I’m not sure if it is a sign of the state of my mind, but I am sure I am sometimes quite bad at repeating myself. This is a bit of an occupational hazard when it comes to writing these posts, hopefully it isn’t too bad. With that in mind (but with the excuse that a year has gone by since I last wrote about it) its birch sap wine making time again. I am a great believer in thinking about where your food comes from, and trying to keep it as local as possible. What better way of doing this than making your own wine. One of my favourites is wine made from the sap of the Silver Birch tree. This is partly because it tastes nice, but I suspect also largely because its making charts the passing of the seasons, and I also always make it from trees growing in a place close to my heart.
First you need to choose your tree, go for a nice healthy looking one somewhere out of the way, I try not to use the same one each year so as to tread lightly.
Drill a hole the same size as the plastic tube you have brought with you. The hole should follow an upwards angle into the tree, but doesn’t need to go in any more than about an inch.
Now is the time to tap the trees, just as the sap is rising in the spring. I try and catch them just before the leaves unfirl, but it will work for the next couple of weeks or so. If you have caught it right you should find the hole starts to leak sap pretty much straight away.
Place your demijohn at the base of the tree, put one end of your plastic tube in the hole in the tree and the other in the demijohn.
I then usually gather up some bracken and twigs and use it to hide the demijohn, it is going to need leaving out for a day or two and you wouldn’t want it attracting any undue attention. I also use a small piece of cotton wool to block up the neck of the demijohn and stop any flies or bits and bobs falling into the sap.
Sometimes it takes a day, sometimes two, but after a while the watery sap will fill the container. It is perfectly edible straight from the tree, it tastes like slightly twiggy water.
When you collect your demijohn its important to stop up the hole in the tree before you leave. Otherwise the tree will continue to loose sap and will have a wound in it that would allow easy entry for pathogens. I cut a peg from a small piece of wood, knock it into the hole and then trim it off flush with the tree.
To turn the sap into wine you will need: 1 gallon of birch sap, 2 lemons, 1/2 lb of chopped raisins, 2lb of sugar and a sachet of wine yeast.
Add the juice and some of the zest from the lemons to the birch sap and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and add the raisins and sugar. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Leave until lukewarm and then add a general purpose wine yeast. Put in a fermenting bin until initial fast fermentation has slowed down. Then transfer (leaving behind the raisins etc) to a demijohn and fit an airlock. After a couple of weeks when the sediment has settled out rack off into a clean demijohn. Then leave to ensure fermentation has finished and all sediment has settled before bottling. It should be ready to drink by the late summer, but will be even better if you leave it till this time next year.
While we are on the topic of things produced by trees, we had a slightly odd example of this last week on Black Down just a bit further up the slope from where I tapped this years tree. We had a visit from an artist from London who produces his art in a bit of an unusual way… he lets the trees do the drawing for him.
He wanted a site to do some filming and produce some artwork and remembered Black Down from a visit a few years ago. He got in touch to ask for permission to film. It made a little bit of money to help with the management of the site, and he was actually quite an interesting guy to talk too. I am very passionate about trees and it was nice to meet someone else who had a deep appreciation for them, I’m not saying I was a huge fan of the pictures, but the process of their production was really interesting.
He used elastic bands to attach pens to the tips of long flowing branches in the pine trees, then put canvasses on easels under the pens. The breeze and the motion of the tree does the rest.
It was on a pretty quiet part of the hill, but needless to say still attracted a couple of comments from curious passers by.
They certainly chose a pretty special place to produce there art. The view from Black Down over the South Downs has been really fantastic over the past couple of weeks with all the sunny skies we have been seeing.
In case you are wondering what a drawing done by a pine tree looks like, here is a sneak preview of what I am told will shortly be found somewhere on a gallery wall in London.