The stag horn sumac is stunning this time of year and I use the branches in floral urns and to make a recyclable Christmas tree (I’ll post how in December).
Until then, I wanted to share a quick recipe for sumac lemonade. We’re only talking about edible sumac here (Rhus glabra or Rhus typhina), the one with fuzzy red upright cones of berries. It’s called lemonade because of its tart citrus-meets-cranberry flavour and the Vitamin C content is high, too.
Avoid poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix); you’ll recognize it because the clusters of hard white berries grow downwards. The good news is that birds and squirrels can eat them without problems.
Pick the cones on a dry sunny day. Much of the flavour comes from a sticky substance on the berries that is washed away in the rain. Purists say not to wash the berries for the same reason—I prefer to shake them out well and give them a rinse under cold water, but it’s up to you.
I usually place the berries in a clear pitcher so I can enjoy their beauty. Add one litre of cold water per four cones and let the mixture sit for a few hours. Don’t stir or squeeze the berries because this releases extra tannins and results in a more sour drink. Gently shaking the jar will release the flavour; leaving the jar in the sun may speed up the process.
Strain the lemonade through a colander to remove the berries, and then through a coffee filter to remove the fine hairs that cover the berries. You can sweeten with honey or maple syrup, but I prefer the tart refreshing lemonade as is, or over ice. This lemonade is a different colour every time I make it, ranging from light yellow to a deep pinkish amber, but the flavour is always delicious.
GIFT IDEA: If you want to give a friend a gift of foraged tea, arrange some sumac and evergreen leaves (see earlier post on Evergreen Tisane) in a vase with the recipes. It’s a heart-warming way to bring the outdoors in.