Friday, February 1, 2013

Birch Tree Syrup

Ray Mears, Ray Mears oh the things you do to me. Kirk and I have the flu and so the computers have been running with the need to entertain us sickohs as we lay coughing and weak in bed. Though our bodies are rather inactive, my brain is in high gear. It was actually Kirk's fault because he's the one that called me in to watch and my mind hasn't shut down since. Of course it was Kirk's fault that I got the flu too. He loves to share everything. What a sweet man. LOL

I should of found a sweet way to say no. It's not like I didn't already have a half dozens things ruminating around up there in my brain that I wanted to work on and gain a measure of skill in Bread and tortilla shells being just two. Tying knots being another and, and, and. I have such a hyperactive brain.

You would think I'd watch Ray mainly as a source of pure entertainment as he seems to spend most of his time where the land is lush and there is a plethora of things to pluck from nature to meet your every need. Just once I want to see him try something here in this grassland where we live. Yes, on one of his shows there is a brief scene of him crossing the prairie in Wyoming with a horse in tow but he ends up in a much more lush environment before he shows you any survival skills. Even he knows just how tough it is out here in the grasslands. 

I joked to my sister the other day that if we had to bug out and needed to put up a tarp for shelter, we'd better carry our own sticks. Trees are miles and miles apart as is water holes and the sagebrush is so scrawny a rabbit feels exposed to eagles squatting underneath.

But no... entertainment isn't enough, his show just sends my brain into hyperdrive and I'm off searching the Internet for substitutions.

In one u-tube video Ray was tapping a birch tree much as you would tap a sugar maple in eastern United States. He said though the birch tree's sugar content was much lower, the syrup was very high in nutrients and made a lovely drink.  Hmm... I thought, there are parts of Wyoming that grow birch trees. Just not where we happen to live for trees don't grow well at all here.  In fact this is what the Wyoming gardening site I found had to say, " It is hard work growing trees in Wyoming. One look at our prairies would suggest that trees weren’t really in the cards! Yet as most homeowners would attest, trees are the single most important plant in their landscape. For some folks, trees are like annual flowers –grow them for a year and by next year replant! However, there are trees that do very well here, in fact they are native and ‘adapted’ to the conditions presented to most of Wyoming such as, difficult soils, heavy wind, huge temperature fluctuations, and persistent drought. The two most commonly planted natives are Aspens and Cottonwood trees, which are not drought tolerant and have plenty of insect and disease issues. But there are some other exceptional native trees that should be considered for your landscaping."

They nailed in on the head. Most Wyomingites have a terrible time growing trees and most try and grow things that aren't necessarily suited for our area because I guess they figure  they'll do what everyone else is doing. The blind leading the blind. And yes in some areas of Wyoming trees aren't quite as tough to grow but they don't call the eastern part of Wyoming the grasslands for nothing.  I don't plan on staying here though. I want to stay in Wyoming but we plan on moving west a couple hours one of these days, my mind is in a whirl in anticipation making self-sufficiency plans. 

One good thing is Paper birch trees grow there along. Yes, it is far more conducive to tree growth. If I can figure out a way I'd try this spring to see just how well paper birch syrup tastes. They say it has a wintergreen taste, my favorite. And that the paper birch has a darker colored syrup.

The down side is that it takes 100 gallons to make one gallon of syrup fit for pancakes so making it a drink not a syrup would be a better option for us. That is if I could find some to tap. In comparison, maple syrup from the sugar maple tree takes 40 gallons to make one gallon of syrup. A huge difference between birch and maple. I know what a birch tree looks like. Kirk's folks nor our son who both live there have birch. But the area grows a variety of maple trees. I might just have to ask Kirk's folks if they have some maple trees in their yard. They say any maple tree will do but the I'm not too good at identifying trees since we have so few around here. Mostly the same few kinds of trees growing in every yard in our town. The very few that will grow at all here.

What would be superific beyond measure is if by some slim one of our relatives had a maple tree that could be tapped. Better yet a Bigtooth Maple tree growing.
"Bigtooth Maple (Acer granidentatum), is probably the best kept secret in terms of trees in Wyoming! Native to far western Wyoming, this maple is very drought tolerant and performs very well in our high alkaline soils. Ecologists believe that this western maple is the equivalent of the Sugar Maple found along the eastern US. Its fall color is truly spectacular with colors ranging from orange to bright red. It can be trained as a single tree or allowed to have multiple trunks. Mature height will be 30 feet and the width 20 feet."

I'm thinking I might see if our son would be interested in trying this project for me. He has trees growing in his yard too. Wonder what kind they are? Hmm... there may be a way I can experience this yet. The maple tree part anyway for I know he doesn't have birch.

I know not of a single person tapping trees in Wyoming for syrup or for a drink or anywhere else in the west for that matter. There has to be someone though, not just me that is wondering about this. Twenty some years ago I read of ONE historical account of a Wyoming pioneer producing maple syrup in Wyoming. The thought has plagued me since. I've caught the scent and found the trail and now I won't be satisfied until I've tried it. Some people have bucket lists. Mine is a large stock tank and it just keeps filling up.
I've always wanted to grow fruit trees but to get a tree to grow at all in this part of Wyoming where the antelope and buffalo roam is a tougher task than in many other parts of Wyoming. 

So tell me western readers, have you drank sweet birch or maple from the Rocky Mountain region?

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