Our ranch partners with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to preserve the range land for wildlife grazing. Every year Bob Hammond, who is a Program Manager for the RMEF, comes out for a visit to judge the condition of the forage. Bob is a wealth of natural information and we always look forward to his visits. For example, this year I finally understood the difference between the Digger and Gray Pines through his description.I'm trying to master the identification of conifers. It's devilishly hard.
It turns out there is NO difference between Digger and Gray. They are the same. Digger is just what they used to call the Gray pine. We have a lot of Gray pines on our property along with the Blue Oak and Manzanita. If we ever have to move I'm going to miss the abundance of well seasoned Blue Oak to burn in our wood stove.
Bob also told us how to take those Gray pine cones and make something lovely with them. He told us how to make them naturally shiny (and kill insects that may be sheltering in the cone). So when the weather was good and dry this past weekend we went for a walk along the creek where all the Gray pine trees were and we collected a lot of cones. He said pick the ones that are reddish brown. Leave behind the weathered gray ones. When you get home set your oven to the lowest temperature it will go (200 degrees will be fine), line a cookie sheet with newspaper or tin foil and slowly bake the cones for a long time. (It might take you all day but you can turn the oven off and start again if you need to.) As they bake, turn them every 15 minutes or so. A nice plus is that it will make your kitchen smell very nice. What will happen is that the heat will melt the sap and it will drip over the cones making them naturally shiny. Make sure the oven is set low. If it's too high it is possible that you could set your oven on fire! It is pitch after all! After a few hours remove them from the oven to cool and you'll have beautiful shiny pine cones that are insect-free.
Before: I'm wearing gloves because of the sap and the sharp ends.
This technique works with cones of all sizes.
After: The one on the left has a lovely patina. See how the un-baked one is not as shiny?
I'm going to put them on the mantle at Christmas or in a center piece on our Thanksgiving table. What will you do with them?