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Sweet sap drips from trees other than sugar maples

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Using trees other than sugar maples for syrup production has untapped possibilities.

“It’s been well-known for a long time but nobody has been doing it,” said Michael L. Farrell, the maple program coordinator for Northern New York and director of Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest in Lake Placid. “We’ve had great feedback and interest. We’re looking at the market potential.”

Other than sugar maples, the primary trees that have sap sweet enough to make it worthwhile to boil down to a syrup are birch, black walnut and butternut. The two nut trees are related, Mr. Farrell said. He is the author of “The Sugarmaker’s Companion: An Integrated Approach to Producing Syrup from Maple, Birch and Walnut Trees.”

A sweet-sap silver maple available from St. Lawrence Nurseries, Potsdam, also is a contender for an alternative to the sugar maple.

The sap from black walnut and butternut trees runs at the same time as maple.

“They taste similar to maple, with a nutty flavor,” Mr. Farrell said.

Stephen M. Hunt II, Chaumont, is tapping the black walnuts in his yard for the first time this year as a science experiment with his children.

“I just so happen to have about 20 of them,” Mr. Hunt said. “There are black walnut trees everywhere in this village.”

Mr. Hunt tapped the trees in the traditional manner using buckets and is boiling the sap down in a turkey fryer and finishing it on the stove.

“It takes about eight hours to boil down about seven gallons,” he said. “It’s more of a hobby. I think we’re going to do it every year. We love it.”

So far, he has made a half gallon of syrup from 25 gallons of sap.

“I wish there was more because I’d like to share it,” he said.

And the flavor?

“I think it tastes great,” Mr. Hunt said. “It has a smoother taste than maple syrup. Strangely, it kind of reminds me of a marshmallowy kind of taste.”

Mr. Hunt’s experiment seems to be catching on.

“Our neighbor tapped theirs this year,” he said.

The birch sap run comes after the maple syrup season is over, making birch a potential way to extend the season and offer a specialty product, Mr. Farrell said.

William L. MacKentley, proprietor of St. Lawrence Nurseries, which specializes in plants for northern climates, is acquainted with syrup made from birch sap.

“I made about a gallon when I was a kid, but that was enough,” Mr. MacKentley said. “It made a good syrup, don’t get me wrong, but it has a little bit of an after-taste.”

Butternuts make a tasty syrup, but the trees have been hard hit in recent years by a blight that is wiping them out, Mr. MacKentley said.

“I wouldn’t want to stress them out any more than they are,” he said.

St. Lawrence Nurseries grows sweet-sap silver maples. The sweet-sap silver maple has twice the sugar content of the sugar maple, which is usually between 2 percent and 2.5 percent, Mr. MacKentley said.

“You can tap any kind of maple, but most of them have a sugar content of 1 percent or less,” he said.

The sweet-sap silver maple was discovered by H. Cedric Larsson, a retired Ontario research forester who gave root cuttings to Fred L. Ashworth, the founder of St. Lawrence Nurseries. Propagated by tissue culture, the sweet-sap silver maple grows quickly, can be tapped within 10 years and is good for wet lowlands, Mr. MacKentley said.

“You can make a wonderful syrup,” he said. “People are getting to know them. A lot of maple sugar producers in Vermont have been buying them.”




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