It’s a drive thats hard-wired into me, each turn so ingrained, that if I was blindfolded I’d know I was being delivered there.
It’s the kind of drive that demands the windows are rolled down, and shoes are kicked off as soon as the truck tires hit the dirt and washboard. You bounce down the overgrown road, passing cows and windmills and curved rows of alfalfa.
It’s a drive that transports you into a twangy country song—our black lab even hangs out the truck window, ears flopping and cheeks puffing out in the wind.
It’s the Eastern plains of Colorado, a place less revered than those purple-mountains-majesty. But when the sun sinks low, and everything is lit up in gold the color of autumn hay, it makes you quiet and peaceful, just like the sight of those peaks.
When I was little, my dad hauled the family out of the ‘burbs of Littleton, CO and put us up in the country. A few years after that, he sat on a vista way out east from our home and decided that was his place. So he bought a swath of land out yonder, with hills and ponderosa pines, and wild turkeys, and cows for neighbors.
Now, years later, him and my mom call that little corner home, and they bounce down the dirt road to-and-from town every day.
This weekend I saw that place with new understanding.
I know all about the giant boulder on the crest of one of the hills, it looks over east, towards the wind-turbines that blink red in unison at night—thoughts of alien invasions swirl in my head.
I know about the bird hill—it’s right outside the kitchen window. Birds of all shapes and sizes, even those noisy turkeys peck and roost around out there, and we watch and listen from the deck. It’s like spring after a long winter every day out there.
But this weekend, with Mountain States Foraging in hand, and mom by my side, we set out into the tall brush and saw things in ways we hadn’t before.
Like how that bird hill has a dozen or so wax currant bushes. Or how that huge scraggly bush with the clusters of sticky red berries, the one that my dad was threatening to mow over with the tractor, is actually skunkbush (or lemonade sumac). Those red berries taste like pink-lemonade.
It’s a little funny and ironic, in that way that old family jokes are, how us girls used to sass my dad about eating random things he plucked from the earth, without any visible knowledge of what they were, aside maybe from what was passed down by old-timers and country bumpkins.
And I stood out there in the field, guide book in hand, crunching the leaves of that skunkbush and smelling the sweet and tart scent. Then comparing the clusters of berries to the photos in the book, and feeling the sticky resin, and tasting the tart and sweet flavor, similar to pink lemonade candy.
It was like I was discovering that swath of land for the first time.
I think that’s the best part about learning how to forage for wild edibles. You think you know a place because you’ve seen the same foliage and ground a thousand times over, but with a guidebook in hand, you see it with new eyes.
And with new possibilities. Like sumac lemonade, which is pictured below.
I soaked about 3/4 of a cup of those sticky berries in cold water for a couple of hours, and mixed the tart liquid with sweet watermelon juice. The result was refreshing and fragrant, perfect on a hot summer afternoon.
This week, I’ll be testing out recipes for lemonade sumac margaritas and vodka lemonades—so stay tuned for part two coming out next week. And while you’re waiting, get to gathering that lemonade sumac, which you can find in Mountain States Foraging, complete with pictures and detailed descriptions, so you can enjoy a refreshing cocktail with me.
—Photos and article written by Cayla Vidmar of Rooted Apothecary