Are pine cones edible

Barbara Untermarzoner enters the kitchen with a branch under her arm. She lays the mountain pine branch on the work surface and begins to pluck, a laborious, meditative work. After a few minutes she has two handfuls of green needles together, throws them into a blender, pours in 250 milliliters of rapeseed oil, adds a bunch of fresh parsley and half a handful of sunflower seeds and presses the start button. The blender has to work properly, it cracks and cracks, but after a few minutes a green cream has formed and an ethereal, spicy aroma fills the room. It is vaguely reminiscent of a mountain pine foam bath. When you close your eyes, you think you're standing in the forest.

If you open your eyes again, you can also see the forest from the kitchen window: You first look at a herb bed, a meadow and then at tall fir trees. The "Tann" hotel, in which Barbara Untermarzoner is at the stove, is located on Tannstrasse on the Renon near Bozen, surrounded by conifers. Your kitchen looks a bit like squirrels were responsible for the shopping list: on the shelves there are glasses and cans with juniper berries, pine cones, spruce shoots, dried mushrooms, roots, flowers, needles, herbs and nuts.

The forest is not only the backdrop and namesake for the hotel, it is also the theme of the restaurant. "Forest kitchen" is what Barbara Untermarzoner calls her way of cooking; she likes to use ingredients that she collects on her daily walks in the area, she preserves fruits, nuts and mushrooms according to traditional methods and creates new dishes with them. It combines sea fish with wood notes, forest herbs with fruits and pasta with mountain pine. The bright green paste plays an important supporting role in the evening menu: the pine pesto gives the beetroot capeletti made from kamut flour a refreshing, ethereal note. In addition, host Markus Untermarzoner serves dumplings with bresaola and "forest spice" (stone pine powder), followed by sea bass with "Tschurtschen" (pine cones) cooked on a stone pine board. Even the spring water is flavored with stone pine. Only the wine doesn't taste woody, luckily.

Leaves of some tree species such as elm, linden, hazel and red beech are also edible

Archaic ingredients from the forest have not been considered backwoods anymore, at least since the success of Nordic cuisine, on the contrary. The Danish star chef René Redzepi made his restaurant "Noma" world famous with fried lichen, birch sap or a dip made from black ants. The South Tyrolean two-star chef Heinrich Schneider prepares extremely creative menus with the herbs, mushrooms and mosses that he finds around his "Terra" restaurant in Sarntal. And the Swiss eco-pioneer Stefan Wiesner has been running a natural experimental kitchen in his restaurant "Rössli" in Escholzmatt for decades, which is as avant-garde as it is adventurous - he cooks with wood shavings, makes miso from stone pine, grinds stones into flour, sonicates mountain salt with heavy metal music and pumpkin marinated with formic acid (keeping the insects alive). The trend has also arrived in big cities like Berlin, where you can actually buy something decent to eat on every corner: During "foraging", self-appointed woodruff roam through parks and forests to pick up rose hips, nuts and dandelions.

Creative self-sufficiency with ingredients from nature - that works like a countermovement to the stylish, highly artificial molecular cuisine, in which food was deconstructed and transformed into something new. The forest kitchen can also be understood as the answer to ready-made pizza and convenience food, to waste and plastic waste. Hardly anything seems more sustainable than the careful collection and preparation of resources that the forest offers. The forest kitchen was probably the first and most natural form of nutrition known to mankind: Long before grain was grown and animals were raised, our ancestors collected berries, nuts, herbs and leaves in order to survive. The forest is a huge pantry, and more and more chefs are rediscovering ingredients such as beechnuts, edible roots, acorns and unusual types of mushrooms. Cookbooks on the tree kitchen remind you that the leaves of some tree species such as elm, linden, hazel and red beech are also edible. "The forest gives us a lot, we just forgot about it," says Barbara Untermarzoner.

For Stefan Wiesner, the way he cooks is part of his own natural philosophy. René Redzepi orientates himself on the course of the months, parts of his autumn menu read like a log of the seasonal development of the forest. Barbara Untermarzoner, on the other hand, is far from supporting her work philosophically. She also does not stage her dishes with dry ice mist and prefers to use plain plates instead of granite chunks or pieces of bark, as some restaurants like to do. From her grandmother and mother she learned to find special natural resources: "As children we collected spotted fern, it grows on stones," says Barbara Untermarzoner, "we dug up the roots and chewed them, it tastes like liquorice." In her restaurant, she uses the ground roots, also known as "angelic sweet", for desserts. In the forest kitchen, food is once again used that has long been neglected due to its lack of prestige. Barley soup or fried spruce sprouts. Wood chips in the sauce used to be more a sign of bitter poverty than evidence of avant-garde culinary art.

Today sushi and pizza are more common than mountain pine pesto and nettle tea, so the culinary specialties are no longer in the distance, but on the doorstep. "The guest is oversaturated - Italian, Thai, molecular cuisine, vegan, the trends come one after the other," says the forest cook. A return to natural, regional food is an obvious step from her point of view, especially since her variety of forest cuisine is simple and healthy.

"Our guests want to eat down-to-earth and regional, not exotic."

Barbara Marzoner has been working full-time in the kitchen and in the forest for eight years, before that she worked with her husband in the management of the hotel. At some point she had had enough of the fact that her chefs wanted to realize themselves with misunderstood avant-garde cuisine and pseudo-modern approaches. "Our guests want to eat down-to-earth and regional, not exotic," she says. She can do without the big show. "My kitchen is not a laboratory and my plates are not works of art, they are grounded," she says. And what could be more grounded than the forest?

Sometimes, however, Barbara Untermarzoner does experiment, frying meat with pine cones to give it a resinous forest aroma, or pickling spruce shoots like pickles. She turns stone pine into a powder that she sprinkles over pasta and meat as a spice. Incidentally, the mountain pine pesto is not a new invention, in South Tyrol farmers were already crushing tree needles in mortars long before blenders were invented. The essential oils are good for the stomach, support the immune system and are helpful in case of a cold. "When I was sick earlier as a child, my mother would make me spruce tea," says Barbara Untermarzoner. This is not rocket science: Simply scald a fresh spruce branch with hot water, let it steep - done. The tea has an amazingly strong, spicy aroma. In contrast to mountain pine, spruce tastes much fresher, almost grassy.

Barbara Untermarzoner loves her forest. Every day she walks there for at least half an hour and looks for mushrooms, berries and roots. Often she walks barefoot to get a better feel of the forest floor. Last summer she lost herself in the forest: "I was lying in a clearing, watching the clouds and completely forgetting the time," she says. She came back just in time for the dinner menu.

It is quite possible that your dishes tasted particularly fresh and natural that evening.