Posts Tagged home-made pectin

Playing with pectin

This is the week when canning buddy and I hit the pick-your-own farm and come back in a car that smells like summer. Then we race to turn the soft fruit (usually strawberries and raspberries, sometimes currants and cherries as well) into countless jars of jam in the hope that it will remind us of summer right through a Canadian winter.

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But I’ve written about the summer can-o-rama before, and there’s a limit to how many times you I can brag about how many jars of jam we made (44 this year). I want to opine instead on the pectin problem, given that strawberries don’t have enough of it for a jam to set, and strawberry jam is up there on the list of must-have jars.

I am not a fan of how regular commercial pectin gives my jam a gelatinous feel, so I’m always in the market for a workaround. The addition of a kiwi fruit, recommended by the New York Times a few years back, produces a nice, soft strawberry jam, although you have to be careful to remove all the kiwi’s woody core, and the black seeds are mildly disconcerting, a gentle reminder that it’s not all strawberry. Other recipes suggest adding an apple (I tried that with a cherry jam one year and it ended up like cherry jam with apple sauce), and last month I hit the jackpot by adding home-made crabapple pectin to a strawberry jam, which produced a genuinely “wow” jam, which might be one of the best I’ve ever made.

But I’m out of crabapple pectin. In the course of a mad canning afternoon, we tried out four alternatives, all of which seem to work around the strawberry-set problem. I’ll add the ratings when I get round to opening the jars.

1. Strawberry jam with Pomona pectin.

I’ve read a lot about Pomona pectin on the interwebz, and fans say it offers the set without the sour, so you don’t need as much sugar and you don’t cook your jam as long. It’s a U.S. product, so I was sort of surprised to see it at the local health food store. Expensive, yes, but worth a go.

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Because it was the first time, we followed the recipe pretty slavishly for this one, mixing one of the two packets in the box to produce a calcium water, and then stirring the recommended volume of the pectin packet into the sugar before adding sugar/pectin to hot strawberries and boiling for another 1-2 minutes. It all seemed pretty vague — between 3/4 of a cup and two cups of sugar to four cups of mashed up strawberries — and Pomona said firmly that strawberries didn’t need the addition of lemon juice. But it was definitely worth a try.

It’s early days, but while the set was firm (too firm, perhaps?) I do admit the first taste was not as truly yummy as I thought it ought to be. Maybe strawberry jam needs the bitterness of lemon to bring out the strawberries? Or maybe 2-1/2 cups of sugar to 8 cups of fruit just wasn’t quite enough? We have eight jars. It’s still strawberry jam.

2. Strawberry-raspberry jam

Second workaround was one we’ve used many times before, mixing strawberries with pectin-rich raspberries (and lemons) for glorious burst of flavour. The first taste is raspberry, but then the strawberry creeps through, and it’s always a lovely set. We make this jam each year. No reason to stop now.

3. Strawberry-gooseberry jam

Recipe number 3 swapped out raspberries for gooseberries, which have even more pectin than raspberries do. And while the strawberry-raspberry jam used 3 cups each of strawberries and raspberries, the strawberry-gooseberry one was a ratio of 5:1, with a little extra sugar to cut the gooseberry bite. Nice set. Taste rating to come.

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4. Strawberry jam with gooseberry pectin

Then things got a little more experimental, and if the crabapple pectin worked so well, what about making a gooseberry pectin, which meant boiling the berries up with a little water, and then straining the juice out in a jelly bag. In an ideal world I’d have left the goop to drip overnight, but we wanted now. So we added two tablespoons of gooseberry pectin to 6 generous cups of strawberries, and jammed them up with 4 scant cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons. The taste is good. The gooseberry elixir adds a bitterness which I rather like, and you don’t have to top or tail the gooseberries, a sticky, frustrating and time-consuming task.

Plus there are 10 little ice cube trays of gooseberry pectin waiting for the next jam.

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We got five jars of that jam, but one jar had an accident in the waterbath. It’s only the second time that’s ever happened. Too many jars in the canner? A flaw in the jar?

Who knows. It was almost the end of the session, so we abandoned the idea of waterbathing the last 7 jars of pure raspberry jam and retired to the Ribfest up the street.

Despite that broken jar, it was a seriously successful day.

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So very good

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Strawberry jam is always a little tricky, not the jam for a novice canner at all. Unless the fruit is seriously unripe, and hence only marginally tasty, strawberries are seriously short on pectin, which means it’s easy to make strawberry syrup, but distressingly difficult to make a strawberry jam that sets. My mother’s method was to boil stuff until the jam is almost brown, or giving up in despair and rushing out to get commercial pectin.

