hist-brewing: Re: The Birch Tree

Cindy M. Renfrow cindy at thousandeggs.com
Fri Feb 23 07:10:06 PST 2001

Hi.  I think the Birch you need is Betula lenta, a.k.a. the Cherry, Black,
or Sweet Birch, not paper birch.
The inner bark of Sweet Birch contains methyl salicylate, as does
wintergreen, and has been used to make oil of wintergreen and birch beer.
The sap is used like that of sugar maples.

I once saw some people take down a sweet birch & make shavings of the inner
bark.  They added sugar & munched on this birch 'candy' right there in the

Here are a few historic birch wine recipes to get you started.

# 257  TO MAKE BIRCH WINE - c. 1550 to 1625
First make an incission & an hole thorough ye bark of one of ye largest
birch tree bows, & put a quill therein, & quickly you shall perceive ye
Juice to distill.  you may make incision into severall bowes at once, which
water receive into whatever vessill you pleas.  it will continew running 9
or 10 dayes, & if yr tree be large, it will afford you [many] gallons.
boyle it well, as you doe bear, but first put to every gallon, one pound of
white powdered sugar.  when it is well boyled, take it of the fire, & put
in A gilefate with yeast, as yu doe to ale or beere, & it will worke in the
same mannor.  after 4 or 5 dayes, bottle it up in the thickest bottles you
can get, for fear of bursting.  & then at 8 or 9 weeks end, you may drink
it, but it is better if you keep it older.  this drink is very pleasant and
allsoe physicall, first for procuring an appetite, & allsoe it is an
antydote against gravell and the stone.  this liquor must be procurd & made
up in march, which is ye onely time, and not at the latter end of march
neyther, for then the trees will not run soe well & freely as at ye
beginning of the moneth.
(From Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, ed. by Karen Hess, 1981.)

Bore a hole through a burtch tree and putt in a faset, and putt sumthing
under, and when tis full boyle it of every 2 days with 2 pound of white
sugger too a gallan, and when it is allmost Cold, worke it up with a
Littell yeist, then put it up in Vesells obsarve that the time to sane it
in is in March and at the begining of Aprill if it bee a forward spring it
will scarse Run at all Aprill
(From Penn Family Recipes, etc., c. 1674.)

When the Sap of the Birch-Tree will run, cut a large Notch in the Bark of
the Trunk of the Tree, in †uch a place as one may conveniently place a
Ve††el to receive the Sap; which will flow at the Inci†ion very
plentifully, without doing any harm to the Tree.  If the Trees are pretty
large, you may expect about a Gallon of Liquor from each of them, which
mu†t be order'd in the following manner.  Take five Gallons of the Liquor,
to which put five Pounds of Powder-Sugar, and two Pounds of Rai†ins of the
Sun †toned; to this, put the Peel of one large Lemon, and about forty large
fre†h Cloves:  boil all the†e together, taking off the Scum carefully as it
ri†es; then pour it off into †ome Ve††el to cool, and as †oon as it is cool
enough to put Yea†t to it, work it as you would do Ale for two days, and
then tunn it, taking care not to †top the Ve††el till it has done Working,
and in a Month's time it will be ready to bottle...
(From The Country Housewife and Lady's Director, by Richard Bradley, 1736,
p. 39.)

The season for obtaining the liquor from birchtrees, is in the latter end
of February, or the beginning of March, before the leaves shoot out, and as
the sap begins to rise.  If the time is delayed, the juice will grow too
thick to be drawn out.  It should be as thin and clear as possible.  The
method of procuring the juice is by boring holes in the trunk of the tree,
and fixing faucets of elder; but care should be taken not to tap it in too
many places at once, for fear of injuring the tree.  If the tree is large,
it may be bored in five or six places at once, and bottles are to be placed
under the aperture for the sap to flow into.  When four or five gallons
have been extracted from different trees, cork the bottles very close, and
wax them till the wine is to be made, which should be as soon as possible
after the sap has been obtained.  Boil the sap, and put four pounds of loaf
sugar to every gallon, also the peel of a lemon cut thin; then boil it
again for nearly an hour, skimming it all the time.  Now pour it into a
tub, and as soon as it is almost cold, work it with a toast spread with
yeast, and let it stand five or six days, stirring it twice or three times
each day.  Into a cask that will contain it, put a lighted brimstone match,
stop it up till the match is burnt out, and then pour the wine into it,
putting the bung lightly in, till it has done working.  Bung it very close
for about three months, and then bottle it.  It will be good in a week
after it is put into the bottles.
(From Five Thousand Receipts, etc., by Mackenzie, 1829.)


Cindy Renfrow
cindy at thousandeggs.com
Author & Publisher of "Take a Thousand Eggs or More, A Collection of 15th
Century Recipes" and "A Sip Through Time, A Collection of Old Brewing

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