Monday, July 14, 2014

Ah, the pectin

So, I promised an update on the great homemade pectin experiment. So far it does work, but I have not been able to get it to gel as firmly as jams do with the store bought kind. I ran out of strawberries before I could continue experimenting with different batches, but it did gel a bit, more like a very thick and chunky sauce rather than a more spreadable jam. It is still delicious and some was eaten on waffles and I bet the jam would be excellent on a piece of sponge cake in the middle of winter while dreaming of the Spring's gardening ahead.

Making your own pectin is actually pretty simple, especially if you save all of your apple scraps in the fall from making all of those yummy goodies that the fall harvest brings.

The fruit that I know has the most available pectin (off hand, there may be others) are apples. Grannysmith have more, as do those that are slightly unripe. Crab apples are brimming with the stuff, so if you find a safe source somewhere, that is free pectin on a tree. The pectin lives mostly in the cores and peels, but in this case I used whole Grannysmiths due to that is what I had in the house and I did not have a lot of them in the crisper drawer.

The first step is to scrub those apples. Commercial apples are sometimes waxed and often sprayed with insecticides. Even organic types will have residue from handling and sometimes an organic waxing product to help keep them looking fresh for shipping and storing.

Yes, that is a regular scrubber. Make sure it has been sanitized though as sponges are notorious as little bacteria factories. No one wants to eat that. I use lukewarm water to help loosen any waxes that may be holding on to the skin.

Next, chop them all up, cores, peels and all. If you are using scraps you may want to chop up the cores a bit if they are whole. The more surface area that is exposed the less heating will be needed to extract the pectins.

After cleaning and chopping, throw them into a slow cooker or deep, non reactive pot for the stove top, or, if you are okay with heating up the house, this can be done in a covered baking dish on a very low oven. I have not used the oven method, so I have no tips on making it work properly. Personally, I love my slow cooker as has been mentioned in the past a "few" times.

The next step is to put in 1/2 a cup of water. This is just to prevent any scorching before the apples exude their own juices. If you are not using whole apple you may need to add a bit more.

Put the cover on your cooker and set the heat to high for just one hour. This helps the juices start coming out right at the beginning to avoid using more water which will dilute the final product.

After the first hour, put the apples on low and let cook for four hours or more. I neglected to take a picture of the finished product before straining, but it is a lot like making juice for a jelly, except you can give in and squeeze if you want.

You can use a jelly bag, a very clean tea towel or flour sack towel, or you can use cheese cloth, layer thickly. Line a colander with your material of choice or fill the jelly bag as normal, and carefully (slowly) pour the apples into the fabric. Cheese cloth lets the liquid through a bit faster, but I used a flour sack towel and it worked fine, you just need a teeny bit more patience as the liquid goes through. Stir it a bit if the draining is going very slowly.

The, gather up the ends (or close up the jelly bag) and secure shut with a large, sturdy, rubber band. This is where all of you jelly makers get to finally do what you always wanted to (do not deny it!). Squeeze the fabric to wring out as much liquid as you can. Then sit the bag in a strainer over the bowl, put a small plate on top and weigh it down with a can of tomatoes or anything that weighs at least a pound. Put it into the refrigerator over night and in the morning you will have a (mostly) dry product in the bag and a viscous liquid in the bowl. This is your pectin.

I have not tried freezing it yet, but I have been told it will keep in the freezer. Otherwise, remember that this product can get moldy, so keep it in the refrigerator and use it up quickly.

Here is the tricky part, and unfortunately I can do nothing to remedy that with quick and easy tips or tricks. How much pectin you need depends on how concentrated your pectin solution is, how much pectin was in the fruit you extracted it from as well as how thick you wish your product to be. For a regular sized batch of strawberry jam, I used a little more than half a cup, and it did set, it just did not set as firmly as I would have liked. If you used crab apples that may be enough to use, but if you used ripe apples you may need far more. It is a crap shoot, but a fun crap shoot. And a cheap crap shoot if you are using foraged crab apples or scraps from previously used fruits.

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