A few weeks ago, I spotted a stand at the Union Square farmer's market with several steaming cauldrons. I'm usually overloaded with kabocha, potatoes and parsnips (my newest love), which makes me reluctant to stop for a drink, even on a frigid February day.
But this wasn't spiced apple cider, it was tea. And a type I'd never heard of before.
Sumac tea? Without even closing my eyes, the chaos of gray was covered by a vision towering, voracious trees that covered the hillside beneath my parents' house. The leaves turned a brilliant red each October, outshined only by the plump, clustering crowns of fuzzy fuchsia berries. It grew like a weed, and was treated with as little respect.
But staghorn sumac berries yield a vibrant, tart brew, as Native Americans knew for centuries; it's still colloquially referred to as "Indian tea" in some areas. And not surprisingly for such a deep-colored fruit, sumac is full of antioxidants and vitamin C. Even lugging 15 pounds of root vegetables and the subway entrance right in front of me, how could I resist?
Once again, this is an herbal tea- not a true tea- but it was absolutely outstanding. Even mixed with apple juice to counteract the tartness, the very essence of scarlet still shone with every tangy, warming sip.
It was gone in seconds. And I'm already planning my own sumac harvest the next time I go back home.