Wildcrafting - Staghorn Sumac and Sumacade
There seems to be some difference of opinion about exactly when to harvest the sumac, how strong the sumacade should be, and even if Zatar is better made at home or produced more authentically. And not all versions of Zatar include the ground sumac berry. There are also a variety of ways to spell it. If you are interested in this condiment, I would encourage you to try a Google search to learn more about its history and variations. It can be found in Michigan at Middle Eastern grocery stores. I'm too new to trying different brands to have formed an opinion, perhaps a reader of this blog could help out.If you want to harvest the sumac berries, the best flavor is before it rains. Rain will wash away a lot of the taste. So it can be a bit of chance to find the fruit just ripe enough, but not yet diluted in flavor. Rather than go by color, I suggest tasting a few berries and decide for yourself if you like the taste. But if you wait too late, you can easily miss the prime harvest time.
You can make the sumacade as we did while canoeing, or more formally as a sun tea. Many people prefer the cold water method, heat can make the flavor turn a bit more acidic and not as naturally sweet. I've made and enjoyed both, and do prefer the cold water technique. Depending on how strong you like it you can let it steep for a few minutes, or a few hours.
I've been experimenting with the dried sumac berries from last year. I've added them to a few simple sauces, sprinkled them on some rice dishes, but mostly used them to make a pleasant and refreshing drink. They retained their flavor nicely even a year later, but I'm ready to replenish my supply.
To dry the berries I separated them from the 6-8 inch clusters, discarding any that weren't in good shape. I spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and left it in the sun for a few hours. My fingers tasted lemony and sweet after working with the berries. I then stored them in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.
Another more unusual use for the sumac clusters is for bee keeping. Burning the berries in the smoker creates a dense, yet cool smoke that helps control the bees. I dry the whole fruit and use it for that purpose as well, or just collect some over the winter once they are no longer good for eating.
At this time of year, sumac makes a great nibble as you go by, as well as a good plant for storage. And it sure is pretty.
Linda Diane Feldt is a local Holistic health Practitioner, author and teacher. For information on a weed walk class Saturday afternoon October 3 please e-mail ldfeldt (at) holisticwisdom.org