Posts Tagged 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.

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.

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.

imageThen 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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Don’t throw them away

I bought the last of the tiny Concord grapes this weekend, and then realized they are crowded with large, inedible seeds. Not my favourite, and the spouse said he wasn’t going to eat them either. That left two options: toss them; or make grape jelly. I hate wasting food, so I started simmering the fruit before I realized I had no jars in the pantry, and before I started looking up recipes, most of which say you should prep the fruit before you boil it by popping the fruit from the skins and making the jelly in two stages. No matter. I made redcurrant jelly with redcurrants on the stem. I can do the same for grapes.

The recipes also called for pectin, which I don’t like. I threw in a couple of my pectin cubes from the freezer, added the juice of a lemon and winged it.


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Concorde grape jelly

Wash grapes, add a little water and simmer until they are soft and some of the seeds and skins start floating to the surface. Strain overnight in a jelly bag, then squeeze out the juice. Measure the juice (I had just under five cups) and add the same volume of sugar, plus the juice of one lemon. I added two of my pectin cubes as well — they are less bitter than the pectin in the stores, but don’t provide that gelatinous set either. Boil until it seems to set — it was probably six or eight minutes. Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath.

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Thoughts:

  • It’s a deep, deep purple, and must be one of the most beautiful jellies I’ve ever made
  • Two crabapple pectin cubes seem to be enough for my basket of Concord grapes to bubble their way to a loose set after about six minutes of rolling boil
  • Those recipes mean business when they order you not to use more than 5 cups of grape juice at a time. This bubbled to at least twice the volume during the rolling boil. Any more and it would have bubbled out of the pan
  • The 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar seems awful sweet to me, but then bought grape jelly is sweet as well
  • I have no idea how we’re ever going to get through the 500ml jar, but the smaller jars (three @250ml and one @125ml) are more promising
  • Unless the spouse falls in love with grape jelly, and unless I can find a way to cut the sweetness significantly, I may not make this again

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5)

On reflection, this is actually rather good, although I will probably never be a huge fan of grape jelly. Jelly needs a fruit with more attitude than grapes, methinks, which is why it works with crab apples, or red currants. But if I was choosing between this or Welch’s bland and anaemic grape jelly on my PBJ sandwich, I’ll take this any day. And the spouse loves is.

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Free food

I’m not a great fan of  paying $5 at the market for a very small basket of ripe, red crabapples, and when the spouse noted that the trees by his office were groaning with bright red fruit I put out a plea for some after-work gleaning. Next evening, there were two big baskets of the little red beauties, just waiting to be turned to something nice to eat. And crabapples are so laden with pectin that they make a beautiful red jelly with hardly any work.

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The method goes something like this. Wash your crabapples and chop off any rotten bits, and maybe halve the bigger apples. Then almost cover them with water and let them simmer away for 20 minutes or so until they are meltingly soft, but not quite melted away. The riper the crabapples, the redder the mush, and these babies were very ripe indeed.

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Then you pour your crabapple mush into a jelly bag and let it drip into a bowl for a good few hours (or even overnight). The recipes warn you not to squeeze the last drops of juice out of the jelly bag because you’ll get a cloudy jelly, but I admit I always ignore that one. I’m not aiming to win any prizes with my jelly, and I squeeze things as hard as I dare without busting the jelly bag. I hate to think of all that wonderful juice ending up in the compost along with the pulp.

Measure out the juice, and add anywhere between half and 3/4 the amount of sugar — I had four cups of juice, so that meant two and a bit cups of sugar, and it made almost four jars of jelly. Heat your jelly slowly until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil untl it sets. I didn’t time my boil, but I’m sure it was less than 10 minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Ever so easy, and oh, so pretty.

crab3I still had some fruit left over, so I switched to a quick batch of ice-cube pectin, which I made a few years back and then used to help force a set with low-pectin fruit like cherries and strawberries. Last time my little cubes were pretty pink and today they are ruby red, but I’m sure they’ll work the same way. There’s enough natural sugar in the mix that they don’t freeze rock hard, so I’m going to saran wrap my little cubes and store them in a Ziploc. I’ve not used commercial pectin for a long, long time, and see no reason to start using it now.

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There’s something very special about free food.

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Jam-boree!

Once a year, canning buddy and I have a marathon pick ‘n jam session, hitting the market at 7am, then the pick-your-own and then retreating to the house for as many batches of jam as we can be bothered to make. Raspberry and strawberry jams are givens, but there are so many options for things to add and subtract that the fun could go on all day.

We started with this, which included the last of my black cap raspberries from the community garden, and a small container of red currants, also from the garden. They yellow raspberries were a gift. We ate them, unwashed, between batches of jam.


jam3By 4pm, with the shortest possible breaks for coffee and lunch, we had 55 jars of jam, plus a container each of strawberries, raspberries and cherries to keep for eating fresh. It was quite the production line. At any one time we had one or two jams prepped and one on the boil. As soon as the on-the-boil one was ready, we moved one of the prepped jams to the stove and started on that. And rather than waterbathing each batch as we finished it, we did four big water baths of around a dozen jars apiece, coding the lids carefully so we knew which jam was which. It would be so sad to think you’re opening a jar of raspberry lime, and it turns out to be raspberry lemon instead.

jam1We mostly worked with a proportion of 7 cups of fruit, four cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons, which cut the sugar somewhat from our normal 6-4-2 ratio. It seemed to work, although the jams are mostly a little on the runny side. Not a problem my end, given that most of my jams end up in yogurt rather than on bread:

Strawberry raspberry jam (7 jars)
This has to be one of my always-favourite jams, melding two tastes of summer into one glorious mix. It’s so good that I tend to save it rather than open it, so there’s still a jar of 2013 strawberry-raspberry in the cold room.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Yummy. What else can I say?

