Living low waste looks different in every home. For my husband and I, it means owning less and getting the most out of what we have by using tools that multitask and last. One of my favorite durable, multitasking tools is my nut milk bag. The name itself—nut milk bag—is such an undersell. In my kitchen, I have completely replaced cheesecloth with this fine mesh bag. While you should be using your cheesecloth several times before scrapping it, it is still designed to be disposed of. As long as my cat doesn't get her paws on my nut milk bag, it will last me forever. I use it regularly for making cheese, tofu, cold brew, and my recent favorite sumac (lemon)ade (there aren't actually lemons in it).
Often seen here in Wisconsin growing on the sides of roads, staghorn sumac (rhus typhina) and smooth sumac (rhus glabra) trees have long slender leaves and furry, deep maroon seed clusters. These furry clusters are edible, often dried and ground to be used as a spice.
The only way I can describe the taste is tart and slightly sweet. If it tastes bitter, the seeds are not ripe yet. Sweetened with sugar, or your sweetener of choice, sumac makes for a refreshing summertime drink that is high in vitamin C.
A note about poison sumac: many people ask me, how do you know this isn’t poison sumac? Easy, poison sumac seeds are ivory-white or gray and loosely packed. Edible sumac will alway produce dense clusters of red seeds. They look very different.
8-10 bunches of fresh staghorn or smooth sumac (cluster pictured)
1-2 cups of sugar (to taste)
1-quart warm water
Nut milk bag
Once you get your sumac home lay it on a tea towel and gently tap it and look for bugs. Pull the clusters off the main branch and check for critters before tossing the small clusters into your quart jar. Do not wash the seeds as this will wash off the flavor.
With all your sumac clusters in the bottom of your quart jar, fill the jar about halfway with warm water. Use a muddler, wooden spoon or the back of a ladle to gently squash and agitate the seeds, this will help release more flavor.
Fill your jar all the way and let steep for at least an hour, I usually leave mine in the fridge overnight.
When done steeping, place your nut milk bag in a large bowl and pour the sumac and water into the nut milk bag. Close the bag and squeeze the sumac over the bowl to get any remaining liquid out.
Now you have sumac tea, some people drink this straight but it’s a bit too tart for me. Pour the bowl of sumac tea back into the quart jar and begin slowly adding sugar a quarter of a cup at a time while stirring. Continue stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Repeat this until you have reached your desired taste.
My husband always makes fun of me for just never doing anything normal, he says I always have to put my own spin on everything. Well, in this case, he's right. Another variation I loved was adding muddled mint and lemon balm at the end. Both herbs mellowed out the tartness of the sumac and made the drink more tea-like. Next up, I will by trying sparkling sumac tea!
How do you use your nut milk bag? What are your favorite recipes?