Birch Sap

We are now at the height of the birch sap collecting season and I am out every other day with my spiles and drill and hammer. I started collecting early this year - the mild, wet weather in Dorset encouraged an early sap rising. The early sap, however, is quite low in sugar (about one half of one percent) but is almost up to one percent now and with more flavour. Not that it ever has much flavour.

I have a long standing argument with Hugh FW about birch sap wine. He reckons it is marvellous stuff with a slightly woody tang to it. I maintain that as birch sap is almost tasteless a wine made from water (assuming all the other ingredients - concentrated grape juice, lemon juice etc. are kept identical) would taste the same. Well I have at last enbarked on a couple of controlled experiments to settle the matter once and for all. I rather hope I am wrong. Still, it will be nice to said I have made wine from water - there is only one recorded incident of this happening and it was a long time ago.

I suspect, though I can find no reference to it anywhere, that, historically, birch sap wine would be made from concentrated sap (it is a source of a difficult to find commodity - sugar). So I have boiled down six litres to get a pathetic half a litre or so which will have the required sugar content (not to mention a lot more flavour) for winemaking.

I have collected about twenty litres so far - too much to just make wine with - and intend to make some syrup with it. Reduced to a high sugar content it tastes like treacle and diesal oil so I will stop the reduction early and add sugar, effectively using the sap as a flavouring. Great on pancakes.

Probably the best way to use the sap is as a straight drink. It is very slightly sweet and incredibly fresh tasting. I was talking to the very lovely Polish girl in our garage and she says her father collects it just to use as a drink and as a tonic. I have seen the stuff bottled for sale online and it fetches an impressive £10 per litre. I keep telling my wife we are rich but all she thinks about is the lack of room in our fridge. Women, eh?

If you intend to collect some sap then you will have to hurry. The sap stops rising in a week or two and the late sap is what the maple tappers call "buddy" (the buds by then are just starting to appear) and has some nasty off flavours including a distinct popcorn aroma.







John Wright: 14th Mar 2011 10:00:00

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