Intel from two experienced foragers, Liz Knight @foragefinefoods and Rupert Waites @buck_and_birch, to prompt some tree tapping; we can try this at home?!
LK: “Birch sap is rising. Break a twig from a birch tree and within moments pearls of clear magical birch water will start to drip out.
From the moment sap starts rising you’ve got 3 – 4 weeks to collect the liquid crop. If you’ve not tasted birch sap before, do it this year – not from a bottle in a supermarket, but straight from the tree; it is silken, cooling, energetic water with the merest hint of sweetness. That sweetness comes from xylitol, fructose & glucose; the ‘mere hint’ comes from the fact that there isn’t much sugar in there, anything from ½ percent to 2 percent sugar at the most.
To turn birch sap into the intense, deeply flavoured birch syrup you’ll need to reduce your sap to a sugar concentration of around 66% – now I’m no mathematical genius but even I know that’s a lot of reduction to get the amber nectar. (It’s a thumb in the air average of a 100 times reduction. That’s a lot of evaporation.) If you value your deep, dark, brewery like taste buds at all, you’ll give this a go, not much in life or in a drinks fridge matches up to a pipette of birch syrup in a cocktail. As lovely and medicinal & worthy as raw birch sap is, turning it into a little bottle of wild magic is, to me, more important.”
RW: “My best discovery as a forager is probably still birch syrup. Though each new discovery be it hogweed, spoots, pepper dulse or a new edible mushroom is exhilarating.
Birch syrup is still mystical and magical even though I read a fair bit about how if happens. Eagerly waiting in late winter for just the right conditions. The slumber of winter is dusted off and excitement builds. Taps and drills and bits are washed. Containers found and possible sites reccee’d Exploratory holes are drilled and it’s always disappointment first before striking gold. For me it is the start of the year. Last year’s sunshine stored in the roots and being circulated to kickstart the photosynthetic process again. The clear liquid has to be taken quickly, every day, to be processed. Boiled and passed and then simmered and passed again before being gently evaporated to a thick black gold and then jealously guarded.
It’s such a well hidden gem and such a pain in the ass to get. Our Scottish Betula pendula is considered superior to the North American B. papyrifera in terms of flavour and complexity but ours is not available comercially at all. It’s a definite case of if you want it….. you have to get it yourself.”
Encouraged by all this?
Jane tapped a branch this year and got results…
For more detail, Fergus Drennan’s piece Tapping Birch Collecting Birch for mineral water, wine, beer, vinegar and syrup is a great resource >>
Next steps? See this article “From sap to syrup“