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How To Make Homemade Pectin

Grandmother’s jellies and jams made use of the various fruits available to her and were the perfect addition to add flavor to a cold-weather meal.  I don’t know if all grandmas serve homemade jams and jellies and bread with their dinners, but I do know that it was a welcome experience when I was growing up.

When making jams and jellies, pectin is often called for. How much is needed depends on the nature of the fruit being processed.  These days, it’s very easy to reach for the store-bought pectin (regular old Sure-Jell or Ball or even the old-fashioned Pomona brand), not thinking about where the product comes from or how we might fare without this valuable food-preservation ingredient.

How would we do with our food-preservation if we no longer had store bought pectin available to us? What would we do without it? It’s a good idea to learn how to make pectin for ourselves, and how to adapt our recipes to make them work when we do not have ready-made pectin available.

What Is Pectin?

Pectin is a substance found in many fruits, especially those that are under-ripe.  It has the unique ability of gelling when heated and exposed to an acid from the fruit and sugars.  This is what makes a mere fruit mixture into what we know as jam or jelly.  Pectin is a key ingredient to make the magic happen.

Which Fruits Are High In Pectin?

Fruits that are high in pectin include apples, crabapples, cranberries, currants, gooseberries, plums, grapes, and quinces.  Citrus rinds are also high in pectin.  As is mentioned above, under-ripe fruit has more pectin than ripened or overripe fruit.  As a fruit ripens, the pectin breaks down and no longer works its gelling magic.  If you are making a jam or jelly using only high-pectin fruits, it’s fairly easy and simply involves boiling down the fruit to concentrate the pulp, sugars, and pectin the fruit naturally contains.

Which Fruits Are Low In Pectin?

Fruit that is low in pectin will need pectin added in order for the jelly and jam to gel.  Fruits that are low in pectin include apricots, blueberries, cherries, elderberries, peaches, pears, pineapple, raspberries, and strawberries. No amount of boiling down will cause these fruits to gel without adding some sort of thickening agent such as pectin.

Prepare now for surging food costs and empty grocery store shelves…

How To Make Pectin From Apples

Apples and crabapples are one of the most common and widely available high-pectin fruits.  Unripe, early falls will work well, but be aware that they may make a cloudier pectin. If you find you don’t have enough not-overripe fruit at any one time to make a batch of pectin, you may wish to freeze your apple parts in a freezer bag until you have enough for the recipe.  Just be sure to err on the side of tart, just-ripe, or slightly under-ripe apples for pectin making. You never want overripe apples.

To make pectin from apples, you will need:

  • 2 lbs. of apples or apple parts (peelings, cores, pulp or whole apples)
  • 4 cups of water
  • Pot or pan large enough to hold the apples and water
  • Cheesecloth or jelly bag
  • Strainer to lay the cheesecloth in
  • Container (such as a bowl) to catch the strained liquid/pectin

1. Put the apples into a pot and add enough water to just cover all the pieces. Bring to a boil. Boil about forty-five minutes to an hour.

2. Lay the cheesecloth in the strainer over your container or situate the jelly bag in the strainer over your container and pour the apples and water into the cheesecloth/jelly bag.  Extract the juice without squeezing the bag. If you squeeze the bag and force the liquid through, you will end up with cloudy pectin. Patience is key—you may need to let this setup sit overnight to get the maximum amount of liquid out of your fruit before proceeding to the next step.

3. Boil the resulting liquid for fifteen more minutes. The result after this boiling is your homemade pectin. Can it or freeze it if you will not be using it soon.

One cup of this homemade pectin should be used per one cup of low-pectin fruit juice. This homemade pectin and low-pectin fruit juice mixture should be sufficient when mixed with 3/4 cup sugar for every cup of liquid. (So, for example, if you are making peach jelly, each cup of peach juice used would require one cup of homemade pectin and one-and-one-half cups of sugar.)

According to my old copy of Stocking Up: How to Preserve the Foods You Grow Naturally, four cups of homemade pectin will replace about half a bottle, or three ounces, of commercial liquid pectin in most recipes.

To test your homemade pectin: Put one teaspoon of the homemade pectin and one tablespoon of 70 percent rubbing alcohol into a small cup or bowl.  Stir this mixture. If your pectin is boiled down enough, it should form a globule at the top of the alcohol and be easily removable with a fork.  Dispose of the alcohol/pectin properly, and do not consume it because the alcohol is toxic!

To test your batch of jam or jelly that you used your homemade pectin in:  Remove a teaspoonful of your finished product and hold an ice cube to the bottom of the spoon. As the jam or jelly cools, it will gel.  If you are happy with the results of your cooled spoonful, you can continue with the preserving of your jelly or jam.  If it is not setting to your liking, you may add one more cup of sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and more of your homemade pectin. Bring it to a boil for one minute and test again.

Preserving Homemade Pectin For Future Use

If you are not going to use your homemade pectin immediately, you may want to can it.  To can apple pectin, heat it to boiling, pour into sterilized canning jars, and seal.  You will likely not find current Ball Blue Book instructions on canning pectin.  Perhaps this is because they sell the pectin themselves and find it to be a conflict in interest? I don’t know. My local extension office recommends using a boiling-water bath for ten minutes to preserve apple juice, which would likely be a similar process. Use your best judgment and do your own research if you have any reservations about canning your homemade pectin. Homemade pectin may also be frozen in freezer containers, allowing one inch of headspace for expansion.

Due to the variation of nature and each apple’s content of pectin, sugar, and acids, your pectin will vary from year to year and batch to batch.  Use the information given to start with and adjust as needed.  We’re not working with the controlled sameness of factory-made, commercial pectin. We’re working with the raw materials, and that requires a little bit more flexibility in our endeavors.  Definitely test your pectin to give you a good idea of your homemade pectin’s level of effectiveness, and test your finished batch of jelly or jam before canning it up.

Are you familiar with this method of making homemade pectin? Do you use homemade pectin in your recipes?  Any tips and tricks others might find useful?  Please share!

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