Juniper berries (Recipe: lamb stew with juniper berries)
Guest post and photos by Marcia in Rhode Island.
Every family has one. A non-conformist.
In the pine family, juniper is the rebel. Unlike its cousin, the slender and erect red cedar, juniper spreads low to the ground, sloppily, in all directions. Another cousin, white pine, can be lumbered, while juniper is almost impossible to uproot. And a third cousin, hemlock, has feathery soft needles; juniper’s are nasty, vicious little things.
Most of the pine cousins have woody cones that send seeds flying into the wind; the fruits start off as a cluster of fleshy scale, and when they dry out, they look like the familiar pine cones.
Juniper holds its cones tightly on the branches; the scales stay fleshy and look like berries, but they’re not. What we call juniper berries are actually soft purplish “pine cones”.
Years ago, on our farm, we could pick our own juniper berries. The abandoned apple orchard had surrendered to thickets of juniper long before we came there.
Each December after the first light snowstorm, we bundled up the kids and walked to the juniper field. Picking was slow business as we tried to avoid the prickly needles and not crush the soft fruits. Our collecting pail never filled quickly, or completely. And, of course, we got distracted tracking rabbits, fox and turkeys. (That's me in the photo, in my furry hat, with one of my daughters, picking juniper berries thirty years ago.)
We’d put the berries into a pot of simmering water on top of the woodstove, and the woodsy fragrance helped ease the darkness of December.
Though I always knew that juniper berries had culinary uses (gin, pickling spices), I never cooked with them until recently. Juniper pairs well with sauerkraut, wild game, roast duck and “calico beans”, a combination of mashed potatoes and carrots, flavored with thyme and juniper berries. Use it sparingly, for its tang can overpower some dishes.
Juniper features in German, Italian, French, Scandinavian and Russian cuisines. It’s cultivated in several countries, including Italy and Turkey; the bottle in my pantry is from Albania by way of Penzeys (or World Spice Merchants).
Yes, I now have to buy my juniper berries. Our field was eventually shaded by taller species, and no junipers remain.
This winter I’ll have juniper simmering on the wood stove; I’ll cook with it, too, reminded of those December berry-picking walks long ago.
Lamb stew with juniper berries
With rice or noodles, this recipe serves 4-6.
1 lb boneless lamb shoulder stew meat, cut into 1" cubes
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 TBS olive oil
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
2 cups beef broth
3 medium red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into1/2-inch rounds
4 juniper berries
1 bay leaf
Season the lamb with salt and pepper. In a heavy stew pot, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat, and brown the meat on all sides. With a slotted spoon, transfer meat to a plate. Lower heat to medium and sauté shallots and garlic until soft. Stir in the flour and cook for two minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the wine and deglaze the pot, scraping to incorporate the browned bits into the liquid. Stir in the beef broth. Return meat to pot, adding potatoes, carrots, juniper berries, and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then cover pot and simmer for 2 hours.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Root vegetables with beef stew
Countertop dill pickles
Lamb tagine with prunes and apricots
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.
I've never had juniper berries before, and I wonder how many are probably growing right in my parents' backyard--I'll have to peek around next time I visit! This stew sounds like it would be so delicious--as soon as I get myself some juniper, I'm all over it.
I'm going to have to look for juniper berries. I've heard about them, but never cooked with them. The lamb sounds wonderful - perfect for the return of braising season!
What a fun post. I've never tasted juniper berries, but they're an ingredient in gin, right? I am imagining that slightly astringent flavor and thinking it would be good. The stew looks delicious.
How very interesting! I enjoyed your post very much and the lamb stew looks delicious. Thank you.
This guest blogger made the most delicious gingerbread cookies that I have ever tasted. Is there a chance of sharing the recipe? They are heaven!
I didn't know that they were here for the picking! Thank you.
Hey Mike, don't literally get all over juniper, you'll be in severe pain. LOL. Seriously I hope you do get a chance to try some.
T.W., The lamb in this recipe was extremely flavorful and o-so-tender. Braise on!
Kalyn, Yes, it's an ingredient in gin. I have heard (but never tried) that if you don't have juniper berries, you can add gin to a recipe.
Paz, Thanks! It was delish and fragrant. Too bad this isn't smell- o- blog.
Laura, Thank you.....They are good aren't they?! Their secret ingredient is not juniper. Check your email.
Bev, Yes, they are right here for the picking...and the colors of the shrub would make a great subject for a painting.
I have two lamb haunches in the freeze earmarked for the New Year's Eve buffet table. Stew looks delicious - perhaps you've solved my dilemma. Thanks. PS I think you are lucky to be alive going out in the woods with that hat on in the late fall....
I bought juniper berries for a recipe and have only used them once. I am always looking for more ways to use them.
You mentioned sauerkraut dishes: the Alsatian version of choucroute garnie can use either gin OR juniper berries to get the traditional flavor -- that always amused me. The lamb recipe sounds great!
Peter, Sounds like your New Year's Eve is off to a good start.
You're right about the hat! These days I wear flash-orange from head to toe.
Pam, I hope you enjoy using juniper with lamb. How did you use the berries?
Mae, I am glad you sent a comment. I never heard of choucroute garnie before, so I googled it. Wow! sounds delish, hearty, perfect for winter....and full of juniper berries! Thanks.
i'm always looking for recipes for lamb stews and I have never tried juniper berries. Thanks for this delicious looking recipe!
Veron, You're welcome..hope you enjoy the combination.
Are those fresh juniper berries?
I like to drop a couple in apple or pear compote once in a while...delicious! Lamb stew...hmmmhmmmhmmm!
Lovely juniper picking story! Lovely lamb stew!
I cooked with juniper berries 30 years ago and the roast was amazing. You've brought it back to me and I must try them again.
Maya, That is the best question! The berries in the first photo above I bought from Penzeys and they are dried. The fresh ones I pick look much the same, with a luster. Either is good in the recipe.
Tartelette, what a fantastic combination for winter. Thanks!
My Kitchen, Guess the seventies were the years for juniper berries! At any rate, I'll try it with a roast next. Thanks.
What a great article---I had no idea juniper berries could be paired with so many different types of food, from sauerkraut to roast duck.
When I think of all the juniper bushes I've come in contact with over the years, and all the opportunities I had (that I never even knew about) to cook with this abundant berry, it makes me wonder what other ingredients are surrounding me could be pepping up my recipes!
I wouldn't have been much help picking juniper berries with you, I would have been off after turkeys or whatever other game that just happened along.
I've had juniper paired with venison, but lamb would be strong enough to handle it too. Lovely!
Sandie, Thanks. Will you be off on a Euell Gibbons search for food this morning?!
Neil, That is the fun of it!
Aimee, I'd love to try them with venison, but the only pairing I've seen is deer munching near the juniper bushes.
I have used Juniper berries in the past for an excellent coq au vin, but have lost the recipe. If anyone can help, I'd really appreciate it!
Mandy, I hope someone responds because I'd love to have it also. Sounds delicious.
How 'bout it Perfect Pantry-ites??????
That old picture is just precious. And thanks for the info on juniper berries. They're wonderful.
Susan, Thank you; it brought back alot of delightful memories.
I hope you have an opportunity to track down some junipers.