Sometimes, the spice cabinet at camp is a little thin so great camp cooks must be resourceful. Camp cooks are required to prepare great food that tastes good, is hot, and ready on demand.
Sumac is a wonderful camping spice that is abundant and flavorful. This wonderful spice has red to purplish berries and is easy to find, prepare, and use. When most folks hear Sumac they immediately think POISON! The harmful variety of Sumac will have white berries. Red Berries are the correct Sumac berries to enjoy. Always be a student of the sport and do your homework.
Called “Somagh” by the native peoples, Sumac was a regularly used spice. Nature provides a variety of spices for wild cooking. Other wild spices such as mint, peppergrass, sage, and mustard are readily available. The aromatic or flavorful components are generally found in the seeds. Heading outdoors to gather spices from a nearby field is just cool. Knowing these spice secrets can turn a good cook into a great one.
High in vitamin A, C, and antioxidants, makes Sumac a healthy food choice. This flavor enhancer has a citrusy, tart, sour, lemony flavor. Sumac is tart and clean tasting. Native Americans used it for years to add flavor to their water, meat, and vegetables. Today, Sumac is used in place of lemon zest, lemon juice, or vinegar. Knowing this helps the Camp Cook prepare flavorful meals and drinks.
Late summer and fall are the best time to harvest Sumac berries. In North America, we can find Staghorn, Smooth, or Desert Sumac. Poison Sumac with white berries is to be left alone. Use a plant book to help you identify the resource.
Every Boy Scout has prepared Sumac Lemonade for their survival Merit Badge. To make Sumac lemonade, snap off the berry clusters and add cold water. Bruise the berries in the water using a fat stick, like when you make a Mojito with crushed mint. Allow the berries to soak for 15-20 minutes then strain with a cloth or paper towel. You can add some honey or sweetener if you like.
Adding the dried and cleaned Sumac spice to teas, meat, fruit, meatloaf, fish, or chicken adds amazing flavor to your meal. Simply harvest a few clusters of red Sumac berries. Rinse them in water and dry them. Once dried, crush them in a bowl. Just monitor them closely. Too much heat or wind will not create good results.
A coffee grinder or blender is useful to help mix the Sumac powder. I have saved the final product for over a year in an airproof container. Prepare your own special blends for a creative gift idea. You can also dry and store the berry clusters for long periods of time and use as needed. Fresh made spices are always the most flavorful. Try using the Sumac on melons, meatloaf, fried food, veggies, fish, seafood, chicken, or in your favorite dry rub for pork.
You can also prepare a Sumac Syrup using 2 cups of water, sugar, and 3 Tbsp. of the Sumac powder. To prepare a Sumac soda, use 1 cup of club soda, ¼ cup of the Sumac Syrup, and the juice from 1 lemon. Garnish with the lemon or, a sprig of wild mint for a real camp treat! Some of my hunting buddies added a shot of their own blend to kick it up a notch. Cheers!
Drink your Sumac responsibly!
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