While my husband and I were out kayaking one evening I saw this familiar tree along the edge of the canal: a Staghorn Sumac. We have a stand of them by our house in Ohio. In Ohio the fruits ripen mid-summer so I couldn’t believe it at first when I saw this one covered in perfectly ripe clusters of red berries.
I brought one home and sent a picture to my neighbor and edible foraging expert Rita. She confirmed that it was Staghorn Sumac (as opposed to poison Sumac, which has white berries) and she told me her recipe for making Sumac lemonade.
So the next day, I went back to the tree prepared to cut fruit. I brought a great big bucket and clippers. It didn’t take long to fill my bucket.
Rita’s recipe for lemonade was simple:
Take about 6 large clusters and put them in a pitcher of cold water. Smash them to release their juices and then let the mixture steep for several hours. I put mine in the fridge overnight since it was later afternoon when I started.
Then remove the big clusters and dispose of them. Use a colander lined with a coffee filter to remove the remaining bits and pieces.
Stir in your desired sweetener and pour yourself a glass! I thought it had a light grape juice flavor.
I had way more Sumac to use and just as I was thinking – maybe I could make and freeze more lemonade – I came upon a recipe in my new cookbook Toast & Jam (Sarah Owens, 2017) for Sumac jelly. Perfect timing!
The recipe begins much like my flower jellies do, by making an infusion. Owens said to add eight clusters to a pot with 5 cups of water and bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the clusters and strain the liquid. Return the clusters to the pot with 3 cups water and repeat.
When you’re done, you’ll have about 5 cups of Sumac tea. It’s a glorious rich red.
Owens’ recipes seek to use the most natural, least processed ingredients available so she instructs you to add 2.5 cups honey and 1/2 teaspoon salt along with 6 tablespoons low/no-sugar pectin. You could also use sugar if you don’t have honey. I made two batches and used straight honey for the first and a mix of honey and pure maple syrup for the second.
Stir in the ingredients, making sure the pectin especially is fully mixed in. Let it return to a rolling boil and cook an additional minute or two. Test for gelling with either the spoon or cold plate test. If it’s ready, fill your jars and process 5 minutes for four-ounce jars and 10 for eight-ounce jars.
In the cookbook, Owens explains that Sumac is high in tannins and that explains the grape-like flavor I tasted in the lemonade and much stronger in the jelly. This could easily be a foraged substitute for a mildly-sweet grape jelly. Owens suggests adding it to a cheese plate or as an addition to a adult grilled cheese. I can’t wait to try both!