While picking grapes I discovered a little apple tree in front of the old apple tree in the far field that I'd never noticed before. It had a few apples on it--I took some, left a couple, and cut the well-laden grapevine off it. I'll go back and clear the grapevine further back, and maybe next year this tree will produce a real crop. It's great to have all these wild grapes, but the vines kill trees, so I try to take them off of any trees that I want to protect. The grapevines are winning (maybe because there's too much edge and not enough woods) so I don't have any compunction about taking the side of the trees.
Last year was my first successful foray into jelly-making, using a few crab apples given to me by a neighbour and apples off the tree in the yard. This year I'm right into it: starting with strawberry, raspberry (best), blueberry and peach (not so good) freezer jams (all except the peaches fresh-picked in the neighbourhood), and moving on to chokecherry, apple, and most recently apple-sumac jelly.
The fruit of the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is fuzzy, and quite unfruitlike. I've heard tell of a cold drink, reputed to be like lemonade, made with its juice. I've never tasted it, but doubt that's it's anything like lemonade. Nevertheless, here's a link to a recipe for it.
The juice I made for the jelly from the sumac fruit I collected looked and smelled like very strong tea.
To make the juice: rinse the fruit clusters, cover with water, bring to a boil, boil gently for about 10 minutes, crush through a sieve, strain though a jelly bag, or three or four layers of cheesecloth in a colander. (Get a jelly bag!) I cooked up the sumac with a few apples because I intended to use both in the jelly anyway, and to check the cooking time (until the apples are soft). I was nervous about both how it looked and how it smelled, but I went ahead. The juice will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.The jelly is delicious! Mine is a little soft, either because of the commercial juice I added or because it boiled over (use a large enough pot!!), so might not have boiled hard for the full minute. But I like it soft, so am content. Jelly depends partly on the pectin content of the fruit you start out with, something best determined by how the jelly turns out.
Make your apple juice the same way--for small apples, cut off the blossom and stem end before cooking; larger ones, cut in quarters.
7 cups juice:
3.5 cups sumac juice
2.5 cups apple juice
1 cup commercial apple-cranberry juice (which had been sitting in the fridge), added to make up the 7 cups.
The proportion of apple to sumac juice was arrived at by the amount of each I had ready. The commerical juice was a whim I had. Different proportions and different bits of whimsy would probably work out as well.
In a large pot, stir in one packet of pectin crystals, bring to a boil, add 8 cups sugar and boil hard for one minute. Take off heat, skim, bottle and seal, according to whatever system you use for this.
I was inspired to write about this by a post I read at Roundrock Journal about the winged sumac (Rhus copaliina). The fruit looks something like that of the staghorn, but isn't in tight clusters. I wonder if you can make jelly with it.