This year was a year of tree tapping experimentation. I learned that there are literally dozens of tree species that can be tapped for syrup besides maples, and this year we decided to give it a shot. Our land is covered in far more ironwood trees than maples, and so we had plenty of choices. Our yield was good, and we finished with plenty of ironwood syrup.
I did a bit of research before starting, and it wasn’t encouraging. I found sources that said that ironwood trees produced very little sap, and that it had far less sugar in it than maples. Even less sugar in it than birch trees, which take over 100 gallons of sap to make a gallon of birch syrup. Though the yield is supposedly low, it’s worth it because the syrup tastes like butterscotch.
All of that was hogwash.
Our trees yielded heavily, and the sap boiled down at around the same sugar ratio as maples.
I tapped an ironwood tree at the same time as our maples, in late February. There was no activity for months, and I got a bit discouraged. Sap finally began running in small quantities when the birches started producing the last week of April. The ironwood trees made about a quart of sap a day, and it didn’t taste like anything. It wasn’t enough to be worth boiling.
About a week later they kicked into high gear and started producing 2-3 gallons a day. They’re just late producers!
The first 2 gallons of sap boiled down into about 1/2 a cup of finished syrup. Watching it boil, it cooked like birch syrup. Birch syrup cooks a bit differently than maple because it has fructose rather than glucose as a sugar. I’d guess that ironwood sap also contains fructose, and it did start to burn a bit on the sides of the pan. Again, just like birch syrup.
Homemade maple syrup finishes at 7.5 degrees above the boiling point of water, and birch syrup finishes at about 13 degrees above boiling. But when is ironwood syrup finished?
I watched it boil, and I took the temperature when it looked done to my eye. It was 223, or the same finishing point as birch syrup. We’re about 1000 feet above sea level, so our water boils around 210 degrees, so that’s 13 degrees above the boiling point of water.
How Does Ironwood Syrup Taste?
Quite sweet, but honestly pretty bitter. Most people think birch syrup is a bit abrasive, and some call it too bitter to use. I like it. I’ll pour it right on pancakes, no problem. Ironwood syrup was a bit more abrasive still, and I’m not quite willing to use it on pancakes.
It tastes a bit like maple walnut ice cream, but only a bit. It’s like I can taste the tannins in the walnuts in the syrup. It’s sweet, but there’s enough tannin to catch your attention.
So how to use it? I’m still deciding. Since it has a bit of maple walnut flavor, I wonder if it would make a good ice cream. I’m also considering trying to make a pie out of it, something like a traditional maple cream pie. That’s basically a custard pie sweetened with maple for sugar and flavor.
What do you think I should make with it? Leave a note in the comments.