Saturday, May 8, 2010


Every Year, starting in early spring, I can be found competing for the illustrious title of "Town Crazy Lady." You can see me in fields off the side of the road, cozzying up to old abandoned barns, or trekking into the over-growth behind parking lots in search of various wild edibles. This juice was made from last year's harvest of dehydrated Staghorn Sumac. Before you even get a chance to ask--no, it's not poison Sumac. Yes, I am sure. There is a big difference in the plants and it is pretty impossible to confuse, let me show you:

This is Staghorn Sumac. It is bright red, fuzzy and grows everywhere.

Above are pictures of poison sumac. It makes white berries that are in no way similar to the yummy staghorn sumac.

After the berries are soaked it makes a juice that taste a lot like pink lemonade. The berries (which are really fuzzy seeds) are high in vitamin C and tannic acid. So it's good for you too. I prefer to sweeten it a little, but it doesn't take a ton of sugar (or other sweetener) to make it drinkable. In fact, you can drink it unsweetened, but it's just a little tart for my taste.

Around here (Eastern Massachusetts) the "berries" are ready in late summer/early fall. You want to harvest them when the clusters are a deep red, but before any heavy rainfall has a chance to wash the flavor away. Russ Cohen, a local wild edible guru, says the way to tell if it's ripe is to lick your finger and shove it into a cluster. If it then tastes tart and tangy, it's ready. You will know if it's not ripe, it just won't taste like much. If you're in doubt, it's probably not ready.

Take about a dozen to 2 dozen clusters, depending on taste, and break them up into a bowl or pot, add about a gallon and a half of cold water. The water must be cold as hot water can leach out too much of the bitter tannic acid. I weight the sumac down with plates because they float and I like to be sure that they are submerged. From what I understand, this juice can now be ready in about 5 minutes. I however, like to let it soak over night. But to be honest with you, I'm not sure how much stronger this extra time makes the juice. I haven't done extensive experiments.
Justify Full

Once the berries have soaked (or five minutes or 12 hours, depending) you need to stain them through a cloth or old coffee machine filter. The clusters are hairy and it is pretty unpleasant to drink the hairs so you just want to be sure you've got them all. After that the juice is either ready to be consumed or sweetened and then consumed. I use about 1 cup of sugar dissolved in 2 cups mildly warm water to a gallon and half of strained sumac juice. That's really not a lot of sugar, and i feel like it just makes it's a little bit more delicious. And shouldn't everything be as delicious as it can be?

Over the summer I also canned black berry juice concentrate into jelly jars. I use one jar to about 7 cups of water and 1/2 a cup of sugar. I like to mix this juice with the sumacade. It gives it a juicier color and taste really really good. (You can see the color difference in the first photo. The juices on the left are pure sumac, the ones on the right are about 25-50% blackberry juice).

For the record both of my children (2 and 4) will happily drink either of these juices all day long. So they are kid approved.

So the recipe is:

12-24 Clusters of ripe sumac clusters broken up into
1.5 gallons of cold water, weighed down with a plate and left to steep overnight

Strain juice well

Dissolve 1 cup sugar into 2 cups warm water mix with sumac juice and enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Yeah!! Thank you for sharing! I am going to write down in my calander....collect sumac "RED" berries & refer back to your post so we can make some yummy juice (and it is yummy I have triied it first hand!)