SURRY — Before artisanal ice cream chef Karl Holmes opened Pugnuts Ice Cream Shop with husband Eric Treworgy, he was an estate gardener.
It is his passion for botanicals that prompts Holmes to incorporate fresh herbs and plants, including oak, sumac, birch and spruce into the shop’s revolving menu of frozen treats.
“I wouldn’t have these passions if I hadn’t been where I was professionally,” said Holmes.
Right now, pale green tips are sprouting from branches of spruce trees throughout Maine.
So, spruce tip gelato has been added to the shop’s Northwoods Collection of flavors.
Don’t tarry if you’re intrigued.
“It’s developed a following among people who enjoy alternative flavors,” Holmes said. “Lots of people like it a whole lot. We put a bunch in the freezer because the window for getting the tips is short.”
Holmes describes the flavor akin to spruce chewing gum.
It reminded us of Necco wafers — vaguely minty.
“This isn’t a flavor that’s for everyone I don’t think,” the ice cream maker said.
Holmes harvests tips from spruce throughout the couple’s property overlooking Contention Cove in Surry. The seven-acre parcel has been in Treworgy’s family for a couple hundred years.
Gathering spruce tips is simple. You don’t even need clippers. Just pinch off the buds with your fingers. Remember to bring a container to collect the tips. Peel off any brown husk that might cover the tips before incorporating them in your recipe.
You’ll want to collect a cup or two for making the ice cream recipe Holmes provided.
The gardener turned chef said he was inspired to incorporate arboreal flavors from a cookbook called “The Boreal Feast.”
That’s the work of Yukon-based author Michele Genest who also wrote “The Boreal Gourmet” (Harbour Publishing).
The Boreal forest, which includes Maine, stretches around the upper third of the Northern Hemisphere. It is the world’s largest habitat, encompassing Minnesota, Michigan and New York as well as Canada, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Russia and Japan.
In “Feast” Genest says picking spruce tips is an easy way to introduce yourself to foraging.
But, Holmes thinks beyond the spruce tips.
“We make a ton of flavors that are tree-themed,” he said. “From the same Scandinavian cuisine, we get oak ice cream.”
Pugnuts recent offerings have included oak gelato with whiskey sauce, which Holmes makes by steeping culinary-grade toasted oak chips in milk overnight before incorporating the milk into gelato.
There also is oak with maple-sugar covered walnuts.
Birch Bark gelato is made with the same birch syrup that your grandfather may have used to make his birch beer.
Holmes said the flavor of birch bark is similar to root beer with subtle hints of mint.
“The whole theme was arborescent,” he said.
Back to foraging, Holmes says not to worry about taking too many tips.
If you want your trees to avoid looking like Christmas trees, “this is the way to do it,” he said, pinching off a tip.
“If you take tips of new growth, the tree gets bushier and bushier every year,” he continued.
Pugnuts is located at 1276 Surry Road in Surry. However, you can find ready-to-go pints for sale at many local businesses including Friends and Family Market, Acadia Provisions and Josie’s Country Market in Ellsworth; Tradewinds in Blue Hill and Orland, Burnt Cove Market in Stonington, The Galley in Deer Isle, the Brooklin General Store, Sips 2.0 in Southwest Harbor and Tideway Market in Hancock.
McGrath’s Store in Northeast Harbor is a “scoop shop” with gelato and ice-cream available by the scoop.
For more info, call 412-0086 and visit pugnuts.com.