You are probably familiar with the powdered or liquid pectin sold in the canning section of the grocery store. It is used in jam and jelly recipes to create the “gel” or the “set” of the canned product. Made from citrus peels or apples, a commercial pectin does a great job in making a jam set quickly. However…
I Rarely Use Commercial Pectin.
Because although commercial pectin will give you a consistent gel, you have to stick to the specific recipe (or ratio) on the box or you won’t have success. And most pectin recipes use large quantities (like 6-7 cups) of sugar. Yes, you can use low/no sugar pectin and I do use it – especially if I want to use a sweetener like honey. But most of the time, I don’t mind some sugar in my jam. I just want to have more control over how much.
In addition, there were many times as a newbie canner that the commercial pectin would over-set my jam – making it too firm. So many years ago, I decided to let the natural pectin in the fruit do the work for me.
I know that some people don’t like to use pectin because they think it is unnatural. I am not one of those people. I feel commercial pectin is natural and perfectly safe to use. I still use it sometimes. And there is nothing wrong with using a commercial pectin! It’s just that 9 times out of 10, I like to let the jam tell me when it’s ready.
Plus, if you make a recipe without the addition of commercial pectin, you have more fruit/sugar measurement options. I still recommend you follow a tested recipe, because you get the best results that way. (Some sugar-fruit-acidity ratios work better than others) But, there are SO many recipes out there with varying amounts of sugar that are tried and true and they don’t require the addition of the commercial pectin.
Let Me Show You:
Before I go any further, you need to watch the video above to see how EASY a no-pectin recipe is. This is the 3rd video in our playful Canning the Harvestseries. In just 2 minutes you learn how to:
- Make Apricot-Ginger Jam with no added pectin
- Remove most of the foam easily in half the normal time
If you want to embed this video, you can use this youtube version of No Pectin Apricot Jam.
How To Get A Gel Without Extra Pectin:
Most fruit such as apples and citrus have naturally high amounts of pectin in them. So you do get a certain amount of gel (or set) without adding anything extra to the mix. A few fruits (such as grapes) are lower in pectin. They are a bit harder to gel without using a commercial product. Harder…but not impossible! Here is the secret…
When you cook any sugar mixture, you can reach various stages of texture by cooking the recipe to a certain temperature (just like candy making). The magic temperature for getting a gel is 220 degrees F (if you are at sea level). At this temperature, most of the water has cooked out and the pectin-acid-sugar begins to change over to a thicker consistency. It’s like magic!
I suggest you buy a candy thermometer to make recipes like this. Many instant-read thermometers do not reach 220 degrees.
Sugar & Safety: People often ask if the jam is still safe with less than the 6-7 cups of sugar called out for many recipes. Yes, they are safe. The high amount of sugar in commercial pectin recipes serves several purposes:
- A specific ratio of sugar is needed in order for commercial pectin to work it’s magic (unless it is a low/no sugar pectin).
- It also helps the jam keep its vibrant color. (Jams with less sugar are darker and their color fades quickly.)
- And it does help extend the shelf life.
But, lower sugar jams are perfectly safe from botulism due to the acidity.
Acidity: Most recipes call for lemon juice and you need that for several reasons.
- First, it helps bring out the flavor of the fruit.
- Second, it brings the acidity to a good level for creating the gel naturally.
- Third, it assures an even higher acid environment, which keeps bacteria from forming. Fruit is naturally high acid. The lemon juice makes it more so.
Exceptions: Now one fruit that is very, very low in pectin is the cherry. Reaching the gel temperature with cherries can make the fruit taste a little burnt. This is probably because they take so long to get to temperature and they are more easily scorched. So in those cases, I either use a commercial pectin or I do a fruit mix like cherry-apple or cherry-citrus to get a gel faster.
There are lots of pectin-free recipes out there and I will be sharing more here as we go.
Here is the full recipe shown in the video.
Apricot – Ginger Jam
The combination of ginger and apricot works really well together. The ginger adds zing, not heat. You’ll love it. Remember to use a candy thermometer to get the proper “gel stage” temperature.
Makes approximately 4 (1/2 pint) jars
- 6 cups pitted, chopped apricots (with skins on)
- 3 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger (for zing)
- 3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
If you are new to canning, read how to use a water bath canner first.
Heat your jars in a water bath canner while you prepare the recipe. In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot combine all ingredients. Bring the mixture to a full boil stirring frequently. Start watching your temperature. Cook until the jam reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer. (See note on altitude adjustments below.) If you do not have a candy thermometer, you can use the wrinkle test (see below) to determine if the mixture is ready to set.
Once you reach 220 degrees, turn off heat. Remove foam.
Tip: Foam is not harmful in any way. Just unattractive in the jar. You can remove foam quickly by using wax or parchment paper. Place a piece onto the surface of the hot jam (being careful not to burn yourself) and then remove it. It takes most of the foam with it. Ta-da!
Remove empty jars from hot water bath. Fill each jar with jam leaving a 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars. Add hot lids and rings and process in the hot water bath canner for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let jars set 5 minutes before removing to a wooden surface or a towel-lined counter. Let jars cool. Check seal. Stored sealed jars on the pantry for 6 months. Transfer any unsealed jars to the refrigerator and use with in a few weeks.
Wrinkle Test: Place a spoonful of the jam onto a chilled plate and set it into the freezer for 2 minutes. Then use your finger to press into it from the side. If it wrinkles, it is ready to can. If not, keep cooking and try again in a few minutes.
Note on Altitude adjustments for temperature: Use the following temperature as your “gel” temperature based on your altitude.
- Sea Level: 220 degrees F
- 1,000 Feet: 218 degrees F
- 2,000 Feet: 216 degrees F
- 3,000 Feet: 214 degrees F
- 4,000 Feet: 212 degrees F
- 5,000 Feet: 211 degrees F
- 6,000 Feet: 209 degrees F
- 7,000 Feet: 207 degrees F