Monday, March 3, 2014

Made in America - a wild sumac farm

August-gathered sumac

Tama Wong, author (with Eddy Leroux) of Foraged Flavor (about which I have written once or twice) wants to farm American sumac. To that end she launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to get the project up and running.

The plan is to plant around 500 sumac shrubs on an acre of land in New Jersey. The funds raised will be used to buy and plant the saplings (grown by a local nursery), install a deer fence (sumac shoots are delicious to deer and humans alike), acquire a sumac processor, and track and analyse the progress and results of the venture. Here's more from Tama:

Why do I care?

I love wild foods. Many of them have the potential to be tamed. I love American-made (apart from guns and things that blow up - why do my sumac posts always go with rants?). I love supporting local enterprises. I love organically-grown produce, and I love sumac. It is barely-known, Stateside, as an indigenous resource or ingredient. Promoting local plants makes great sense to me. And Tama Wong, as a supplier of wild edibles to chefs, and now an author, is helping increase awareness about excellent culinary ingredients.

So I made a contribution. You can, too. For as little at $1 - $5, or as much as you like, really.

I have used powdered Mediterranean sumac (Rhus coriaria) in my kitchens ever since I fell in love with the food of the eastern Mediterranean, to which it is intrinsic. It is tart and fresh, and sour tastes are indispensable to me.

My 2013 batch of sumac vodka

Here in New York, I have collected wild sumacs (Rhus glabra - smooth; and Rhus typhina - staghorn) for several years, turning the fruit heads primarily into a wonderfully astringent and complex infused vodka, which is versatile in cocktails. At my book launch at Book Court in Brooklyn last September the sumac vodka disappeared in flash, in the prosecco-based drink I call Rhus Hour.

Rhus Hour

Hey. I don't ever make puns. But I could not let that one go. The recipe is in my book.

There are another 12 days to go for Tama to reach her  funding goal. If it is not met, the project is not funded, and everyone gets their money back. I don't want my $25 back. I'd really like to see how this farm turns out. There will be no pesticides, and no irrigation. Sumac grows like a weed beside highways and the hope is that it will cooperate inside its deer-proof  fence. I can't wait for the first jar of New Jersey-grown sumac spice.

But wait! There's more!

Tomorrow night, Tuesday March 4th at 6.30pm, there will be a free sumac cocktail for every backer of this project when they join Tama and fellow host Mads Refslund (chef at ACME and one of the founders of the hallowed wild foods restaurant NOMA Copenhagen) at  ACME NYC for a pop up wild sumac event.

See you there.

The End.


  1. That is fascinating! I live in eastern Oklahoma & have wild sumac growing on all the pond dams here. I love the beauty of it in the fall, but have always been told the seed head was poisonous. Must be an old wives' tale in Oklahoma. I must harvest my sumac this fall & experiment with your recipes! It spreads so prolifically here that I haven't dared to transplant it around the house - lest it become invasive & choke out other shrubs.

    1. Hi Larren - when people who are not very familiar with wild plants hear "sumac", they often equate it with "poison sumac" (common names can be confusing this way).

      Poison sumac is another genus altogether: Toxicodendron vernix, and has very different fruit.

  2. Mine looks like the staghorn sumac. Thank you for the link explaining the difference!

  3. We seem to have Rhus glabra, but I never tried harvesting anything from them, If fact, I've never noticed anything to harvest. I have two in my garden so I'll have to check them out more closely.


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