Old-Fashioned Cooking: Homemade Pectin

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Blackberries are high in pectin, especially if you toss in lots of the red ones.


Once upon a time, the ranch wife who was on a jam-making spree had to start by making her own homemade pectin. Alternatively, she had to make sure the fruit she was working with had enough natural pectin to prevent the result from being syrup rather than jam. Apricots, peaches, cherries, blueberries and strawberries are low in pectin. Apples, blackberries, grapes and cranberries are high in pectin. Raspberries are supposed to be low in pectin but in practice, they usually need only a little added pectin to set up well. Fruit that is fully ripe has less natural pectin than fruit that is a little under-ripe. Use a mix of both for best results. Aim for one-quarter of your fruit to be under-ripe.

Concord grapes are a classic for making jelly, with good reason.


I had a request this morning from a reader named Virginia for a recipe for homemade pectin, and it was very timely, as right now there are plenty of immature apples on the trees. Virginia, this one’s for you:
Homemade Pectin
1. Gather or buy about three pounds of apples (this should make about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of homemade pectin). Any variety will do as long as the fruit is immature. The best choice is crabapples, as they are loaded with natural pectin. In many locations, you can find these growing wild. If you’re buying or growing your own, look for ripe Dolgo, Hewes Virginia, Manchurian and Transcendent. However, most tart apples – those high in malic acid, which is what provides the pucker factor – will work. Supermarket apples such as Granny Smith or other “cooking apples” may be your only choice. Try to find some that are under-ripe – they will be almost hard and are lighter in color. If you can find some heirloom varieties, look for those recommended for cider and cooking rather than fresh eating. Try Bramley Seedling, Rhode Island Greening, Stayman Winesap and Gravenstein.
2. Wash the fruit, chop or slice the whole apples – you want peels, cores and flesh. Smallish chunks, say about one inch in size, are best to help the apples break down.
3. Place the fruit in a stainless steel pan; add four cups of water and two tablespoons of lemon juice.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it cook at a fast simmer until it is reduced by half; this should take about 30 to 45 minutes. Stir periodically and keep an eye on it so the water doesn’t boil away, which can result in burned fruit. Add a little water (maybe a quarter of a cup) if you absolutely have to. While it’s cooking, prepare your canning jars as you would for any project and keep hot.
5. Strain through a cheesecloth or jelly bag.
6. Boil for another 20 minutes.
7. Pour the pectin into hot canning jars, seal and either invert for five minutes or allow to sit until the lids seal. No water bath necessary. Store in the fridge after opening.

Golden Delicious apples; a poor choice for pectin unless unripe.


Making homemade pectin is easy. Now the fun begins. Unlike commercial pectin, you have to conduct some tests to determine how much to use. Add one tablespoon of your homemade pectin to one cup of cooked, hot fruit puree or juice. Add one teaspoon of the puree or juice with added pectin to one tablespoon rubbing alcohol. High-pectin fruits will quickly set into a stiff, solid mass. Low-pectin foods will form small, flaky pieces. Keep repeating this process until the consistency is what you’re looking for. Now you know how many tablespoons to add per cup of fruit. For example, three tablespoons pectin to one cup of fruit means nine tablespoons pectin for three cups of fruit.

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