Birch Syrup

Around about three years ago now, I was visiting the Outpost ( which is now Magasin Generale but I kinda prefer The Outpost) for basic supplies, when I saw an interesting looking tray of small bottles near the cash – bottles shaped like your standard maple syrup type but with a thicker looking, blackish liquid inside. Of course, I had to find our what they were – and to my delight, they contained pure, local birch syrup – made by one of my cousins! Now I had never tasted birch syrup, but I’m a total sucker for our glorious fresh maple stuff – in cakes, over pancakes, flavouring baked winter squashes and a whole variety of confections and cookies. But birch? This is the land of the beautiful paper birch – along with less conspicuous but equally lovely (and healing) yellow variety. yet, in my 20 years living in the Outaouais, I have never seen nor tasted birch syrup.

So of course, along with my Santrapol coffee and locally made beeswax soap, I bought the syrup. I love anything that connects me ever deeper with this magical forested land I am blessed to live in. I was excited to get home and taste the new find, in it’s humble little bottle, with all it’s spiritual connection to this area.

Well, a few things. First, the syrup is an acquired taste, and it isn’t a good idea to just use it as a replacement for maple. I love the stuff now, but it took a while. The syrup is made by boiling the sap of the tree early in spring, exactly as maple syrup is made, but for the birch version it takes 120 litres of sap to get one litre of syrup. With maple, only 40 litres of fresh are required. The taste of birch syrup is distinctive, rich, somewhat like a blend of molasses and caramel, and a little goes a long way. I liked it best over buckwheat and currant cakes, but even so I still prefer ample. Where birch syrup shines in this household is in various condiments; I made all the recipes that came with it and every one is a keeper. Below is a sauce I developed and was a real hit with white fish and scallops; non vegetarians could use it with fowl as well. I think I will try some baking as well, although one thing holds me back from a show of real enthusiasm; birch syrup is predominantly composed of fructose. That does give me pause, although the hype says “more easily digested than sucrose” there are concerns about fructose:

http://www.reuters.com/article/idAFN0210830520100802

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2002/01/05/fructose-part-two.aspx

Mind you, the small amount ingested in sauces and vinaigrettes isn’t making me lose sleep over this.I don’t drink fruit juice or otherwise inhale sugar in any form, so I can live with this. All foods have pros and cons, and birch syrup IS higher in Vitamin C, calcium and manganese than maple. As with all things – moderation is key. ..but, it’s something to be aware of.

Birch Syrup Sauce a la Chez Rupert

1/2 cup water
1/3 cup birch syrup
1/4 cup Tamari
1/3 cup white wine (I used Canadian Riesling)
1/4 cup lime juice
2-3 cloves garlic (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger

Whisk together well, then brush on fish before, during and even after cooking. You can marinate in it for an hour in the fridge, but with delicate fish like sole this can get overpowering.

Just one idea of many; I found this unique blend on a blog about native foods – interesting, no?

“As I type this I have a good dose of birch syrup mixed with of small handful of shallots, dab of butter, another dab of whole grain Dijon mustard, a splash of chicken stock, a gush of orange-banana-strawberry juice, a sprinkle of chilies, a pinch of S&P, and a glug of smokey Laphroaig scotch whiskey, thickening in preparation for glazing my pan roasted pork tenderloin.

Smells and tastes like heaven I tells ya.”
Maybe I’ll try that one day, but not soon, and definitely not on pork..

But, this site has a whole bunch more stuff I need to try:
www.yukonbirch.ca/index.php?pr=Recipe_Ideas

All in all, a marvelous find,and I won’t let the worries about fructose bother me muchly. It’s used in small quantities, and it’s a marvelous product. Breathe in the Boreal! Bake, glaze, and don’t forget to drink spruce beer and elderberry wine while you cook! Food for the soul, from a magical tree.

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