The View From Rattlesnake Ridge
By Wayne D. King,
Whether it is the dry summer or the more ominous signs of a changing climate the autumn colors have passed without fanfare. Nevertheless, there is one treat that I always look forward to in the fall that is almost assured irrespective of the weather, Sumac tea or served up ice cold as sumac-ade.
No doubt you’ve seen them before. Sumac is a plant that grows wild all over New Hampshire. It will grow in places where it seems inhospitable to almost any plant. And it makes a great tea or “lemon”ade from late fall right on through spring when the old clusters dry out and are replaced with new ones that will be tasteless until the end of summer. They are best in the late fall because it takes fewer of the flowerheads to make a robust drink.
There are several species of sumac but you want the Staghorn or Smooth Sumac variety for your tea. Its upright cluster of red seeds is easily spotted. The Staghorn has a distinctive velvety feel on the newer growth, like a deer’s antlers in early spring, a sure sign that you are using the correct sumac.
If you are nervous about this because you may have heard of Poison Sumac, don’t be. Poison Sumac is actually much more rare in New Hampshire and has white berries that droop. It is impossible to mistake for the more common Sumac varieties.
Making Sumac-ade is quite easy. Gather a grocery size bag of the clusters. Take a large pot and fill it with fresh water and put the clusters right into the water. Wash your hands and then rinse them well to be sure you’ve gotten all the soap off, crush the clusters until they break apart in the water and allow them to steep for an hour or two. Drain the liquid through cheesecloth or some other clean, disposable cloth, toss the clusters in your compost pile, add sweetener to taste (for lemonade) and voila!
If you’d prefer it as tea, you can do all the above and then heat the liquid, though you need not go through the process above but can steep a hand full of the seeds in hot water for just a few minutes and sweeten as you like it. You can also hang the pods to dry and store them for later.
It’s a very nice change from all of the commercially available drinks and a refreshing fall favorite in our home.
Wayne King’s regular column, “The View from Rattlesnake Ridge” is a reflection of the meanderings and musings of the artist, author and activist. http://bit.ly/WayneDKing
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