This is a treat throughout Appalachia, and very easy to make. The citrusy notes of sumac are a fantastic substitute for fresh lemon. If you are able to, choose staghorn sumac and harvest it at its ripest (typically late August). The red velvet color of the berries will yield a shocking pink beverage, a refreshing delight for both the eyes and the mouth.
6-8 large sumac flower heads
2 quarts cold water
White sugar, honey, agave nectar, or other sweetener of choice, to taste
1 lime, sliced
I always advise washing your fresh produce well. But not sumac. Vigorous rinsing of fresh sumac berries washes away both color and flavor. For this reason, avoid picking sumac after a rain.
Take each panicle and separate the berries from the stems. Place the berries in cold water (never hot, as this brings out bitter flavors). Gently mash the berries with your hands, and let sit for about 4 hours (less or more, depending on the desired color and flavor).
Strain the liquid into a large pitcher. Make sure you use fine jelly cloth or several layers of cheesecloth to catch the numerous tiny hairs of the sumac berries. Sweeten to taste. Pour into an old-fashioned glass with ice and garnish with a slice of lime.