But I’m not a fan of commercial pectin — it adds a taste and a texture I don’t like — so I’m always looking for alternatives. For the last couple of years, I had a lot of success with the surprise addition of a kiwi fruit to a batch of jam (the little black seeds are marginally disconcerting, but you don’t taste the kiwi at all). But this year I discovered a few cubes of homemade crabapple pectin languishing in the bottom of the freezer.
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If I threw one of those into the mix toward the end of the boil, would my jam set? And what about the taste?

After three quick batches of strawberry jam, two of them with mint, I report astonishing success. This jam is deep rich red, with satisfying chunks of fruit. It mounds pleasantly on the spoon, rather than drizzling down the sides, and it tastes of summer. All I need to do is boil up more crabapple pectin later this summer, and I’m good to go.

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Strawberry jam

6 generous cups strawberries
4 slightly skimpy cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
1-2 tbsp finely chopped mint (optional)
1 cube of crabapple pectin

Wash and hull the strawberries, and cut them into halves or quarters. Add sugar and lemon juice and allow to sit while you prepare the next batches of fruit. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, and then bring to a rolling boil for five minutes. Add the pectin and boil for another five minutes or so. Test for set, bottle in clean jars, waterbath for 10 minutes.

Try not to eat it all at once.

Rating: 4.999 (out of 5)

I admit I didn’t skim off all the foam, so there are little white flecks in some of the jars, which means it wouldn’t win any competitions at the Ex. But what’s a fleck or two between frends. This jam is knock your socks off awesome.

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Not just sticky fingers

My attempt at melon jam has to be the stickiest thing I’ve ever made.

I tried the recipe with New Jersey canning buddy earlier this year and have been waiting for the Ontario melons to roll in so I could try it again. But either we did things more efficiently last time, or I left before the cleanup, because this recipe was seriously sticky, and I keep coming across new surfaces in the kitchen and elsewhere that I didn’t wipe down yet. My fingers are still sticky underneath my wedding ring, I now discover. I mean huh?

The full recipe is listed over here, but the process goes something like this. Peel and chop a ripe, juicy melon, a sticky task at the best of times, then add sugar to compound the stickiness. Then macerate it for several hours and separate out the fruit (sticky) boil up the syrup (sticky), add fruit, more sugar and other yummy stuff (sticky), boil (sticky), add pectin (surprisingly not sticky), boil again (sticky) and splosh into jars (sticky). Spend a long, time cleaning up.

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But while last time we snafued by adding one pouch of liquid pectin rather than the two the recipe called for, and ending up with syrup, this time I snafued by adding just two cubes of my home-made pectin, and it clearly needed far, far more than that to set.

I offer melon syrup, with bits. Delicious, limey, gingery, melony syrup, but syrup nonetheless, a few notches runnier than maple syrup.

Options

  • Add to Greek yogurt for a seriously yummy desert
  • Boil it up again with another couple more cubes of pectin, and hope it sets this time
  • Use it as a syrup, probably diluted with water or even wine, to poach other fruit, infusing pears, apples, apricots or peaches with that glorious melon-lime-ginger taste

Right now I like the idea of option 3.

But I reserve the right to change my mind.

Any other ideas?

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Almost black

Canning buddy and I braved the hot kitchen in the Toronto heatwave for a quick jamming burst this week, with a jam from a mix of sweet and sour cherries because that’s what I picked up on a trip to the Niagara cherry country. I stoned them the night before, and left them in the fridge overnight with sugar according to the simple 3:2:1 formula that I’ve used for almost all my jams this year. That means 3/6/9 (generous) cups of fruit, 2/4/6 (skimpy) cups of sugar and the juice of 1/2/3 lemon(s), depending on how much fruit you have.

Cherries are low in pectin, and all the recipes suggest adding a pack or a pouch of powdered or liquid pectin to encourage the jam to set.  I try to avoid commercial pectin — it gives me too firm a set — so am always seeking other options. Last year we tried adding apples to a cherry vanilla jam, which was sort of meh, but we had amazing success with adding a kiwi fruit to a strawberry jam earlier this year. (I opened one jar straight away because the seal didn’t take, for some reason, and it’s very, very yummy. A 4-1/2 out of five at least.)

But this year I had some home made pectin to play around with, after an experiment last summer boiling down a couple of pounds of crabapples into a pretty, pink syrup that I froze to pretty pink cubes. We threw two pectin cubes our cherry syrup after 5 minutes of a rolling boil, and Eureka! Five more minutes of boiling and we had an almost black jam with a fairly firm set. It’s a very good cherry jam.

I will add one reality check, and after years of trying to like cherry-flavored stuff, I am forced to admit that cherry jam will never be my favorite. I don’t like the chewy texture, and I don’t like the taste of cooked cherries all that much.

Am I alone in not really liking cherry jam?

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