ChiloquinNews article 10/10/2011
This year my apple tree has had its first crop, so I have a plan. For each batch of applesauce or stewed apples that I make, I will take the skin and cores and extract the pectin from them, to add to fruits that have little or no pectin of their own. It’s easy to do. Just simmer the skins and cores with water and a dash of lemon juice (don’t worry about the seeds) for several hours, until they are very soft, strain out the liquid, and then freeze it away. These days I don’t make big batches of jams and jellies. When we get down to the last of the jam in the pantry, I thaw out some of the fruit that I’ve got frozen away, and just make one or two jars of jam. That way, a couple of cubes of pectin are plenty, and there’s no sterilization needed, because those jars are going to be open and eaten, not sealed and stored.
Fruits that will definitely need a lot of added pectin if they are to have any chance at gelling, are apricots, blueberries, sweet cherries, figs, some grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, raspberries, Aronia, rose hips and strawberries. With some added pectin you can gel ripe apples, ripe blackberries, sour cherries, chokecherries, elderberries and sweet grapes. Fruits that contain enough pectin of their own are tart apples, barely ripe blackberries, crabapples, cranberries, currants, gooseberries, tart grapes, plums and quinces.
Now that the apples are ripening up, it’s time to think about pectin. Pectin is a complex carbohydrate found in plants, and there are several different forms that it takes. Its magical property for cooks is that if you add it to fruit, sugar and acid (usually lemon juice) it will make your jams and jellies gel properly. Trouble is, it’s complicated. You have to get exactly the right amount of each of the fruit, sugar, acid and pectin, and that depends on which form of pectin that you have and how ripe the fruit that you are using. If you don’t, you end up with syrup, which is what you would have got had you ignored the whole recipe in the first place. One of the reasons that I make a lot of syrup.
However, it has been figured out exactly by food scientists, and the pectin that is sold in grocery stores works perfectly every time, so long as you follow the instructions exactly. No forgetting the lemon juice or cutting down on the sugar (or substituting even a tiny portion with artificial sweetener). And the amount of sugar called for is enormous – far more than I usually use. Mostly though, I don’t use store bought pectin because I think that the jams and jellies made with it don’t have as much flavor as those made without it. Possibly just my imagination, but I’m sticking with it.
A few years back I read an article on preparing your own pectin from apples, and I started doing that. I stored it in ice cube trays and just popped out a cube or two when I wanted to make a batch of jam from some fruit that I knew wouldn’t set up well. Of course, since I didn’t know the concentration of my pectin, or the perfect amount of sugar to use, even though I had more gelling successes, I still got syrup sometimes, but very tasty syrup, and there’s a lot you can do with a tasty syrup.
Commercially, the pulp left over from making apple juice is used for extracting pectin, so no part of the fruit is wasted. The highest concentration of pectin is in the skin and core, and apples, especially those that are slightly under-ripe are a rich source. Crabapples and quince also work very well. The riper the fruit, the less pectin it has. An even richer source is the skin and white membrane layer from citrus fruit, but having always lived in places with climates like that in Chiloquin, I have never had an abundance of citrus to spare.