It was time to thin my Granny Smith apple tree that my husband and I have in the backyard of our valley home. The June drop was pretty much over (yes, there is such a thing) and the apples were starting to rapidly develop. Time to thin.
But wait! Don’t throw out your thinned apples! If you don’t use chemical pesticides on your apple trees, you can make natural pectin for your future jams and jellies! With tart, unripe apples like the ones in the picture below, there is a lot of pectin inside, and simply boiling the apples with water releases the pectin!
Just wash them to get the dust off, chop them up (don’t worry about peeling or taking out the core), and throw the whole apple in a large stockpot. Since we didn’t use any pesticides on our apple tree this year, the apples had a few worms, so I cut out the damaged parts and used the rest. The ratio I used for this batch was 6 pounds of apples to 8 cups of water. I let the mixture simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring quite often so the apples didn’t stick to the bottom of the pot, and squishing the apples against the side of the pot once they got soft.
Once the apples are all mushy, strain through a cheesecloth and let the liquid drain for an hour or two. Return the liquid to the stove and simmer for another 1/2 hour or until the liquid begins to thicken and is reduced by almost half. You now have liquid pectin! If you aren’t using it right away, you can can the pectin in 8 ounce jelly jars and process in a waterbath for 15 minutes.
Of course, the amount of pectin in each batch will be a bit different, and it isn’t quite as simple to use it as is the store-bought kind. One thing to know is that each fruit will have different levels of natural pectin, so the amount of fruit to sugar to pectin to acid ratio will be just a bit different with each batch/type of fruit you plan to make into jam or jelly. Generally, over-ripe fruits have the least amount of pectin and under-ripe fruits have the most.
The fruits with the most natural pectin and acid, needing the least amount added are: sour apples, crabapples, cranberries, gooseberries, eastern concord grapes, lemons, loganberries, plums, raspberries and citrus skin. These are the fruits that I remember my grandma making into jam or jelly. She would boil them for quite some time and I don’t remember her adding any pectin, just lots of sugar.
The fruits with some natural pectin and not as much acid are: ripe apples, ripe blackberries, sour cherries, most grapes (not concord) and loquats. These are the fruits that will generally need some lemon juice added with pectin, along with the sugar. Sometimes you can add some not-quite-ripe fruit with the ripe fruit to get a better gel, but the flavor might be a bit more tart.
Apricots, blueberries, sweet cherries, figs, western concord grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, pomegranates and strawberries generally have the least amount of natural pectin and acid, and will require the addition of both.
I have found that if you follow the general directions for making jams and jellies with commercial liquid pectin, you should be good to go with your homemade stuff. One company that makes liquid pectin, Certo, has recipes online that you can look up. One package of Certo liquid pectin is 6 ounces, so using a full 8 ounce jelly jar of your homemade pectin should be just right, if you have a very concentrated pectin. And remember to add the liquid pectin into your boiling fruit and sugar mixture when there is only one minute to go, or you could ruin the ability of the pectin to gel.
If you want to test how well you pectin jells, try this trick: pour some rubbing alcohol into a cup. Drop in 1/2 teaspoon of your cold homemade pectin. Then, try to pick up the pectin glob with a fork. If it stays in one large glob, the pectin is good enough to make your jelly or jam just like the commercial stuff. If the glob starts to drip from the fork and hangs there, it will form a soft jelly or jam. If you can’t pick up the blob at all, your pectin is too weak. If it’s too weak, just boil it a little longer to concentrate the pectin, then try the test again.
Word of warning: When making my pectin, I always tend to want to squeeze the cheesecloth to make the liquid strain through faster. Yes. I can be impatient! This won’t hurt anything, but tends to make a cloudy pectin, and a cloudy pectin might make a cloudy jelly. If you aren’t entering the jelly into your local fair or trying to impress your mother-in-law, it really doesn’t matter. It will taste the same. If you want clear pectin, just let it drain for several hours – maybe even overnight – and don’t squeeze!
Okay, off to gather some blackberries and gooseberries to make some jelly! How about you – have you ever made your own pectin?
NOTE: If you would like to see how this turns out – click here to read about making blackberry/gooseberry jelly with the home made pectin!
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