Back where I’m from we generally have one type of cone that falls off a tree and that is a pine cone. We don’t have an abundance of conifers so when I moved to Ontario, Canada I was quickly corrected when I called a cone from a spruce tree a pine cone. Who’d have thunk it! So, not to look stupid, I started calling all cones that fell from trees, “yard cones”. It makes sense if you think about it and you don’t have to become a tree expert in order to identify them.
Now, being a florist for 100 years all of our cones came in a box. Some had wooden picks added, some were varnished, some even scented and they were kind of pricy! But here, ahhh, here they were just hanging from trees and lying on the ground! I was in pine, I mean, YARD cone heaven!!! I have used literally thousands of cones over the past fifteen years and loved every one of them. Let me share some tips with you about how to select and care for your own yard cones.
Selecting the proper cones
Your cones should be a beautiful copper colour. (see image 1) Avoid the cones that look grey or are brittle as these are most likely from last year’s crop. (see image 2) Cones that are still on the tree and have any green colour at all should be left to mature. (see image3)
Preparing your cones for use
Yard cones are usually ready to be collected in the early fall, depending
on where you live, of course. I wish I had a nickel for every cone my family and I have picked up, I would be beyond wealthy! We normally used strong garbage bags to hold them and sometimes, but not often, gloves because they can be quite sticky!
After you bring your cones home you need to store them OUTSIDE. Like, on the porch, under the carport, etc, NOT THE GARAGE. Believe it or not, you collected them from outdoors and they often times have all sorts of critters residing in them. (see image 4) Once these little guys get warm they love coming out and making themselves at home. By leaving the cones outside any freeloading critters stay in the cone or at the very least, in the bag.
If you are going to use the cones for outside decorations, you’re all set. Carry on and have fun. However, if you are bringing them inside, listen up, we need to de-critter them!
This is so easy I wish I had thought of it.
-Line the shelves of your oven with heavy duty aluminum foil.
-Turn the oven on to 175F and start filling the shelves with the cones. Be careful not to put too many in at a time.
-Bake them for one hour or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Wait… wrong recipe. An hour is way long enough to kill any critters. Now, an added bonus of this step is that the heat of the oven will also open any tight yard cones! Isn’t that exciting? Amusing? Sorry… I get carried away. 🙁
If, after an hour, some of your cones need to open a little more, carry on while checking them every ten minutes or so.
Oh… did I mention the heavenly fragrance these baking yard cones emit? Well, I should have because they do!
Now, I’m usually doing this when it’s cold outside so after I turn off the oven I leave the cones in and the oven door open, until they are completely cooled. Oh, and the critters? I have yet to be grossed out or faint due to seeing a few dead bodies. Just wipe out the inside of your oven when you’re finished, the foil catches 99.9% of the cremains.
Once you’ve completed this step most yard cones are good to go but some need a little more attention.
Dirty cones have never been an issue with me because I usually pick them straight from the tree. If, however, you feel that yours could do with a little cleaning, here’s how:
- Fill your sink, bathtub or swimming pool, depending on how many cones you are cleaning, with room temperature water.
- Place your cones gently, or make a game of it and toss them from across the room, in the water.
- Using your hands, spatula or rake, move the cones around so that any dirt is dislodged. Once you’ve done this, let them set for awhile and repeat.
- Place the cones in a clean container or bag and let them dry.
Some cones like to close back up but once they are dry and warm they will return to their previous state of openness.
- To remove sap from your hands, use a little kitchen oil on your hands and then wash them. You’re welcome.
- For scented cones, place them in a bag or container. Add essential oil and water into a spray bottle. I don’t have exact measurements because not all oils are created equal. Some are very strong therefore will require fewer drops. Spray the cones, toss them around and spray them again. Do this until you are satisfied with the intensity of their fragrance. Let dry out of the container.
- Yard cones can be spray painted or you can paint just the tips with acrylic paint to simulate snow. Add a little glitter for a frosty look.
- For rich, shiny cones, use a spray varnish and work outside. Be sure to cover your work surface well before spraying the cones. DO NOT PUT PAINTED OR VARNISHED CONES IN THE OVEN, EVER!!!
- Yard cones can be bleached, however I, personally have never done so. There are lots of recipes on the internet, let me know if you try one!
- The life expectancy of the average yard cone is… like I know! I do know that if they are picked early and properly cared for they will last years. If they get dusty, throw them in the sink or tub and wash them with a mild detergent. I, myself, don’t have a problem with dust but I read somewhere that this would work. 😉