Depending on when you are, sumac ripens in July or August. In our neck of the woods (Toronto), ripe sumac is everywhere. Lovely red cones of berry clusters stand at attention like miniature temples along roadsides and in tended and untended green spaces alike – once established, it’s very hardy.
I discovered just this year that you can make a lovely beverage, similar to pink lemonade, with sumac berries, and recently harvested some on a recent trip out of town. The preparation includes massaging the furry berries, and it a sensual (and possibly meditative) pleasure.
Enjoy during the height of summer, and feel good about it: research indicates that sumac has antimicrobial, hypoglycaemic, and possibly antioxidant qualities.
12 ripe red sumac clusters **
4 litres cold water
honey (or other sweetener)
1. Soak sumac clusters in cold water.
2. Rub and squeeze red berries well to release flavour.
3. Let sit for 30 minutes to a few hours (the longer the period, the stronger the flavour).
4. Strain sumac clusters out of the water with a cheesecloth.
5. Add sweetener to taste (but not too much or you’ll lose sumac’s distinctly acidic taste).
** Always use ripe red sumac berries. These are easily distinguished from the white drupes of poison sumac, which are never to be eaten.