A knack for sumac
After a family day of skiing and lazing around at the cottage, my family members had built up quite a thirst.
(That’s my little guy who’s only four. His board-sport loving dad is overjoyed to see him on skis this year)
We were out of juice, so I knew that anything with sugar would go over well with the kids. I also knew that anything with vodka would go over well with the dads (skiing was done — water on the water, beer on the pier…).
It was the perfect time to experiment on them … I mean … quench their thirsts … with my sumac juice.
As has happened previously on this blog, I was hopeful that I wouldn’t poison anybody. I bought the sumac seeds in the pictures above from my favourite forager-guy at the farmer’s market (he’s hooked me up with lobster mushrooms, spruce tips, and reindeer moss before) and when I did, I asked him why I wouldn’t just pick some from the roadside myself instead of paying him $5, because sumac is all over the place right now. He looked at me and said in a Vincent Price voice, “Well, you could get some yourself, but you would have to make sure you didn’t choose the poisonous variety.” Then he gave me lots of tips about how to tell the difference, but I tuned him out because I had already decided in my head, “Well since you know the difference, if this turns out to be delicious, I’m just going to continue to pay you to keep us all out of hospital.”
I think forager-guy must have known that warning me against the poison variety was securing our continued business relationship (and I admire his corporate-esque protectionism, I must say) because when I got home and read about how to tell the difference between poison sumac and regular, I learned that it’s actually quite easy. Poison sumac is very rare, and the berries look like berries rather than fuzzy fluffy puffs. Poison sumac only grows in very wet areas, and has smooth leaves. The safe stuff’s leaves are usually jagged and it grows all over the place. I was feeling confident enough to go grab some more for myself if I should need it — until I saw this picture of a poison sumac reaction
(Do I know how to run an appetizing food blog or what?)
And if you’re getting rid of poison sumac from your property, you never want to burn it because the fumes could be fatal (I’m talkin’ to you here, gentleman homesteader).
I’m joking about staying away from the safe sumac though, actually, because I believe that the risk of finding the sketchy stuff is very low. And it turns out that sumac is a kind of superfood, being a strong antioxidant high in Omega 3s. Plus, the drinks were a hit with my family!
I kept the recipe very simple, pretty-much like a natural iced tea or lemonade, because I wanted to taste the sumac itself. Here’s what I did:
- 1.5C sumac water (5 sumac buds with water in a 1L container for at least 4 hours on the counter [longer in the fridge] smashed around with a spoon a few times, then strained)
- 1C simple syrup (1/2C sugar boiled with 1/2C water, then cooled)
- Soda water
- Vodka (1 shot per glass)
Directions: Prepare your sumac water as above, like a cold tea. Not sure the marketers of my jar were intending their statement to mean what it does here, but it still works.
Prepare your simple syrup, and chill it. Make your cocktails by pouring the vodka for each glass over ice (or not) and filling each glass half-full of sweet sumac-ade. Fill the remainder of the glass with soda water.
These were a hit with all the skiers, dads and kids alike. Next time I might add mint to make the drinks more mojito-like. As they were, they tasted fruity with a citrus-like tang. Don’t let the fear of boils and growths scare you off — impress your friends with a fancy-pants drink from your own backyard today. Rating: 3 yums