As part of my ‘Year in Provisions’ project–which isn’t really a year long gig at all but rather a complete change in life-style and way of being in the world–I have wanted to extract myself from the dependency of store-bought sugar. One way of doing this would be to get bees (which is on my wish list and my list of things to do!) The other way, and the more traditional in my part of the world, is to tap trees, extract their sweet sap and render it down into a sweet, tasty syrup.
This year I managed (finally) to get organized enough before the trees were out in leaf, and it was all too late. What spurred me in to action this year was the two weeks of really warm weather we experienced at the end of February. I suddenly felt behind in everything during those ten or so days and realized that if I wanted to give tree tapping a try, I’d better get moving. Luckily it got much colder again (luckily?… did I actually say that out loud) and the trees have remained in their hibernation state.
Last week I found a local man who has experimented over the years with both maple and birch syrup making. Not only was he kind enough to tell me about his experiments and provide advice, but he also lent me 10 spiles (the official thingys you tap the trees with) and ten ice cream buckets to catch the sap in. Not wanting to inadvertently poison myself, when he dropped off the tools I showed him what I thought were my Douglas maple trees. I needed the verification because locally they are called ‘Vine Maples’ and not being a woodsman, I really wasn’t sure if I was on the right track or not.
He assured me they are indeed a Douglas Maple and that they are repudiated to be one of the best sugar maples in terms of flavour. Such good producers, he’s stopped tapping the birch trees altogether and is now focussing on just the Maples. He told me excitedly he’s found a few Norway Maples and he is going to experiment with that type this year.
Yesterday, I tapped the three maples on my property and seven of the birches. I have found through internet research that you can mixed the two saps and form a uniquely flavoured syrup. The maple provides a better conversion of sap to syrup than the birch (40 to 1 versus 80-100 to 1). So the blending of the two saps should make the rendering process less time consuming than straight birch sap–or so my theory goes!
Sadly, I found my camera is on the blink so I don’t have pre-syrup pics for you of my own tapped trees. However, I found a very interesting set of photos and gleaned them, and this idea, from the web. It shows the traditional way (without metal spiles) of tapping trees. Just goes to show how simple this process can be! I just might try it as well and not bother to buy spiles.
If you are wanting to try the Birch Syrup without having to do it all yourself, here is a list of possibilities: