Something to Birch About
This winter or more specifically a lack of it has made for easier heating bills and a lot less shoveling but I can’t help but wonder what will happen to this year’s maple sap harvest. For those of you who weren’t aware Ontario maple syrup producers started harvesting this year’s crop three weeks ago.
Making birch syrup is similar to making maple syrup but you need to be aware of some critical differences in the saps to be able to have a successful harvest. Birch sap harvesting begins right after the maple harvest ends as it requires warmer weather than the maple sap to flow. The birch sugaring season is shorter than maple and only lasts for about two weeks.
Birch sap contains less than half the sugar found in maple sap. This translates to approximately 100 liters of birch sap being required to produce 1 liter of birch syrup opposed to the 40 liters of maple sap required to produce 1 liter of maple syrup. Also the sugars present in birch sap are fructose and glucose instead of sucrose found in maple sap. Fructose and glucose burn very easily which necessitates birch sap being processed below its boiling point so that its sugars do not burn. Comparatively birch sap is far more expensive to produce as it requires almost 4 times the amount of energy to render it into syrup. This explains why birch syrup costs $275.00 a gallon.
Birch syrup is easier to digest than maple syrup and has significantly higher amounts of nutrients than maple syrup which is why it has been considered somewhat of an elixir or tonic throughout many cultures living in the extreme northerly regions of the northern hemisphere.
If are thinking about harvesting birch sap for sugaring you will also need to consider that birch sap is notably more acidic than maple sap. For this reason you should only use plastic or stainless steel equipment to process birch syrup as aluminum and galvanized steel can be dissolved by the sap giving the finished syrup a metallic taste. Also look for Paper birch trees as they have the highest concentration of sugar than other species of birch trees.
Before setting out in the woods or off to a specialty food store to get some birch syrup you need to be aware that even though birch syrup is used just like maple syrup to coat meats, vegetable and stacks of flapjacks; it’s taste is quite different as it’s sugars give it a roasted caramel flavor with somewhat spicy tones to it. Locally you can find birch trees almost anywhere to tap to make your own birch syrup and try it in the following recipe. Remember that 1 cup birch syrup reads: 100 cups birch sap,
Birch Syrup Pie
1 cup Birch Syrup
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup water
2 egg yolks, beaten lightly
2 tbsp. butter
1 8 inch pie shell- made and baked ahead of time
Gently heat the birch syrup over a low flame in a medium sized, stainless steel sauce pot. Separately whisk together the corn-starch and water until smooth, then whisk the cornstarch slurry into the syrup. Next whisk the egg yolks into the syrup. Continue stirring the syrup mixture while cooking it over low heat until it has thickened and the corn-starch is cooked out.
Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the butter. Pour the syrup mixture into the pre-cooked pie shell and allow it to cool down to room temperature. Serve warm with ice cream.