Six years ago, world-famous Danish chef Rene Redzepi suggested in the New York Times that people eat their Christmas tree after the holiday ended, an article – and idea – that created a (food world) sensation. This year, we asked local chefs how they might (or have) cooked with their Christmas tree. Using it for culinary purposes won’t dispose of the entire tree, but it’s a fun way to dispatch of at least a bough or two. Please don’t attempt to cook your tree unless you know you have “a clean tree,” as Ilma Lopez, co-owner of the Portland restaurants Piccolo and Caiola’s puts it, meaning one that hasn’t been sprayed with any chemicals.


Benjamin Hasty, chef at Thistle Pig in South Berwick, has successfully smoked scallops and monkfish over coals covered with pine, and he thinks “more robustly flavored meats,” such as hanger steak, venison and lamb, would work well, too.


Melissa Bouchard, executive chef at DiMillo’s on the Waterfront, suggests burning the tree and using the ash to garnish plates of braised venison or beef.



If your tree is a spruce and you have an ice cream maker, Lopez suggests introducing the two. In past winters, she has used tender young spruce tips at Piccolo to flavor ice cream that had “an earthy, herbal tone to it.” She thinks the same method would work for a Christmas tree, whether a spruce or balsam fir, with some modifications. “I personally wouldn’t do it,” she said, “but I think it would work.”

Why the hesitation? Once a Christmas tree is ready to be thrown out, Lopez said, it’s dry and won’t have much flavor left.

To extract as much flavor as possible, she suggested chopping the spruce or fir tips into smaller pieces into a food processor. Scald milk, then stir in the chopped tips and let the mixture steep in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. Once the milk is nicely flavored, strain it and use it to make an ice cream base according to the instructions that come with your ice cream machine.


Make a simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water simmered with spruce sprigs, Bouchard suggested. Steep the syrup for 30 minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Use the syrup in a cocktail or to sugar rim a glass.



Food professional Sami Smart makes spruce bitters to use in cocktails.

“Bitters are the salt and pepper of cocktails,” she said. “They round it all out. You could drop it into a gin martini and it would just – no pun intended – spruce it up a little bit.”

Smart, who sells beer and wine for Mariner Beverages in Portland and is a consultant for Dandelion Catering in Yarmouth, has also made bitters with balsam fir. Both trees, she said, give drinks an “herbaceous flavor.”

These bitters, made with your Christmas tree, need to steep until January, but that’s still the right season for a “Winter Wonderland Cocktail.”


2 tablespoons balsam fir, or other Christmas tree (washed thoroughly)


2 tablespoons orange peel, chopped

1 tablespoon cardamom pods

1 1/2 teaspoons juniper berries

20 fresh mint leaves

2 cups of a neutral grain-high proof spirit, such as 100-plus proof vodka

1/2 cup sugar


Combine the flavorings and the high-proof spirit in a mason jar. Seal and let steep for 15 day,  making sure to give it a good shake every day.

Strain the infused spirit into clean jar through cheese cloth, and reserve the solids.

Muddle the solids into a paste, put them into a sauce pan, cover with 2 cups water and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain through cheese cloth.

Add the sugar to the infused water and stir until dissolved.

Add the mixture to the infused grain spirit, and let sit for 5 days. Shake vigorously daily.

Transfer to a dropper bottle.



Smart likes locally made Bimini gin in this cocktail.

Yields 1 cocktail

2 ounces gin

¾ ounce white cranberry juice

½ ounce lemon juice


½ ounce simple syrup

2 dashes Christmas Bitters

Cranberries, for garnish

Shake all ingredients but the berries with ice, strain into cocktail coupe, and garnish with cranberries.

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