Most well-equipped kitchens have a place where the dried spices are kept. It could be a drawer, or a cabinet shelf or even a spice rack on the counter. And when we think of spices that we use, we think of bark - like cinnamon. We think of roots - like ginger. And we think of dried fruit - like black pepper, allspice and juniper berries. But did you know that juniper berries are not, strictly speaking, berries?
Junipers are conifers , which means their seeds are found in cones rather than in fruits. So instead of calling them juniper berries, perhaps we ought to call them juniper “cones”.
But hey...those “berries” certainly don’t look like pine cones, do they?
No they don’t. But looks, as we all know, can be deceiving. According to Amy Stuart, author of “The Drunken Botanist”, that’s because the scales are so fleshy they resemble the skin of a fruit”. (Click here  for a closer look.)
Junipers have been around since the time of the supercontinent Pangaea , about 250 million years ago. That explains why the species known as Common Juniper, (Juniperous communis), is native to Europe, Asia and North America, including California. Common Juniper is one of the 8 native species of Juniper found in California. (Click here  for a list with photos.)
Common Juniper is a dioecious shrub, which means each plant is either a male or a female. They are wind pollinated and the cones take two years to mature.
And we certainly make good use of these cones in our kitchens. Juniper “cones” are used to flavor wild game and lamb, as well as other European dishes such as sauerbraten.
And what would a cocktail party be without the classic Martini, which contains gin and a splash of vermouth. Did you know that gin is flavored with...you guessed it...juniper “cones”!
Free App. For those of you who are looking for a good birding app for your Apple cellphone or iPad, the Cornell Lab of Ornitholgy is offering a free app. Click here  for more information.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at email@example.com  for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, January 8, 15, 22, & 29.
Saturday mornings, January 18.
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has a website with trail maps  of our local open spaces.
There’s also a new website for bicycle riders .
Ask Dr. Norm : Do you have questions about the flora, fauna, animals, rocks, etc. in our Santa Clarita Valley? Here’s a place for you to ask your questions. Dr. Norman Herr, Ph.D., is a professor of science and computer education at CaliforniaStateUniversity, Northridge.
Tell Us About Your Hike : Here’s a new website where you can post pictures, provide feedback and make suggestions about the City of Santa Clarita’s trails and open spaces.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The SCV Outdoor Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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