Sunday, May 23, 2010

How Did Your Great Grandmother Do It?

As Yeoldfurt mentioned in his post today, we got a bunch of plums from our neighbor on a barter deal for our figs.  Now I have about 12 pounds of ripe plums needing me to do something with them.  Jelly was the first option that came to mind, but I haven't made jelly in several decades and I don't have any pectin in the cupboard.  I told Yeoldfurt I would pick some up at the store and he said, "What did your great grandmother do ...surely she didn't run to the store and buy pectin."  Well, he's right.  Everyone's first instinct (including mine) is to run to the store and pick up what we need.  But that's not always practical and in a shtf situation, may not even be an option.  So I decided to do some research. 

I knew pectin was a naturally occurring substance and I was pretty sure it was derived from fruit.  But that was the extend of my knowledge on the subject.  Turns out I was right.  Pectin is the chemical component in fruit that makes it firm and hold it's shape.  As fruit ripens and eventually over-ripens, the pectin breaks down and the fruit becomes soft and eventually shrivels up.  Maybe it would be more accurate to say that as the pectin degrades, the fruit softens and eventually shrivels up...kind of a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum.  Pectin degrades quickly, even commercially produced pectin doesn't have a long shelf life.  So it is not something you want to keep in the cupboard from year to year. 

The process to make your own pectin is not terribly difficult or time consuming but it does pretty much double the amount of time it takes to make jelly.  So while I think it is good to know how to make your own, I told Yeoldfurt that unless and until we are in a shtf situation, I would prefer to use store-bought.  He laughed and said okay. 

Here's what I learned about pectin.  It's is a naturally occurring polyscaccaride found in berries, apples and other fruit.  When pectin is combined with sugar and subjected to prolonged heat, it causes the thickened gel-like consistency we expect in jams and jellies.  Without a source for commercial pectin, our great grandmothers stood over a big pot of boiling fruit jam, stirring and getting splattered by hot jam until it finally cooked down to a thicker consistency.   The prolonged boiling also broke down a lot of the vitamins in the fruit so it was not an ideal way to make jelly.  If your great grandmother was very knowledgeable, she made her own pectin.  She extracted concentrated pectin from apples to speed up the thickening process and allow her to use less sugar.

Here is the recipe:
Tart Green Apple Pectin

3 pounds sliced, washed tart, green apples (like Granny Smith) with peels and cores. Crabapples are the best. Small, green, immature apples of most varieties work, too.
4 cups water
2 Tbsps lemon juice

Wash, but don't peel, about seven large tart green apples. Put them in a pot.
Cut them into pieces, add 4 cups water and 2 Tbsps lemon juice.
Boil the mixture approximately 30 to 45 minutes, until it reduces by about half.
Strain it through cheesecloth. 
Boil the juice for another 20 minutes.
Pour it into sterilized jars, and seal them.
Jars can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks, the freezer several months, or processed in a water bath canner to be stored in the cupboard for up to six months.

I have not tried making my own pectin, but I think you would end up with approximately 3-4 cups of pectin from the above recipe.  When you are ready to make jelly, use the homemade pectin in the same quantity prescribed for store-bought pectin. The potency of homemade pectin will vary greatly because it's affected by the freshness of the fruit you used to make it and by your own consistency (or inconsistency) in the process.  So if your first batch of jelly with the homemade pectin is too runny or too firm, adjust accordingly.  Tweak, in other words.  : )

As I said the processing time to make your own pectin is about the same as the processing time to make your own jelly.  Considering your have to buy (or obtain) fresh fruit to make your pectin, I'm not sure you are saving any money over the store-bought pectin.  But it's good to know how to make your own if store-bought is ever not an option. 

We will be going into town later, checking out another antique store in Yeoldfurt's quest for a scythe and we'll be stopping at the local grocery to pick up some pectin so I can make jelly from all these plums. 


  1. One year when I was growing up, we had a bumper crop of watermelons. My grandmother made watermelon rhine jelly. lol. We made jelly from everything.

  2. Jalapeno jelly is even good. Who knew? LOL

  3. That's pretty fascinating and if you don't want to use all of your plums for jelly you can make some plum pudding. :D

  4. Mmm ...plum pudding, never thought of that!

    I'm thinking of dehydrating this batch. I don't know what variety they are but they are very small, the size of cherry tomatoes. To dehydrate them, I just need to halve them then remove the pits. Once they are dehydrated, I can vacuum seal them in canning jars or Food Saver bags. I was thinking of dusting half of them with cinnamon too ...doesn't that sound good? Everything is better with a bit of cinnamon!

    : )