GreenSense- The Wild Garden

Wild Pink Lemonade

Here in the Northeastern U.S., we can't grow lemons, but we can still make a local lemonade using Red Sumac. There are three edible Red Sumacs; the one most common here in Northern Vermont is Staghorn Sumac, it's a "weed" tree commonly found at the edge of wooded areas, along roadsides, and in vacant lots and other waste places. This refreshing drink is made from the red, furry fruits which conveniently are in season from mid-to-late summer. (By the way, there's no need to worry about gathering poison Sumac by mistake- Its fruits are white, not red.)

To make wild pink lemonade, you'll need to gather a few of the fruiting heads. You'll also need a 1 qt. or larger container, a piece of clean cloth, and a sweetener (honey, maple syrup, sugar).

Before gathering, though, do a taste-test to make sure the fruits are at just the right stage. The flavoring isn't inside the fruit, it's actually on the tiny hairs which cover the fruit. Once the fruit gets its deep red color, it's ready. However, too much rain can wash the flavoring off, rendering the fruit useless for lemonade. To test, run your finger over an inch or so of a clump. Now taste your finger- it should have a sharp, tangy flavor.

Once you've gathered 2-3 cups of fruits, place them in the jar with some cold water (hot water will extract tannin from the fruits and ruin the flavor). Leave a generous amount of room - at least 1/3 - in the jar. Now shake vigorously to dislodge the flavoring from the fruits. Strain the shaken liquid through any handy piece of cloth (I've used a clean, undyed T-shirt in a pinch) to remove the fruits and the tiny, irritating hairs.

Add a little sweetening and taste. It will probably need to be diluted with more cold water. Experiment until you get just the right concentration and balance of tangy sweet. Serve ice-cold.

Please note, like many foods, wild or otherwise, a few people are, or can become allergic to Sumac. For this reason, it's best to indulge moderately, especially at first.

If you find you like Wild Pink Lemonade so much you want to extend the season, just gather a bunch of the fruits and lay them out on a screen in the shade to dry. If you have a warm, dry attic, that's the perfect place. Once dried, they'll easily keep till next summer.

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Copyright 1998 Alan Wagener