Food experimentation – Juniper Berry

It’s time to experiment – time to shake the jarred spaghetti sauce off the taste buds.  Time for Juniper.  That sounds so positive yet I haven’t yet tried to the Juniper Berries I bought this weekend.  While at the farmers market my husband asked me to buy some ordinary spices.  Once confronted with a barrage of spices at the spice wall I panicked.  I had no idea what most of the spices were or how I would ever use them.  Still my life needs more than salt, pepper and garlic so I closed my eyes, spun around three times and grabbed Juniper Berries.  Now it’s time to learn about them.

My total knowledge is that they’re the flavor in gin.  That’s a bit disturbing because I don’t really like gin.  Oh well – onward.

First a caveat.  As I was researching Juniper Berries a couple of sites do say that they should not be eaten by young children, the elderly, pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding or people with kidney problems.   ‘nuff said – proceed with caution.

A Bit of Juniper Folklore

Juniper berries

Photo credit: St. Murse

On the upside side, during the Middle Ages, Juniper, even just the scent, was thought to ward off the plague and not just plague but witches and other evil spirits as well.  I’m not sure when I’ll need to ward off the plague but I now have a supply of the berries around just in case.  I may know a few witches, but that’s a discussion for another blog.

Herbal remedies were the medicine of the Middle Ages and Juniper was right in the mix – fighting urinary tract problems, gallstones and there was even a remedy for gout.   Those folk were just as meddlesome in the 1500s as we are today; never able to leave well enough alone.  Since the Juniper was already being used for urinary problems a Dutch pharmacist had the idea of creating a diuretic drink.  He called it gin.  At this point my brain has a mental image of a gypsy wagon and self-professed medicine man traveling the countryside with his latest cure for snake bites…no no wait – for whatever ails you.  Gin as medicine, as bad as gin tastes I should have realized the connection sooner than I did.

As a spice Juniper is the only one derived from conifers; it’s a female seed cone.  Now my mental image switches to the Grape Nuts ads from the 70s with Naturalist Euell Gibbons munching on a pine tree.

Common Juniper Berry Uses in Cooking

I did find the reason I don’t typically cook with Juniper Berries.  Besides gin, Juniper is mainly used in northern European cooking especially in strongly flavored meat dishes such as wild birds and game meats.  To go along with those game meats you’ll also find Juniper flavoring cabbage and sauerkraut.

Since I have the berries and with no plague epidemic in sight I’ve been on the lookout for a recipe I can make.  Using the same method as I did when I found the berries on the spice rack I closed my eyes and picked a random recipe.

English: Rabbit shape Français : Silhouette d'...

Barbecued Rabbit

Serves 4

1 Young Rabbit, jointed – If the neighbors should see me crawling through the garden wearing a pith helmet and carrying a shotgun I mean them no harm it’s just so I can test this recipe.

4 oz. Mushrooms, chopped

2 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1 tsp. each:  Chopped Parsley and Chopped Chives

4 Juniper Berries, crushed (do this at the last-minute because they quickly lose their aroma)

2 tbsp. Oil

1 tbsp. Gin

Salt and Black Pepper

1. Make deep incisions in each piece with the tip of a sharp knife

2. Place chopped mushrooms atop the rabbit pieces

3. In a bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients until well blended.  Pour over the rabbit. Coat thoroughly then marinate for 2 hours, turning the pieces from time to time.

4. Bake until cooked through, turning from time to time; basting with the remaining marinade. Serve hot.  The recipe was cooking over coals – I’m guessing about a 350 degree oven will work – check after 15-20 minutes.

A Final Thought

Blacklight Gin and Tonic

Photo credit: _fluffy

I may have to rethink my distaste for gin since I discovered some people consider it a remedy for arthritis.  I see more Juniper Berry experimentation in my future.

What’s been your most successful food experiment?  Let us all know in the comments section below.

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