Many edible mushrooms have symbiotic relationships with birch, but the tree itself can provide a delicious product . . .
This tree’s sobriquet ‘silver’ is a comparatively recent invention – often credited to a Tennison poem. In reality the second part of its scientific name (Betula alba) seems more apt (it means ‘white’). This is particularly so in late winter when the bleached bark stands out in damp woods. Foresters usually regard it as a weed, but more charitable voices describe it as a ‘pioneer’, for this is usually first to appear on waste ground, thanks to its downy seeds which can be carried long distances by the wind.
It has long been considered lucky, perhaps because it is one of the first to burst into life in spring. Its sap rises from early March and this sugary liquid makes a good base for a drinkable country wine. To collect, drill a hole at an angle up into the tree about two foot from the ground. Insert a length of tubing and feed the other end into a collecting bottle. A decent-sized tree can quickly produce a couple of litres after which you should plug the hole with dowel.
5 litres Birch sap
1 kg Sugar
Yeast (Preferably brewer’s or even better wine maker’s)
Boil the sap soon after collection to prevent wild yeast spoiling it. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Meanwhile, put the raisins, lemon juice and lemon peel in a bucket or large bowl – preferably one with a tight – but not air-tight – lid and add the hot sweetened sap. Wait until has cooled to blood heat and then add the yeast. As with all country wines, the critical point is to exclude air (and natural yeasts which would spoil the wine), while allowing the carbon dioxide to bubble off. In the early stages this is best done in the bucket to allow the raisins and lemon peel to infuse the liquid. After two weeks, strain and decant to a demijohn fitted with an airlock. Leave to bubble for a month or two. When fermentation has stopped, decant to a clean vessel and then, when clear, syphon into sterile bottles and stopper tightly. It is ready for drinking in the autumn.
This article is reproduced by kind permission of Daniel Butler www.fungiforays.co.uk