When Life Gives You Sap

Apparently you drink it!

My maple syrup experiment ended abruptly when my one red maple tree (Acer rubrum) unceremoniously stopped producing sap. After a paltry two quarts had been collected. It seemed like everything was going so well. But after fourteen days, the tree just… stopped.

We consulted with experts who suggested clearing the tap of any sawdust and being patient. This was the end of February, so I was sure we still had weeks of sap harvesting ahead of us. Temperatures the following week were forecast to above freezing during the day and below freezing at night which encourages the sap to flow. We checked our gallon jug daily: nothing. We finally gave up and plugged the tap. The experts were mixed about whether or not a tap should be plugged; some say the tree will heal on its own, and the plug could introduce infection. Others believe a plug is important in the healing process, like putting a bandage on a cut.

A small maple plug fills the hole where the tap had been in this red maple tree
A small maple plug fills the hole where the tap had been in this red maple tree

If sugar maple has a ratio of 40 to 1, i.e., 40 gallons of sap will make 1 gallon of syrup, that means two quarts of sap will make not enough to even bother. That’s right – my maple syrup adventure was over.

But all was not completely lost. Apparently “maple water” is a thing. You can just…. drink the sap. Like water, except sweeter and thicker in consistency. And full of electrolytes and antioxidants. And it may help stave off hangovers. And of all things maple water is… trendy. There’s even a company now producing and selling maple water so the sap curious lacking their own maple tree can still give it a try.

Given the alleged hangover preventing powers of maple syrup water, I made the obvious choice for using the maple water: cocktail ice cubes!

Old Fashioned Cocktail with a Maple Water Ice Cube
Old Fashioned Cocktail with a Maple Water Ice Cube

Some tips about maple water ice cubes. First and foremost they are sticky. The sugar content is high enough that if you handle them with your fingers, you will regret it. Second, the frozen sugar gives the ice cube a white color rather than clear. For those of you striving to create perfectly clear ice so it doesn’t detract from your cocktail’s appearance, stick with regular water! Finally – and most importantly – a maple water cube will melt faster than pure water, and it will impart an increasing amount of sweetness to your cocktail. Consider reducing the quantity of other sweet ingredients (like simple syrup or fruit syrups) to compensate. Or, just drink your cocktail really fast!

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