I have a big stash of pine pollen I've been waiting to use the cold months and I finally got around to making some new things with it. If you're not familiar, pine pollen is a thing, similar to cattail pollen, but much easier to harvest in my opinion, as the window for capturing it is wider, and you don't need to trudge through a cattail marsh, battling sinkholes, leeches, and, the smell of stagnant water.
When asking the question "what can you make with pine or cattail pollen?" far and away, the first thing that will come to mind for the majority of people familiar with the product is pancakes.
Unfortunately, most of the recipes available are heavier on the romance than thoughtful preparation. And I get it, kinda. It's novel to cook with the pollen of plants-people have been doing it for a long time, but just because you put 2 tablespoons of pollen into 2 cups of flour doesn't mean it's going to have any difference on how the finished products taste.
"If you put enough butter and maple syrup on something no one is going to complain, even if they would never have been able to tell if there was pollen in it in the first place."
Pollen=more texture than flavor
Here's the skinny. Pollen is a mild tasting culinary product, with the exception of a couple commercial varieties of pine pollen (yes it's harvested commercially) that have a strong, bitter pine flavor. All of the pine pollen I've tasted is very, very mild stuff. Cattail pollen, by comparison, has a sort of gentle floral quality to it, a bit like bready flowers, if that makes any sense. It's a delicate taste, and pollen, generally speaking, is more of a textural thing that a seasoning.
Pollen has a soft, granular texture you'll notice. It's a pleasant sort of granular, not to be confused with sandy. In the pancakes, a hint of that texture is what you will notice far more than any sort of flowery, pollen flavor. For a true invocation of the flavor of pollen, you'll want to use it in very simple things where large amounts of it are used, as in traditional Khirret candy, or for a recipe that uses a small amount for a great flavor, take a look at my pasta with pollen butter sauce for some inspiration.
To have a strong pollen flavor in a batch of pancakes, quickbread, pasta, or another place people might use it, you would need to use large amounts of it. With pollen being a very labor intensive thing to collect, using, say, a cup of it in pancake batter seems silly, and downright wasteful to me. But, if you put enough butter and maple syrup on something, no one is going to complain, even if they would never have been able to tell if there was pollen in it in the first place. Rant over.
Mugolio/Pine Cone Syrup
The other fun thing here, and the ingredient that you'll taste much more than a couple spoonfuls of pollen in a pancake, is mugolio / pine cone syrup. If you haven't made mugolio yet, stop thinking about cooking with pollen right now, go grab some young green pine cones (I also make a version with spruce tips that's excellent) and put up a batch, then go get some pollen. I guarantee you it's worth the amount of effort (it takes at least a month) to make.
Pollen Pancakes with Conifer Syrup and Berries
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- ¼ cup pine pollen sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter melted
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon mild honey
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- A few scrapes of fresh lemon zest
- Pine cone mugolio or spruce tip syrup as needed
- Fresh or frozen wild blueberries or regular blueberries
- Unsalted butter at room temperature, or whipped cream
- Whisk the wet ingredients.
- In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients, then fold into the wet.
- If the mixture looks thick, add a splash of water.
- Cook two tablespoons of the batter at a time to make small silver dollar sized pancakes.
- Serve each person 3 pancakes each with warm wild blueberries, soft butter and the pine cone syrup at the table. Sometimes we serve them with a sprinkle of black walnuts too.