We just gathered a massive stainless steel bowl of these wonderful berries, probably about 3 gallons. I will use some fresh and the rest I am drying in the oven on low heat for future use.
Sumac berries make a wonderful tart refreshing beverage.
When I mention making a beverage from sumac, many people think I am crazy. Quite a few people assume that all sumacs are "poison sumac." Poison sumac, however, is quite different from the true sumacs.
The true (edible) sumacs have dark reddish or purple fruit in erect, tight clusters. The surface of the fruit is fuzzy or grainy.
The poison sumac Toxicodendron vernix is classified in a different genus (along with poison ivy and poison oak). It can be differentiated from true sumacs most readily by the fact that the berries are whitish, waxy, hairless, and hang in loose, grape-like clusters. Poison sumac also differs in that it rarely grows in dense, pure stands, and in that it inhabits swamps rather than dry areas.
Now for the delicious part: "Sumac "lemonade"
The red-berried sumacs make a tart and refreshing drink. It is delicious, easy to prepare, fun to gather, nutritious, unique-and free. Yea!!! What could be better?
It is called all sorts of names:
sumac-ade, rhus-ade, sumac lemonade, Indian lemonade, sumac tea and probably some other names that I have yet to hear. Like lemonade is is universally enjoyed.
We have lots of Smooth Sumac and the preparation of the beverage is simple. The first step is to
Harvest the berries.
Sumac "berries" are really just seeds covered with a thin coating of flavoring substance and hairs. The large clusters are so easy to collect that in just a few moments you can have enough for a pitcher of wild Kool-Aid that kids will love.
You want to get the berries when they are dark red and fully mature, so that they have fully developed their tart flavor, but before the rain has had the opportunity to wash the flavor out.
A dark purple coloration usually indicates that the flavor of the fruit has developed fully; yet some of the best clusters I've tasted were light pink. Sometimes a white, sticky substance coats the berry heads; this is pure essence of sumac flavor-don't let it scare you off. I pluck about six average-sized clusters for a pitcher of sumac-ade.
Remove any large stem peices and leaves,
Place the berries in a pitcher, pour very warm tap water over them (for Staghorn Sumac you will want to use cold water).Pouring boiling over the berries makes for poor flavor, for it leaches tannin from the stems, causing the drink to become bitter. This is also why you will want to remove any large stem peices.
Squeeeze and rub the berry cluster together with your hands, this releases their color and acid.
Leave the pitcher in a cool place for a while. The longer the berries infuse, the stronger the drink will be.
Strain the drink through a cloth to remove seeds and hairs. Sumac-ade is pleasantly tart with a light pink color. Some people add sugar, some do not. If you wish you can
Add just a little bit of sweetener and serve over ice.
The tartness of sumac is partly due to ascorbic acid (vitamin C) so one also has a health incentive to drink this beverage.
The dried berries may also be used in cooking to add a tart/lemony flavor.
Note: Sumac is related to cashews and mangoes, if you are allergic to those foods you hould avoid it, or proceed with extreme caution.