​Sumac Jelly

Rhus glabra sumac thicket with ripe fruit.

Tis the season to can and preserve!!  I started making jelly the other night out of the things I have foraged. I was asked for my for sumac jelly recipe since the ones available online tend to be small batches or produce iffy results. It is a very basic recipe, and super easy, yet yields a REALLY flavorful jelly that has 10 calories and 3 carbs per teaspoon while having a ton of vitamin C and antioxidants.

 “Sumac you say!?!? But isn’t that POISONOUS!!”  Sigh. It *IS* related to poison sumac but it doesn’t cause contact dermatitis, usually.  “But but but… they are related! I don’t want to eat something related to poison sumac!  What if… “  Stop. That is like saying you don’t want to eat tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or potatoes because they are related to nightshade and “what if…” 

Many of the things we eat have poisonous cousins. That doesn’t make them poisonous.  Not convinced sumac is safe?  Read thisthisthis and this.   

As an aside, Rhus is related to cashews. Which aren’t actually nuts. Seriously.  Google it. Every cashew ever is hand picked by a human being because they can’t come up with a machine for it. 

I love sumac jelly! It has a tart, tannic flavor that lends itself very well to chevre goat cheese, dried and cured meats, wild game;  things with strong flavors.  Sumac is naturally very high in vitamin C, and has a lemony flavor. If you have ever had Mediterranean food with a lemony red powder on it… you’ve eaten sumac!   If you wonder what it is and how to find it, see my previous post about the plant itself.   

Either of the two most common species of sumac, Rhus typhina or Rhus glabra, will do for making this jelly. I think the typhina probably works better, it tends to be fuzzier and have more of the flavor particulates than the glabra, however whichever you find will work. 

I collected a dozen or so clusters that was about 50/50 glabra and typhina. DO NOT WASH FIRST!! You will wash all the flavor right down the sink. It is a topical flavor particulate. Don’t wash it away.  

Shamelessly recycled photo of Rhus typhina and glabra sumac from years ago. I’m not proud.

Instead, cram the fruit clusters, stem and all, into a large stainless steel pot. Yes, I know the stems look gross. Compared to the sanitized grocery store food, this feels wrong. Muscle through it. Add just enough water to cover the fruit clusters and put it on the stove to simmer for a while. 

Another shamelessly recycled photo. I didn’t think to get a new one. It was late. Stems and all, in the pot.

How long depends on a multitude of variables including weather patterns (effects moisture content) humidity, minerals in your tap water, etc. DO NOT USE ALUMINUM OR IRON!!  Those are chemically reactive metals. Use stainless, enamel or powder coated pots. 

Bring it to a low boil for about 5 minutes. “BOIL?!?!?  What is this madness!! My uncle’s cousin’s brother’s sister’s friend said you just run cold water over it!”  That will produce weak lemony water, yes, but the antioxidants and vitamin C aren’t really released unless you boil it.  I usually boil it until it turns an amber color like below.  Once the liquid gets to that color, strain it off and discard the sumac fruit. I suggest bird feeders.

Prepared sumac liquid. It will be a rosie amber color.

The recipe I use is a pretty straight forward, low sugar recipe that yields 6 standard 6 oz. jelly jars with about a tablespoon left over for immediate gratification. Save yourself time and start your canner boiling when you put the sumac in the pot to cook.  

So how do I know how many calories and carbs are in each teaspoon?  Witchcraft?  Almost. ALGEBRA!!!! *Flashback to 7th grade math class “When will I ever use this in real life!?!?”* 

 Answer: Grocery shopping, cooking, canning, home decorating… basically all the time. Take THAT 7th grade me!!

So, reading the nutritional label on the sugar bag, one teaspoon has 15 calories and 4 carbs. This recipe makes 36 ounces. Google how many teaspoons in a cup (48), and how many teaspoons in an ounce (6). Enter algebra.

(15*48)*3=2160   2160/(6*36)=10 Calories per teaspoon

(4*48)*3=576         576/(6*36)=2.6 (round up) Carbs per teaspoon

BAM!  You just did algebra.  Pretty painless, eh?

I just know I’m going to get an email or a comment that my expressions are incorrect.  I haven’t had a math class in a lifetime. I did the best I could on memory!

Sumac is a wonderful jelly that you just CANNOT buy I stores. It is akin in many ways to mint jelly in that it pairs so well with savory things.  By making it yourself, you can control the ingredients and make sure there are no artificial anything in there.  It also is a great way to get out and enjoy the outdoors hunting for the ingredients.  Give it a try! The recipe is below. 

A low sugar sumac jelly recipe that yeilds 36 oz of jelly with 10 calories and 3 carbs per teaspoon!

RECIPE:

  • 4.5 cups of sumac liquid
  • 3 cups of sugar
  • 1 package low sugar Sure Gel pectin
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  1. There will be little sumac fuzzies in the liquid. That’s fine. Think of it as fiber.  Put the liqued in a stainless pot and start on a medium high heat. Per Sure Gel instructions, add a ¼ cup of sugar and the package of Sure Gel to the liquid, stirring constantly.
  2. Bring to a full rolling boil and stir in the rest of the sugar. 
  3. When it reaches a boil that can’t be stirred down, give it one minute. 
  4. After one minute, remove from heat. 
  5. Skim off any foam and ladle into prepared jars. Wipe the rims down, and place lids/bands on the jars.
  6. Load jars into your canner and make sure there is at least 2 inches of water covering them. Add the vinegar to the canning water.  That will help prevent mineral scale from building up on the outside of your jars during the canning process. 
  7. Process time should be determined by your elevation and contents;  see the USDA guidelines for that.  Here they are.
  8. As a high acid food, at my elevation, it is 5 minutes at a full boil.
  9. When finished processing, remove the jars from from the canner and set on a dry towel out of drafts to cool. If you are using single use metal lids, you should almost immediately begin hearing *PING* as the jars seal.  I use the Tattler reusable lids now and I rather miss that.   What are Tattlers?  Find out here.  They don’t sponsor me or anything, I just like the sustainable aspect.  
  10. Wait until they are fully cool, preferably overnight,  THEN REMOVE THE BANDS. Label with date & contents and store in a single layer in a dark place.  Do NOT leave the metal bands on the jars, I don’t care who told you to do it. Why?  Keep reading.
  11. Do NOT stack jars. That defeats the purpose of a two part lid. The whole reason lids come in two pieces is so that if there are bacteria or enzymes in the jar, the lid will pop off and you will know not to eat it. It is a built in safety feature. If you leave the bands on or stack them, the jar can be full of botulism and stay sealed or even RESEAL.  I don’t care who has done what for how many years and been fine. All it takes is ONCE.  Just be smart. Don’t do it. Remove the bands and get shelves that are closer together if you are worried about space. 

I hope you get a chance to make this jelly and enjoy it.  It is a wonderful alternative to store bought jelly with a unique flavor.  Why buy when you can DIY?

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m pinning for future reference. I like foraging, and I’m also wanting to learn to can with less sugar. This sure is pretty! I haven’t done anything with sumac before.

    1. I’ve always used less sugar in my canning, but due to health concerns I’ve really cut back. The change in flavor is remarkable; the fruit flavor really comes to the forefront when it isn’t being drowned out with sugar.

      Sumac is a wonderful and unique flavor. It is in season right now in zone 6 in the states where it grows. Good luck!

      1. Thank you for the encouragement to try less sugar. And new things!

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