Along the Grapevine


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Sumac Meringue Pie

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Last Sunday it was a balmy -3 C, and for me the first opportunity of the year to get out and do some foraging. It just goes to show that even in this challenging climate, there is always something out there for the foraging enthusiast. Apart from having to negotiate the deep snow banks, I found this to be an ideal time to pick sumac. The flowers just snapped off, and the berries likewise were much easier to remove from the stems than they had been in the summer. In just a few minutes, I had a full bag of flowers, and the bushes still looked untouched.

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I started by making a sumac syrup, this time cooking it for longer than in my previous experiments. I  filled a crock pot about 3/4 full, poured water until the mixture reached the brim, and then cooked it on low for 12 hours. Then I strained the deep red juice through a coffee filter to be used in some new recipes. Here it is after 12 hours of stewing.

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The first is for a sumac meringue pie, which I present to The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday for this week. Since my theory that sumac is the new lemon, it can replace the imported fruit just about anywhere, and what better place to begin than with a festive pie.

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To make the syrup: Measure off 4 cups of juice, add 1 cup of sugar and simmer until you have about 2 1/2 cups of syrup.

Pastry:  I used a recipe from La Petite Paniere, the one she uses for Tarte Tatin (which by the way I highly recommend) because I did not want a flaky, lard pastry but rather a buttery French style one. Or use your own favourite recipe for a meringue pie.

Filling

2 1/2 cups sumac syrup

1/4 cup tapioca or corn starch

5 egg yolks

Mix the starch together with the syrup until it thickens. Spoon some of the hot liquid into the beaten yolks and then add the egg yolk mixture into the syrup pot. Continue to cook and stir for a couple of minutes.

Meringue

5 egg whites

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Beat the egg whites. When stiff, add the sugar and cream of tartar and continue to beat until peaks form.

The Pie

Pour the custard into a baked pie shell. Top with meringue and bake in a 350 oven until the meringue is golden on top. Allow to cool before cutting.

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This pie is not only local and organic, at least the sumac part, but also requires a lot less sugar than a lemon version. I hope this sumac meringue pie will help persuade the skeptics that even invasive weeds are sometimes worth considering as a valuable source of great food.


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Sumac Recipes

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Since I posted my first recipe for sumac in the early summer, I have had time to figure out other ways in which to use this lemony goodness. The sumac I refer to is the Staghorn Sumac. Unlike the sumac with white flowers, it is not poisonous. However, try a little at first, as some people may have allergies to it.

First, I made dried sumac powder. I have been buying this for years from Middle Eastern and Asian shops, and always wondered if I could duplicate it with our own sumac.  So that is one puzzle solved. I generally use it in place of lemon in spicy curries, tagine, soups etc, but always parsimoniously because it is hard to find. Now I can use it with abandon.

To make the powder, simply pick or scrape off the berries, and place them on a cookie sheet in a 175 F oven until they feel completely dry.  This will take probably 4 to 6 hours, depending on how much space they have. I prefer to err on the side of too long, and keep an eye on them. Then put them in a food processor or blender and chop them up as finely as possible, and pass them through a sieve.

Dried sumac

My next project was sumac molasses. Not really molasses, but I wanted to replace my pomegranate molasses with something made from local ingredients. I used 6 cups of firmly packed fresh sumac berries, covered them in water and pressed them tightly down so that I would need the minimum amount of water. I simmered them covered for about half an hour to an hour. I strained off the liquid and added it to 1 cup of brown sugar, then simmered it until all the sugar was dissolved.

The purpose for this ‘molasses’ was for use in some Middle Eastern recipes, and in particular a Persian recipe called Fesenjun. I was first introduced to this by my father when he returned from working in Iran, and I later learned to make different versions of it myself. It is simply a sauce made of walnuts and pomegranate juice (or molasses) cooked with duck, chicken, and I believe other meats.

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I used a whole chicken because that is what I had to work with, but pieces or fillets would work just as well. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Fesenjun

1 chicken

oil for frying

2 onions, diced

1 cup walnuts, coarsely ground

1 cup sumac molasses

salt and pepper to taste

Brown the chicken on all sides in some oil in a roasting pan. Remove the chicken, pour out any excess oil except a little to which you add the onions. Fry until soft and add the walnuts. Fry for another two minutes. Add the sumac and salt and pepper. Return the chicken to the pot, cover, and place in a preheated oven at 325 F. It took about two hours, and the last half hour I removed the lid.

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Traditionally this is served with rice, but I had potatoes, pickled plums and mixed steamed greens from the garden. I am pleased to report that the sumac molasses worked very well with this recipe. All the ingredients, except the walnuts, were locally grown, but I hope soon to gather some local black walnuts which will make this a truly Ontario, albeit Persian-inspired, dish.

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