the most poetic pine sirup
One of my main sources of inspiration over the past two years has been a magazine, Servus. They started in Austria, but as soon as they launched a Bavarian branch, I was on it. It is one of two magazines spans generations in my family: both I and my grandma read have a subscription. The other magazine is the membership magaine by the Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz, the German hertiage restoration trust. I saw it at their place a few months ago and my grandpa noticed how engulfed I was in it for almost the remainder of the afternoon. Now he has it delivered to me through my mum after they’re done reading it.
But back to Servus. Last may they published a little piece about Maiwipfelsirup. I’m not sure how to properly translate Maiwipfelsirup, because the German word sounds so poetic. Wipfel are the tree tops, evocing images of majestic coniferous trees slightly bending in the wind. It conjours up the image of what my great-grandma used to say when it was windy: the tree are whispering and telling stories.
Some people call it pine sirup.
This year, spring was way ahead of schedule so I collected Maiwipfel when it was barely May. Not all trees were quite there yet, but that just made it more fun because it gave me an excuse to bike through the forest looking for ones that were just right. That’s something we should do more often, wandering through nature with eyes wide open trying to sport every mark of spring breaking through the tree tops that lie on the lanky fir trunks like a heavy linnen blanket.
There’s a few things to consider when picking Maiwipfel. First of all, make sure you know your trees. Not all corniferous trees are good for sirup – or good to eat for that matter. I picked fir and I’m not sure which other species work as well. Also remember that the Wipfel are the young and thender sprouts that mark the trees annual growth. At the tip of a branch I found that there’s usually three to six young bushels. Consider the age and the strength of the tree your picking from and try to not pick the center tip.
I picked for about 1 ½ hours and ended up having maybe 600g. I started out very meticulously picking bushels one by one off trees that were half my age. One hour in I found more and more large fir trees that still had branches at the bottom and just loosely stripped off a few Wipfel off every branch. At home I watched spiders and ants crawl out of the bowl. I’m not sure they were excited to be visiting München…
For making the sirup, you basically just layer roughly equal amounts by weight) of sugar and Wipfel into a jar. Seal it with a piece of cling wrap with holes in it (I covered it with a snap on lid, which didn’t allow enough humidity to wick in and dissolve the sugar). Then just leave the jar sit on your window sill for a few weeks.
After two weeks my Wipfel had shrunk to just about half their original volume. Sirup had formed at the lower half of the jar. The Wipfel had wilted and lost their innocent may green colour. A sugary cap had remained on top of the Wipfel looking a lot like melting ice caps.
Since I had the jar sealed, a lot of sugar still sat at the bottom of the jar after three weeks. The top wipfel were exposed and started looking not so good, so I decided to stop the siruping early. I added a little water to dissolve the remaining sugar and boiled the sirup down again to a nice and sirupy consistency.
And then I had a drink.
My absolute favourite way of having Maiwipfelsirup is in a gin cocktail. I’m not sure what the best proportions are – Dub is the one in the house keeping track of things like that, I just mix what feels right and adjust if needed. Or not. I guess it’s about equal parts of gin and sirup and a bit less lemon juice. Shake on ice, strain, sip.