Raspberry jam (7 jars)
The KISS principle jam. (Keep it simple, stupid). You can’t go wrong with raspberry jam.

Two-cherry jam (5-1/2 jars)
I think this one was half sour cherry, half sweet. We used kiwi instead of pectin. Using kiwi instead of pectin may change my jamming life.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I’m surprising myself with this one. After insisting repeatedly that I don’t like cherry jam, this one is wowing me. I ate it in midwinter, spooned over Greek yogurt or slathered on home-made bread. It was very, very good.

Red-black raspberry jam (6-1/2 jars)
Half red raspberries, half black-cap beauties, like the ones in the black-cap raspberry jam a week or so ago. My arms and legs are still scratched up from picking these. My partner in community garden crime says it’s like we’ve been wrestling with kittens.

Sour cherry jam (4-3/4 jars)
Kiwi for pectin again. Do you see a trend?

Raspberry lime jam (7 jars)
It looked as though we were going to run out of lemons. Besides, it tastes good.

Strawberry lemon verbena jam (5 jars)
This is that New York Times no-pectin strawberry jam again. I’ve done it with mint and with lavender, so it was time to give lemon verbena a try. That came from the community garden too.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I have to admit the strawberry mint is better.

Raspberry-mint-chocolate jam (7-3/4 jars)
The jury is still out on this one. We threw chocolate chips in at the end, and they didn’t melt in that well, so we have chocolate blobs as well as raspberry seeds. And I’m not 100 percent convinced about the idea of raspberries and mint. But it might grow on me.

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5). In all honesty, I can barely taste the mint, and the chocolate blobs are a little disconcerting. The spouse says they taste of soap. But it works nicely with plain yogurt or with home-made bread.

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The kiwi to no-pectin jam

I more or less stopped using commercial pectin a few years back because I don’t like the firm-set texture, and I don’t like the piles of sugar you need to compensate for the bitterness of the pectin.

But there are fruits that won’t set without added pectin, cherries for example. So each year I bit the bullet as we followed the recipe on the Bernadin pectin box for a couple of big batches of cherry jam, which is probably canning buddy’s must-make jam each year. Bernadin suggests an extraordinary 7 cups of sugar to four of fruit, along with two pouches of liquid pectin. It sets like a rock, and I didn’t mind much anyway. Cherry jam, as I have said before, is simply not my favourite.

But the New York Times transformed my strawberry jam making last year with a recipe that throws a kiwi fruit into the mix, because kiwi contains the pectin that sweet, ripe strawberries don’t. Could we do that for cherries? Would a cherry jam with kiwi turn to syrup, or would it set?

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The result, I am proud to say, is a lovely, soft set, both with sour cherries, and with a mix of sour and sweet. We added a single chopped up kiwi fruit to our generous kilo of cherries and mean 800 grams of sugar (plus the juice of two lemons). Our only mistake was to include every last scrap of kiwi (barring the skin) — next time we’ll cut out the woody bits at the stem as we chop the fruit. The rest of the fruit melts away to nothing as you boil the jam, barring a few intriguing black seeds. But the woody bits turn to pale chunks in the dark red jam, and it doesn’t look quite right. But hey, it’s cherry jam without added pectin, and canning buddy says we could even use less sugar next time, with perhaps a second kiwi to firm up the set.

Me? I haven’t yet opened my jars of cherry jam, and I suspect they will linger in the back of the store cupboard until I finally give up and give them away.

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But I can’t wait to try my twice-failed melon-ginger jam with kiwi rather than with pectin. The syrup I ended up with last time was perfect for poaching peaches or apricots, but it wasn’t jam.

Any other no-pectin tips out there?

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Irritating little beasties

Gooseberries, as I have mused before, are an awful lot of work, especially when all you have is the tiny ones I stripped from the gooseberry bushes at the community garden this week. It doesn’t take long to pick them, and the thorns on the bushes are pretty easy to avoid (bitter memories of scratched arms/legs/hands from the black cap raspberries). But topping and tailing the little beasts is irritating and finicky, whether you use your fingernails or try with scissors, which is what one internet recipe suggested. But gooseberries do have a very distinctive taste, and if you boil them long enough they turn into a chewy, rust-red jam, so I wasn’t going to pass up on the chance. But there really were not many fruit left on the bushes. What was I going to do with a mere 375 grams of small red gooseberries?

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Luckily I had some leftover strawberries in the fridge, so I cleaned the gooseberries, chopped the strawberries (which weighed in at 275 grams), and mixed the fruit with the juice of a lemon and 450 grams of sugar for a quick-boil small-batch jam.

The result: three jars of pretty pink jam, which will probably flow nicely into yogurt — it’s a little on the runny side. But then I boiled it for less than 5 minutes, which even for high-pectin gooseberries maybe wasn’t quite enough.

But there’s something very magical about small-batch jams. A little taste of summer.

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