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.
Jerry G. Birkby
I’m an 82 year old dude and making Maple Syrup has been on my Bucket List for a long time. I live on a 150 ;year old family farm in Iowa that has an extensive woodlot from days gone by. Very few Sugar Maples in my area bu;t I have some very large Silver maples I tapped last year and again this year. Also have a few Box Elders and this year I tapped a Black Walnut or two. Just got out of the timber from tapping some Ironwood. The sap is really running tho it seems kind of late. Thought I would give it a try.
I seem to be getting way more syrup per gallon of sap than I have any right to. Have had many compliments on the taste and texture of what I made last ;year and am anxious to boil down a little Ironwood sap. /sure have lots of Ironwood. Found your article very interesting and informative. Thanks!
One more thing. Making syrup is a walk in the park compared to making Hominy.
Wonderful, I’m glad you’re getting to cross that one off your bucket list. I’ve never made Hominy, so I’ll have to take your word for that one. Enjoy the ironwood syrup, we loved it, and it is really wonderfully unique.
This is a few years old but i wanted to see if you’ve tried making your own maple sugar from the syrup? Would ironwood produce sugar the same way? In eastern europe they don’t make syrup out of birch sap, they drink it as is. Its called birch juice and its delicious. Can ironwood sap be had the same way? Could the syrup be made into a nut brittle? Maybe with an addition of something else to harden it. Have you tried making hickory syrup? Ive tried it and it tastes interesting.
Here is a post on making maple sugar. https://practicalselfreliance.com/maple-sugar/
I’m not entirely sure if you could make sugar out of the ironwood sap or not but you could certainly try it. And here is a post on Shagbark Hickory Syrup. https://practicalselfreliance.com/shagbark-hickory-syrup/
I’ve been making maple syrup for a few years and I have made birch syrup a couple of times. I think you should try making a BBQ sauce or some sort of meat glaze with the ironwood syrup. I smoke pork spareribs and Boston butts and I use plenty of syrup in the process. Pork loves to be sweetened and birch syrup is really better than maple for that because of the similarity to molasses.
You could pour the ironwood soup over maple ice cream (or vanilla). I think the sweet of the ice-cream might complement it quite well. I use maple syrup to sweeten coffee. Would ironwood perhaps make a good coffee additive?
What about using it as an ingredient in marinades?
Gingerbread or brownies or things you might add walnuts to? I think the BBQ and marinade ideas sound good.
A friend and myself started tapping Black Walnut three years ago. Haven’t quite figured out the season but last year got 80 gal of sap 3 gal syrup could have boiled farther but liked flavor. Sweet and fruity and nutty. Not bitter. This year we got a late start and only got 35 gal. 1 gal syrup. Will do better in 2021.