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On the hunt for sumac berries

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Hello fellow Montrealers. I've recently added sumac to my spice arsenal and recommend it to all of you. But since watching Friday's Colbert Report on CTV (hilarious, BTW) and hearing of the use of sumac berries in Persian cooking, I am very curious to hunt some down and try them in my cooking. Could some kind person divulge where they can be found? Thanks!

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  1. First option would be to try the spice store at Jean-Talon Market (and the name escape me completly this morning, I feel inadequate).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Maximilien

      Max, no need to feel inadequate! You are a trustworthy and generous CH... but perhaps Sundays mornings is just not a good time...

      I believe you are referring to Olive and Epices. Yes indeed, they might have it. If I go this morning, I will check if they have these babies.

      other places to try calling: Anatol, Marche Akhavan, Marche Adonis, just to name a few. I suspect there might be a few shops in Parc Extension that might have them too.

    2. --> re: JTM store - Olives et Épices?

      Iranian-family-owned, Marché Akhavan probably has the best selection of Persian products in the city - I'd try calling/visiting them. Locations in NDG & Pierrefonds.

      http://www.akhavanfood.com/main.shtml

      If you're experimenting with Persian cooking, you might also want to grab a bag of "zereshk" - small red berries also known as barberries that are used in a yummy chicken & rice dish called zereshk polo.

      Good luck & have fun!

      1. Maybe from sumac trees, quite common in these parts. Looks kinda like a palm tree meets a fern plant, velvety bark on smaller branches.

        2 Replies
        1. re: porker

          There are a lot of varieties of sumac, and some are toxic (they're related to poison oak), so I wouldn't harvest them unless I knew that I had the right variety.

          1. re: jlafler

            I think if they're red, like this
            http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/t...
            they're OK.
            I used to make tea with this as a kid and it grows pretty much all over.

            Poison sumac
            http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4H/poissuma.htm
            is obviously very different.

        2. I have purchase ground Sumac at Akhavan but am not sure I have ever seen the actual berries. I understand about buying whole spices as opposed to already ground (nutmeg, peppers, cumin etc.) but would it really matter with sumac? Do you intend to grind them?

          7 Replies
          1. re: maisonbistro

            Thanks for everyone's help up to this point. I followed up your tip and went to Akhavan today, and although it was a fun shopping experience I could find no sumac berries. maisonbistro, you're prob right that I don't need the berries when using sumac as a spice, but I also wanted to try making sumac tea and I think that whole berries would be best for that. porker, I like your idea to just pinch some berries from a tree when I next see one growing in someone's garden. Good lateral thinking! Or I'll just visit Marché Jean-Talon.

            1. re: dmarg

              re: Akhavan - too bad! I'm just wondering - did you ask at the bulk counter? Or ask the manager? Often they have things hiding behind the counter (like a huge array of saffron) that you need to ask for. Anyway, good luck with your quest!

              1. re: dmarg

                Dmarg, they have whole berries at Olives et Epices at Jean Talon Market. But they won't be that cheap! They will likely be very high quality.

                1. re: dmarg

                  Something to bear in mind if you harvest your own: Sumac berries get most of their flavour from ascorbic acid which washes away when they get wet. So you have to get them when it hasn't rained for awhile and be comfortable with the fact that you can't clean them.

                  Of course I read this about a thousand years ago and can't cite my source anymore so you might want to get a second opinion...

                  1. re: mellybean

                    Just be sure you don't pick a poison variety; I think those with white berries are poisonous. :)

                    1. re: mellybean

                      I believe that this is correct. In Maine, right around my house, we have a ton of sumac trees, and they are still covered with berries, but after the long winter, I suspect that they don't have mch flavor left. I'll try it and see.

                    2. re: dmarg

                      Alas, according to
                      http://www.countrysidemag.com/issues/...
                      you should wait until after July for ripened berries

                  2. I've noticed on my morning walks, the sumac berries are a beautiful red these days.

                    1. Don't know if it is still relevant...
                      For me, the most important reason to choose sumac berries over ground sumac is that middle eastern stores often add citric acid as a preservative and flavour enhancer. It brings out the tartness and can mask old or tasteless berries.
                      I would go for high quality berries and just pay the extra price, after all, chances are we are talking about a purchase that is unlikely to be over 10$. I usually grind them using a spice grinder (a coffee grinder that I use exclusively for spices) or a mortar and pestle. I don't know of any recipes that call for them whole.

                      1. I know a lot of time has gone by, but in case you're still looking, I found sumac today at Les Douceurs du Marché in the Atwater Market. Small container, packaged on April 23. Cost $2 and change.