As crisp Sunday mornings in early March go, additional layers would have been a benefit. A green woodpecker took exception to my presence in a small patch of heathland, flouncing off grumpily in a sinusoid of lime green across the heather tops. I'd had notions of a badger or suchlike stumbling into my carefully balanced bottle during the night, but all was well. Birch sap is at it's best during the first few weeks of March. It takes a bit of time to reduce to syrup but it's well worth it, the results boasting a subtle caramel flavour.
To tap a silver birch tree
Find a good sturdy birch, well off the beaten track. At a smooth point on trunk about two feet from the ground, drill a hole approximately 1.5" deep, at an upward angle. Sap should start to trickle out immediately; insert a thin piece of tubing into the hole. A large bottle or medium-sized demijohn, neck wedged over the tube, will collect the sap. It's by no means a spritely endeavor, so come back the next morning to collect. You’ll need look after the tree once you have finished with it; a piece of dowel wedged into the hole stops the flow of sap. I also cover the point with a bit of clay to create an extra seal.
Silver birch and lemongrass syrup
1 litre Fresh silver birch sap
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 lemongrass, bashed about
Bring the birch sap to the boil and reduce by approximately nine tenths; this gets rid of most of the water and the sugary birch flavour intensifies. Stir in the sugar to dissolve. Add the lemongrass, removing after just a few minutes (the lemongrass notes are there to compliment, not usurp). Allow to cool before drizzling over fresh fruit.