Last month I started an experiment with staghorn sumac. You can identify this type of sumac by both its fuzzy, red stangs of berries and its statuesque, velvet branches that resemble deer antlers. My colleagues in arborculture told me you could make an interesting lemony drink from these berries, as the Native Americans used to do. At this time of the year the berries are very tender. I harvested two clusters, or drupes, as they are known, for my little home experiment. The berries from one drupe went into a pitcher of cool water, covered, and placed in the sun. In a teapot of almost boiling water, I added the berries from the other drupe. The hot water method turned out to be much more reliable! Because the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is in the cashew family (Anacardiaceae), you may want to take precautions before sampling this if you have any allergies to nuts, especially cashews. You can rub a red berry on the back of your hand; check to see if you have any skin irritation the next day. If you have no allergies, you can try this beverage. Without any sweetener added, this drink gives a tart, yet subtle, and refreshingly clean impression. The enchanting pale pink color suggests its subtlety. If you need sweetener, you could add honey. Technically, this drink would be a classified as a tisane rather than an actual tea. You can easily add sumac berries to sumac tea in an ice cube tray to freeze. Serving the strained beverage over these fuzzy berry studded ice cubes is one good way to keep the berries from interfering with your drinking pleasure, while also enhancing your enjoyment. Being able to gaze at the berries adds that satisfying visual interest to the drink. But do finish your drink before the cubes begin to melt too much, or follow the two step method suggested below in making the cubes. —Sagegreen
- Serves 4
near boiling water
drupes of staghorn sumac berries
honey to taste, if you need it
- Remove the berries from the drupes.
- Pour nearly boiling water over the berries and steep for an hour. Smoosh the berries in with the water. Strain the berries.
- Chill the drink.
- Take the warm berries and add to an ice cube tray. Fill with halfway spring water or with the drink itself and freeze.
- A few hours later fill up the ice cube tray. This way the berries will be prevented from floating to the top. Freeze again.
- Add the ice cubes to your glass and fill with the chilled drink. Add sweetener if you must.