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Ode to Sap

I’ll never forget the first time we tapped a tree.

It turned out to be a red maple, located along a stacked stone wall bordering our house.

I had read a book on sugaring, bought a special 5/16” bit and matching spiles, and held my breath as I put the drill to the bark and prayed I didn’t kill the tree or drill too far or too shallow.

We had picked a spot facing south, so that we’d catch whatever sap the morning sun would entice. I drilled slowly, but consistently. Holding the drill bit facing slightly upwards, I tried carefully not to wiggle it in the hole. Then I backed it out, reversing the spin so that it would bring the shavings with it, and resisted the urge to blow in the hole to remove anything left behind (doing so might inadvertently plug up the hole and block the sap flow).

We carefully tapped in the spile and, lo and behold, out came a crystal clear cold liquid!

The fact that it was a red maple means it wasn’t particularly sweet. We could still make syrup from it, but the sugar concentration in red maples isn’t as high as in a sugar maple so the sap isn’t particularly tasty.

Still, I was hooked. We’ve since properly identified and tapped the sugar maples on our property, as well as silver, white and black birch. And while we love maple syrup, the time commitment and equipment needed has prevented us from wholeheartedly diving into sugaring (i.e. making syrup). Instead, we’ve become connoisseurs of sap. And I find it intriguing that since we’ve moved to Vermont, the market for sap has exploded.

Did you know that in Eastern Europe the first run of birch sap each season is considered the “fountain of youth?” It was once reserved for royalty, and no wonder. One serving of birch water contains five times the amount of manganese than a cup of kale. It also contains fructose, glucose, a slight amount of sucrose, fruit acids, amino acids, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, sodium and iron. [Source: University of Alaska – Fairbanks Extension] To this day, our Northern cousins enjoy their springtime cleansing ritual of saunas while drinking cold sap.

We drink our sap cold, as well as make tea and coffee with it (trust me – once you’ve had a cup of Earl Gray tea brewed in hot sap your palate will never be the same!). We also freeze it in jars to enjoy later and to keep on hand if one of us is sick. I like to think of it as nature’s sports drink.

Birch trees require higher temps for the sap to run, so we start our season with sugar maple sap and then continue the season with birch. I say we drink it for the health benefits, but really it’s just delicious. And the act of carefully tapping a tree to release sweet, cold sap on a sunny spring day is pure magic.

There are many “tree water” companies on the market now, but the first (that we know of) in the U.S. was the Vermont Sweetwater Bottling Co. They carbonate the sap and bottle it at the lowest temp possible to preserve its integrity, and of all the packaged sap we’ve tried, theirs comes the closest to tasting like it’s right from the tree. That’s why we’ve included it in our Maple Lover’s Box.

Now go tap a tree!

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