On a recent U.S. National Forest expedition, we broke a golden rule of camping and snapped off a piece of nature to take with us. It was to make an emerald beverage ... a pine sap-arac. Infused into a tart lemon-lime juice that's more whiskey sour mix than lemonade, this uses the bitter medicinal notes of pine to make whiskey that much sweeter. The stuff's fine hand-mixed and room temp if you're still out in the pines. But if you bring the loot back home, blended is better.
Pine Needle Limeade
Makes 6-8 servings
5 cups water
1/4 cup agave nectar
A handful of pine needles (about 30-40 needles)
1) Obtain one frond, or about a handful, of pine needles fresh off the tree. Clean them, making sure any dirt or pollen is wiped or washed off, and cut off the nubby base of the pine frond. Using a sharp knife, cut off the lower quarter of each pine needle, like you would asparagus. If you need to store them, submerge the fresh pine needles in water in a container with a lid (they stay good in the fridge for at least a week).2) To help release their juices, roll the limes and lemon on the counter with assertive hands. Slice them in half. Now juice ’em whichever way you can: You want about 1 cup of juice.3) Combine the water and lemon-lime juice in a blender (or a tall container that can accommodate a handheld mixer). Add agave syrup while pulsing or blending. After mixing for about 30 seconds, taste. If it's still too tart for your liking (we are sour), add another couple of tablespoons of agave, honey or sugar.4) Pick out the 30-40 best-looking pine needles from the bunch, ones that are pure green with no brown, and place on the bottom of a big, sealable jar. Pour in the blended limeade and let chill for at least 3 hours. Serve virgin as a forest.5) For the boozy version, combine batch with 2/3 cup rye whiskey, or serve a glass of the pine juice stirred with a single shot.