Friday, August 6, 2010

Homemade Pectin from Apples

Ready to cook

It's always nice to know we can make our own pectin for jams and jellies if necessary, and there are several advantages: cost, convenience and no potentially dangerous chemical preservatives. See my post here for more details on commercial pectins.

The best pectin is made from citrus peels and seeds, but many of us don't live where citrus grows. If we had to buy the citrus fruit to make pectin, it would get very expensive. However, the next best thing is apple pectin, and apples aren't expensive. You may even have an old apple or crab-apple tree nearby, providing free apples.

The most important thing about making apple pectin is to use UNRIPENED apples. (The amount of pectin goes down as fruits ripen.) If you are making something with peeled and cored ripe apples, you can save those skins and seeds for pectin; most of the pectin is the seeds and skins, but it's better if you have green (as in not ripe, not as in green in color) apples, which contain more pectin. I picked a small bucket full from an abandoned tree on the roadside to make this apple pectin.

To cook the pectin:
Wash and stem the apples. Do NOT remove the core, but do cut out any bad spots. Add to a large pot and pour on just enough water to almost cover or float the apples. I brought my crockpot into my office so I could work, and not have to watch a pot on the stove. My crockpot doesn't hold much, so I had to do mine in 3 batches; I quartered the apples so they would fit easier in the crockpot but if I had used crab-apples I probably would have just halved them. 

Cook down until the skins and solids are really mush, stirring occasionally to prevent burning or sticking. I started mine on high in the crockpot, and after maybe an hour, turned it to low for 2 or so hours more. Strain the pulp through some cheesecloth or butter muslin. Let it drip, overnight if necessary; don't force it, or you will have cloudy pectin which will make your jelly cloudy.

How much pectin to use in a jelly or jam recipe depends on the strength of the pectin you just made. Once the pectin is strained and cooled, you can easily test the strength. Pour some rubbing alcohol in a small container, and drop in a teaspoon of the cooled liquid pectin. If it coagulates into a jelly-like mass that can be pulled out intact with a fork, it is strong enough to jell perfectly. If none can be picked up with a fork, you need to cook it down more. If it just some of it can be picked up by the fork, it will still jell, but loosely. Pectin strength depends on how juicy your apples were, how ripe, and how much water you added.

The test mix of rubbing alcohol and pectin is POISONOUS... do not add it back to the pot, or leave it where a child might drink it!!

After all mine was strained and tested (poor jell), I put it back in the crockpot and cooked it down by maybe 1/4, and tested again. (My photo of the jelled blob was too out-of-focus to use. I have mentioned before I'm not a photographer!)

Pour the hot liquid pectin in sterile canning jars, add lids and rings, and place in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from water bath and allow to cool. (You could also put it in small plastic containers and freeze.)  Remove rings and wash the jars in warm soapy water. I never store home canned foods with the rings on them. It's easier to see a failed seal if the rings have been removed before storing. The canned pectin will keep for several months on a cool, dark shelf in the pantry.

It's really rosy colored, but not in the photo. Sorry.
To use the apple pectin:
When using homemade pectin, you can't just follow the proportions of fruit and sugar found on the chart in a Sure-Jell package; you have to understand something about what makes pectin jell. Basically, there are two factors: the amount of sugar, and the amount of pectin. Too little of either one, and you end up with syrup. It is possible to compensate for less sugar with more pectin, or the other way around... but you can't stray from the recommended ratios very much.

It is much easier to calculate how much homemade pectin to use if you will test the fruit or juice you have cooked for jam or jelly. (See here for a list of high, medium and low pectin fruits which will give you an idea of pectin that may be in your fruit.) It's just like testing your homemade pectin before you canned it. Put 1 tablespoon rubbing alcohol in a small container and add 1 teaspoon of the cooked fruit/juice. If it makes a jelled blob, your fruit is high in natural pectin.

If it doesn't make a blob, add 1 tablespoon homemade pectin per cup of your cooked fruit/juice, and test again, and if necessary, do it yet again until you get a jelled blob the consistency you want in your jam or jelly. Remember, the container with the rubbing alcohol is POISON, so do not add it back to the cooking jelly; dispose of it promptly and properly to avoid a hazard.

If the juice contains enough pectin, you will add from 3/4 - 1 cup sugar PER cup of juice. (Don't forget to figure in the amount of homemade pectin you added.) If the pectin tested slightly less than firm, use 2/3 - 3/4 cup sugar per cup of juice. (Too much sugar coupled with low pectin will make syrup.) You also need to add a bit of acid, like the juice from one lemon to help the jam/jelly set.

When you think that your fruit-pectin mixture is about right, mix in sugar with the cooked fruit. Stir constantly over high heat, especially with jam, to keep it from burning on the bottom of the pan. After the mixture comes to a full, rolling boil, let it boil for about a minute. If you don't leave it in a rolling boil for a full minute, it may not set. (It needs to reach a temp. of 220ºF to set at sea level...  that is the jell stage; adjust temp.higher if you are in the mountains; use a candy thermometer if you are unsure.) It will foam... and you can skim the foam before pouring into hot jars. I always add about a teaspoon of butter just as it begins to boil; it eliminates almost all the foam and doesn't affect the jelly.

Note: Some recipes suggest equal amounts of homemade pectin to the juice if the juice is low-pectin. I'd just test and keep adding pectin until I got it really close...

If you are unsure if you have enough pectin, cook your recipe longer, and test for jell with a dab on a frozen saucer, just as you do with natural high-pectin fruits without added pectin. (Testing and adjusting the pectin content before adding sugar seems easier to me.)


  1. Thank you for such a useful post! I love finding ways to make our own of things that are normally purchased.

  2. This site looks to have some useful items:

  3. Yes, he does have some good info. I asked to use something from there (with credit to him) about a month ago and he declined. Wants folks sent there directly.

  4. Ah, one of those types. I followed a link to the pemmican recipe there.

  5. His pemmican recipe is pretty straightforward. I just found one used for an expedition to Antarctica; it's not traditional. Instead it has many ingredients added, like powdered beef liver, dried smoked bacon... I think I'm going to try it!

  6. thanks for the information!

  7. Thanks for the great page. I dont want to use commercial pectin and knew apple pectin could be used in jam and jelly (Emeril). Didnt know how much to use though. I really didnt like the flavor of the jam when I did it without adding any pectin at all,too over cooked. I LOVE that you put in testing the pectin and juice before adding the sugar. Makes sence. Thanks to you I made some delicious jam. My niece (who is about to turn 3)cant stop eating it. YAY YAY YAY!!!


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