I read a series of posts recently on one of my Yahoo canning groups about a plant called staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), one that some people are using in canning. I’ve been fascinated to try it ever since. I already knew I loved Persian sumac—the reddish seeds they grind over kebabs and the like, a spice that tastes like a variant of lemon pepper—so I knew I was at least predisposed to possibly like it. I also knew it grew along the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, but—unfortunately—I wasn’t going anywhere near them.
However, I was in the foothills of the Piedmonts on this trip: the chain of mountains that run through the northwestern part of South Carolina. I came to spend a couple of days with some of my dearest friends in the world, who also happen to live on the Reedy River Resevoir near Laurens, SC. Ready to be envious again? Like I said, this has been my constant view the last few days:
I started telling my friends about my quest for staghorn sumac, and at first they didn’t know what I was talking about. Like most Southerners, they’d heard of poison sumac … but not the staghorn variety. But when I showed them a full-color picture of the bright-red head of the sumac I was hunting for, my friends instantly said “heck, we know where there’s a ton of that stuff!”
So we were off the next morning, in pursuit of the original American edible sumac. It’s said that pioneers first soaked the red seed heads in water and then added sweetener to make what they called Indian lemonade. Others also call it pioneer lemonade, or even sumac-ade. I know it sounds bizarre, but I really wanted to try it. And my friends were correct … they DID know where there was a ton of it.
We only brought one bag with us … and that was just as well. We half filled that bag in a very short amount of time, and if I’d had more bags with me … the temptation would have been too great to take home more of it.
One problem. As you can see in this picture, staghorn sumac is quite the insect and aracnid hotel.
Note: I don’t know how well you can see that baby in the picture, or how easily you can tell from the perspective how big he is overall … but, I can assure you … that spike of red berries is about the size of a large man’s hand … and that spider is as big around as a quarter—maybe bigger—and I’m not counting his legs in that measurement. He was MASSIVE, so we left that spike of staghorn sumac behind for him and his pleasure.
Since the sumac was so buggy, we decided it was a good idea to let my huge bag of seedy heads sit in my friends’ chest freezer for about 24 hours before I put it in my trunk. I don’t know what it may/may not do to the taste/consistency of my sumac long term … but the thought of driving down the road and suddenly having spiders off the sumac on me …………….. was enough to make me willing to risk whatever the freezer might do to the sumac berries (drupes) themselves.
From there, I probably won’t get a chance to use any until I get home … so you’ll just have to wait with baited breath!