Pectin. No Sugar Pectin. Ball. Certo. SureJel. Pomona. Pectin Jaune. Confusing, right?
Let’s talk pectin. What follows is strictly my opinion and reflects my own experiences with various commercial pectins. I am not endorsing or dismissing any of these products. They are all effective and useful. Choose the pectin, or no pectin, according to your own expectations and desires.
Pectin is necessary to build a gel for preserves, to suspend the fruit in a syrup. All fruit has some pectin, but some fruits have a lot of pectin and others have hardly any. Apples, citrus, gooseberries all have loads of natural pectin, while most stone fruits (cherries, apricots, peaches and plums) do not. Consequently, making apple jam or marmalade that sets up is a relatively easy thing, while cherry jam, strawberry preserves and plum jelly can be difficult.
Here’s a factoid I just learned from Wikipedia “In human digestion, pectin binds to cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and slows glucose absorption by trapping carbohydrates. Pectin is thus a soluble dietary fiber.” Eat More Fruit Preserves!
Commercial pectins are made from citrus peels, for the most part, and occasionally from apple cores and peels. Certo and SureJel, the pectins commonly found on your grocer’s shelves, have been around for decades. These are the gelling agents your mother and grandmother turned to when jam was on the stove. These commercial pectins are formulated to work with ratios of fruit to sugar that are high, in many cases a pound for pound equivalency is necessary. That’s a lot of sugar. But it’s also the flavor we grew up tasting. With these pectins, the number of jars of jam produced from a pound of fruit – the yield – is higher than when no pectin is used.
As the public began to demand lower sugar alternatives, the no-sugar version of these commercial pectins became available. These no-sugar, or low-sugar alternatives use fruit juice (generally apple or white grape) to make up for the lower sugar, and in my opinion change the flavor from pure cherry or pure plum to one that has tones of apple or grape. Not a bad thing, just not what I am looking for in my preserves.
Recently, Pomona Pectin began to attract attention. Pomona resembles the pectin most widely used in Europe – Pectin Jaune. This product can be used with no sugar, low sugar, and sugar substitutes. For many people, particularly diabetics, this pectin is a superb choice. I’ve used it for jellies and jams, but for me, I was disappointed in the often cloudy appearance of the end product.
Ball (the jar company) has recently begun to package their pectins – both traditional and low sugar versions – in small, convenient plastic bottles, available wherever you buy jars. Their website is comprehensive, has answers to many frequently asked questions, and has wonderful tools to respond to questions about pectin use, including a pectin calculator.
If you’ve been reading along here, you know that I’ve made homemade gooseberry and apple pectins. In fact, I’m starting a batch of apple pectin today with fifteen pounds of green, unripe apples brought to me by Susan Behl of Nob Hill Farm. She’s my favorite enabler, growing gorgeous fruits like gooseberries and white, red and black currants; mirabelle plums, a staggering variety of peaches and raspberries, dozens of apple types, and even walnuts! If you’re in DC, you’ll find Susan at the Lafayette Farmers Market and the Palisades Market.
I put up four ounce jars of these homemade pectins to use in recipes using three pounds of fruit and three cups of sugar. Beware, they are less precise than commercial versions. Some years, the pectin is strong and gels right away, other times it takes a few minutes of evaporation and boiling to get the set right, but in all cases, I am able to keep the sugar to fruit ratio consistent, and the flavor of the fruit is what I taste, not gooseberry, not apple, and not sugar.
Remember that some preserves and jellies can take up to a month to fully set up, so don’t rush to any conclusions, and as I often say, if your jam or jelly doesn’t set, just call it syrup and enjoy it over pancakes or stirred into seltzer.
I made a lovely cherry preserves using some of the tart cherries I scrounged this season – they were so hard to find! I have also tried my gooseberry pectin with peaches and with apricots (same ratios) and have had superb luck – recipes coming soon. I hope you’ll give it a try, too, and let me know how you do.
It’s time to celebrate! July 14th is Can-It-Forward day. This is the third year this wonderful celebration of canning will be held. Why not hold a canning party in your home? Teach some of your friends and neighbors about the ancient art of preserving. You’ll find lots of information on the Ball site, and as they’ve partnered with Food52 this year, there’s even more inspiration on my favorite food site and chances to win product and join others canning across the country.
Don’t miss the excellent advice and information at Canvolution’s site, and check the Twitter hashtag #canvolution to see what all the brilliant canners across the country are up to. The Can-A-Rama will be held July 20-22, so if you miss the 14th, there’s another chance to party with your jars one week later.
And to make it all even better, the Ball Jar company has been very generous. They are offering a Home Canning discovery kit, jar lifter, labels, pectins and a free case of jars to one of my lucky readers. And you can bet I’ll send along some treats from my pantry. Leave a comment below and I’ll do a random selection by Friday, July 6th, so you’ll have plenty of time to pick up those jars and plan your canning adventures before July 14th
PS Laura, I hope this clears up some questions! xox
Makes 4 half pints
3 lbs. cherries, tart if you can find them
3 cups sugar
Juice of one lemon
4 oz gooseberry or apple pectin
Pit and stem the cherries over a bowl, capturing all the juices.
Collect about 1/2 cup of the pits and rap them with a hammer to crack. Wrap the pits in cheesecloth and tie well.
Add the pits, sugar and lemon juice to the bowl of cherries and stir well.
Allow the mixture to macerate 8-12 hours in the refrigerator, covered.
Set a strainer over a heavy bottomed pot and strain out the fruit. Dispose of the cheesecloth bag of cherry pits.
Bring the collected juices to a full rolling boil, stirring often, until the temperature reaches 220°.
Add the fruit and bring the mixture back to a full rolling boil, then add the pectin.
Bring everything to a good hard boil. The foam should dissipate, but if any remains, add a pinch of butter and stir well.
Turn off the heat and check the set by pushing at the surface of the preserves. If it wrinkles, you’re all ready to put the preserves in jars. Another test for its readiness? The fruit will not be floating, but will be suspended throughout the syrup. If it’s still loose, boil for another two to three minutes and check the set again.
Ladle the hot preserves into warm jars leaving 1/4″ headspace. Process for ten minutes in a waterbath.