If a whiff of gin brings pine trees to mind, juniper berries are to thank; their astringent, peppery notes have fueled the alcohol since it was invented in the 1500s.
Found on conifer trees, the petite frosty blue berries aren't even berries — they're tiny cones. Industrious Minnesotans know they can forage their own, but for the rest of us, dried berries are widely available in stores. And now is their time to shine.
Crush juniper berries before using to release their intense flavor. Give them a home in stocks, brines and marinades; they're the perfect complement to lamb, venison, pork or salmon. They're commonly used in pickling and fermenting, adding a distinctive funk to sauerkraut, and have been known to make appearances in cookies, too. Infused, they add a seasonal kick to salts, teas and simple syrups, ready for your signature holiday cocktail, cookie or latte.
But a word of caution: As with gin, a little bit of juniper goes a long way.