We start this recipe by gathering the red, ripe berry clusters from staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) shrubs. The berries are actually very hard and inedible, and it is the acidic and tart malic, citric, ascorbic, gallic, fumaric, and tataric acids that we will be harvesting from the outside of the berries to use. In about a half gallon of room temperature water, we add 12 clusters. I'll crush the clusters up under the water and swish them about, then allow the concoction to sit for a few hours. The now pink liquid is strained through a coffee filter to remove fine hairs and other debris, and tasted for tartness. To make a stronger concentrate, add some new sumac berry clusters to this same liquid and allow them to sit for another few hours, then strain again. This concentrate is ready to use, or can be frozen in ice cube trays to add to water or save for the winter. We also use this concentrate in the place of lemon juice in some jelly recipes.
Staghorn sumac berries
This dessert is more of a curd topped with baked meringue, rather than a pie, since Robert doesn't really like pie crust. The curd recipe is really easy, no tempering the eggs with the hot sugar, just keep a vigilant eye on the pot and keep scraping the bottom with a spatula. It works really well in individual portion dishes, or can be cooked in one 9" pie pan. You could serve it as a pie, if you use a pie crust. The color will depend on the strength of the sumac concentrate that you use. I ended up with a nice peachy color, but you could add a drop of red food color if you wanted to.
This recipe is availble in our book, available Spring 2016.