures continued: we melted the butter when we meant to soften it, and we froze the dough solid when we'd only meant to firm it up before slicing it into cookie-rounds. Nevertheless, these shortbread cookies—baked in the dappled light of the setting December sun (which, in Vermont, means shortly after lunch)—somehow turned out just as we'd hoped. Mildly sweet and butter smooth with a flavor befitting of the season. O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How lovely are thy branches . . .
PINE NEEDLE SHORTBREAD
makes roughly two dozen cookies
— preheat oven to 350
— strip pine needles and rosemary off branches
— combine pine, rosemary, and sugar in mortar + crush with pestle until needles are fine
— in a large bowl, with a wooden spoon combine pine sugar mixture with butter, salt, and lemon
— slowly add flour to mixture, gently combining with your hands until a buttery dough ball forms
— divide dough in half and roll each into a log shape, then wrap with parchment paper and freeze for 15 minutes to firm up dough
— cut dough into small 1/2 inch thick rounds, and place 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper
— bake for 10 minutes, or until bottoms of shortbread are just barely golden
— let cool for 10 minutes before eating (if you're more patient than we were)
1/4 c. pine needles (any edible variety; we used hemlock)
1/4 c. fresh rosemary
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. white sugar
2 tsp. lemon zest
pinch of salt