Take a walk in a juniper forest in Italy, breathe deeply, and you can’t help but think of cocktail hour. That’s because the scent of these berries is so closely associated with a certain white spirit. The berry is harvested primarily to make gin, which takes its name from the word for juniper berry, genièvre in French and Geneva in Dutch.
Dried juniper berries are one of the few spices to come from cold-climate regions, and the only spice from a conifer. It is harvested from an evergreen cypress (Juniperus communis) that grows wild and abundantly in chalky, hilly Alpine regions of Europe, North America and Asia. The purple-black, pea-sized berries, usually harvested in autumn, have a woody fragrance with a hint of turps, while the taste is strong, sharp and refreshing with notes of pine, resin… and gin.
Major juniper berry producers are Italy and Hungary, and accordingly, they are best known in European dishes: think the German specialty sauerkraut, hot dishes featuring meats such as game and duck, bread stuffings, pâtés and home-cured meats, such as salt beef and pork. Their powerful piney character cuts through and complements strongly flavoured, fatty meats, but also works well in some fruit-based dishes and those featuring alcohol.
Use juniper berries in ...
meat casseroles; crushed with garlic and salt as a rub for roast or barbecued lamb, pork, duck and venison; in complementary dishes such as sauerkraut, bread stuffing and apple sauce; and in pâtés. Add to a wine-based marinade for meats, team with herbs such as coriander for smoking meat, or use to add depth to fruit desserts such as apple pie. Crush juniper berries in a mortar and pestle to release their flavour and do so just before using, as their essential oils are quickly lost. They will keep for several months in an airtight container.
Juniper berries go with ...
venison, pork, game, lamb, chicken, duck, goose, rabbit, foie gras, ham, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, potato, onion, garlic, eggplant, lemon, apples, peaches, red wine, marsala, bread, fennel, thyme, sage, oregano, bay leaves, marjoram, allspice.