Posts Tagged ‘sugaring’
While my small kitchen garden sleeps for the winter, I’ve been catching up on posts that I would have written during the summer if I hadn’t been working on a book. Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry it, Too from Cool Springs Press should be in bookstores this spring—a fine time to start preserving fruits and vegetables as they come in season in your own kitchen garden.
A Remarkable Tree
To most who have seen it, Staghorn Sumac is a scrub tree; a weed. If you leave a rural garden to grow wild, Staghorn Sumac might be among the first trees to take root there. I’ve always loved these scrubs.
A sumac tree at a glance is unremarkable. However, if you forage for food, you learn that Sumacs can be food oases in fields of wild grasses and flowers. Being early colonizers of wild fields, Sumac trees provide roosts for birds whose feces hold berry seeds. Two or three seasons after a young sumac rises above the meadow grasses, black raspberry and blackberry canes may produce a fine crop.
Then the Sumac itself delivers: trees produce red cones of furry berries that hold their color well into winter. Those berries have a distinctive and bitter flavor, but they are loaded with vitamins and make delicious drinks—both cold and hot.
Sumac Tea or Punch
You can gather five or six cones of Sumac seeds, rinse them, and then boil them in water for ten minutes to produce a deep pink liquid. Put it through a strainer and drink it hot or let it cool and put it on ice. I usually add a lot of sugar, but tea-drinkers may find the bitter tartness of this Sumac drink quite pleasant.
Sumac and Maple Syrup
Perhaps what I love most of all about the Staghorn Sumac tree is its utility in making maple syrup. As a child I learned that people once used Sumac branches to make spiles. Spiles? A spile is a spout or tube through which liquid can move. To collect sap from a maple tree, you drill a hole through the tree’s bark and then insert a spile into the hole. Sap collects in the hole and runs out the end of the spile where it drips into a bucket. You collect the sap each day and boil it to remove water and concentrate sugar.
To finish a spile, cut a small notch across it deep enough that a wire hung in the notch won’t slip out of it. If you’ll be hanging a bucket by its handle, you spile needs to be a little longer than the radius of the bucket. I prefer to punch a hole in the side of the collection bucket and slid that hole around the spile. This lets you use relatively short spiles.
Many modern sugar bush operators use plastic spiles and attach hoses that deliver the sap to a central collection barrel. Those who don’t use hoses may still use metal spiles that include hooks to hold bucket handles. But if you have a few sugar maples you want to tap, and you’re on a tight budget, consider making spiles out of Sumac boughs. With a sharp knife, a hot fire, and a long, iron or steel spike, you can make a spile in about three minutes.
I made a video to demonstrate how to make a spile from a staghorn sumac branch. The video is just under 7 minutes. I hope you find it useful: