Two Preserving Projects: Apple Pectin and Rhubarb Rosemary Preserves

Sometime last year, I decided Sure Jell Pectin was a little weird. It just creeped me out. I’m sure it’s fine. It’s a natural ingredient, made from citrus peels, but I wanted more control of the exact ingredients in my jams. Organic is important to me.

And I really wanted some control over the amount of sugar used.

Now, let me just say, canners who use Pomona Pectin, have nothing bad to say about it. This is the one commercial product that works with less sugar. Last summer, I looked around for Pomona, couldn’t find it, and decided I would try to make my jams without pectin.

Christine Ferber’s preserve methods work best for this, as you strain the sugar-macerated fruit, make a syrup (boiled to 222°) and then add in the fruit at the end. But some fruits, especially cherry, just need that extra oomph the pectin provides in order to properly gel. I learned this the hard way – the cherry jam I made last summer is very runny. (I treated those jars as cherries in syrup, and candied them for ice cream, but that’s another post.) And the pepper jelly I made without pectin was rubbery and too sticky. Feeling a little like Red Riding Hood, I knew there was a way that would be Just Right.

Mme. Ferber’s jam methods also take much much longer to make. Often one, or sometimes two, days of macerating, straining, boiling down. It’s a commitment. And sometimes I just want to be jammin’ without all that delay. Even she uses an apple jelly to thicken some of her preserves (notably cherry.) She suggests making jelly out of green apples – early, nearly unripe, and full of natural pectin and then adds that jelly at the same time you might add pectin. Unfortunately, she adds sugar to the apple jelly, to preserve it, and I was so hoping to use less sugar.

You might remember, when I made mint jelly awhile back, I made apple pectin. That’s when I started pondering this question. Then, two weeks ago, I noticed Trader Joes had organic small Granny Smith apples and I decided to try to make a simple, sugar free apple pectin for use throughout the summer.

To prepare for this experiment, I read articles all across the Interwebs, and then applied some old fashioned ingenuity to develop this method and recipe for apple pectin. I’ve tested it twice, in small batches, and find it works the same way the Sure Jell package works: added to the fruit and sugar mixture when it’s boiling hard, this apple pectin thickens the jam as soon as the mixture comes back up to that boil-that-can’t-be-stirred-down.

I’m excited about this experiment. I have 10-5oz packages of frozen pectin to try throughout the summer. I’ll be reporting on these efforts as the summer goes on.

If you’ve made your own apple pectin, or if you try this recipe, won’t you tell me about it in the comments below?

Apple Pectin
about 10 – 5oz packages

12 lbs green apples (either unripe or granny smith)
4 c water

In a large pot (8 qt or larger) add the water and apples, each one cut into 8 pieces, retaining skin, seeds, and core (as that’s where the pectin resides.) Bring to a boil, then cover and cook for 30-45 minutes, until the apples are quite soft.
Line a large colander with a double layer of cheesecloth and carefully add the apple mixture. Press only slightly and not at all if you want to make clear jellies. Allow the pectin to strain overnight.
The next day, bring the pectin to a boil and reduce by one third.
Package your pectin in 5oz packages and freeze for future use.
Use one package with each 4 cups of fruit used — at least that’s the way it’s worked for me! But, be prepared to add more pectin if needed.

And for those of you who aren’t into the whole pectin project, here is a quick delicious preserves that is so good with cheese, you might just eat that entire container of Cowgirl Creamery Fromage Blanc (now available at the Bethesda Central Farm Market.) I know I was tempted.

Rhubarb Rosemary Honey Preserves
adapted from Mes Confitures
5 four ounce jars

1-1/2 lbs rhubarb
1 c sugar
3.5 oz forest flower honey (or any dark honey)
Juice of one lemon
5 sprigs rosemary

Cut the rhubarb into a small dice, add the sugar, stir and set aside for two hours.
Strain out the rhubarb and add the accumulated liquid and sugar to a 3-4 qt non-reactive pan. Add the honey and bring to a boil
Boil hard and bring to 222°, stirring all the time.
Add the rhubarb, juice of the lemon and the rosemary, bring back to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Skim foam as needed.
Funnel into sterilized jars, wipe the rims, add the lids and rings.
Place in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool for 24 hours on the counter.

PS Thank you so much, one and all, for your kindnesses over the last week. The loss of Dylan has made a huge hole in our hearts, and in our lives. We’ve got an application in for another scruffy terrier mix who needs a home. I hope to be posting some good news later this week. I just love you all and we’re both so grateful for your support.

18 thoughts on “Two Preserving Projects: Apple Pectin and Rhubarb Rosemary Preserves”

  1. I think I will start with the rhubarb and gather courage to try making my own pectin. Your instructions are cyrstal clear and photos lovely…

  2. I have not yet made my own pectin, but live on an apple orchard that also have Quince trees. From what I am learning, Quince are often used for their natural pectin in jams and jellies. I am going to give it a whirl this year and see what I come up with!

  3. Liz – I think you'll like the rhubarb preserves. It's really tasty!

    Allison – Quince! Wow! That's exciting. I wonder if you should use green quince, or just barely ripe ones to extract the best pectin? I'm going to talk to the Orchardist at my market as I know she grows quince, too, and try a small batch. I can't wait to hear about your experiments.

  4. Thanks for the pectin notes. I'm wondering about the rhubarb recipe. First, any liquid other than lemon juice and honey? I'm wondering if an ingredient got left out of the items you listed. Second, do you chop the rosemary? Leave it whole on the sprig? Do you include it in the jars to be sealed? Or take them out?

  5. There is no additional liquid needed for the rhubarb recipe. When the rhubarb macerates with the sugar, it creates quite a bit of liquid. I was skeptical, too, but it worked out beautifully. Just remember to keep stirring because it wants to stick! I left the rosemary whole as I thought I might want to remove it before sealing, but I put a small sprig of rosemary in each jar. It was cooked so briefly it retained the green color.

  6. Apples are wondrous fruit, and as a jammer I love them for their high pectin content. I often use apple pectin stock for my jellies and jams. Your recipe sounds very concentrated–twelve pounds of apples is a lot to only four cups of water. But it's nice that you only use 5 ounces to four cups of fruit. I'll have to try it out.
    @Allison: Lucky you to live on an orchard with quinces! Quinces are very high in pectin, and don't need to necessarily be under ripe. They make gorgeous jelly. They also have a beautiful honeyed flavor. You can make a pectin stock the same way you would with apples, though you may want to experiment with their flavor!

  7. Thanks so much for the apple pectin recipe! I've been experimenting with no-pectin preserves this summer as well, having more and less luck, but mostly on the good side. One question: As you probably know, apple seeds contain a cyanide compound (see http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/apples.asp), and while I know an occasional apple seed can't hurt us, I wonder what effect if any cooking whole apples down may have on the cyanide content.

  8. Kathryn, I've made applesauce and apple butter from whole apples for years. I cook the entire apple then use a food mill to separate the sauce/butter from the seeds, skin and core. This practice is common, and in fact, I think I learned it in Home Ec class in 7th grade, so I have to think that the cyanide issue is moot. Thanks for raising the question! – Cathy

  9. I made Christine Ferber’s recipe for apple jelly pectin a couple of months ago with unripe apples from a friend’s farm. I was also surprised by the amount of sugar in her recipe and cut it down by half (it only increased the cook time, as far as I can tell). Now I have 8 lovely jars of pectin to use for other preserves this year. I’m wondering, when looking at a recipe that uses commercial pectin, can I simply substitute 7 oz. of my apple pectin? That seems to be the quant. Ferber uses in her recipes, but I don’t know if 7 oz. is equal to the value of a packet of pectin in general. Do you know?

  10. Cathy – I made the rhubarb preserves last night, adding a few coins of ginger when I boiled the syrup (which I fished out before canning). It turned out so lovely. I had a big spoonful on my oatmeal this morning. A few months ago, I had never canned a thing and I never thought I would; however, partly inspired by your posts and clear instructions, I have been bitten by the canning bug. Thank you for the recipes and the inspiration.

    1. Melissa, You’ve made my day. It’s so nice to hear you’ve been bitten by the canning bug. Watch for a new recipe this week.

  11. Hi Cathy
    I was interested in making your rhubarb preserves and I have frozen rhubarb. Is there any way to adapt that to your recipe? Once i thaw it it will be really runny and will it set up? Really enjoyed this article and this website is going in may favorites. Thanks I would really appreciate your feedback.

    1. I think frozen rhubarb will work exactly the same way. Don’t bother defrosting it first – just toss it with the sugar and let it sit for two hours, after which it’s ready. Please stop back to let me know how it goes.

  12. enjoyed reading all the info and the posts…. am an avid jam maker from Northern British Columbia where we have wild high-bush blueberries, low bush blueberries, huckleberries, salmon berries, saskatoons, gooseberries, etc… My jams always have as a second rhubarb or extracted rhubarb juice, extracted with the mahu maija, or otherwise known mahu liisa juice extracting method…. wonderfully simple for extracting the juice from all fruits, herbs, including rosehip, which on its own is an interesting fruit. I also make rosehip jam and have by trial and error found the only way to get the juice to flow into the pan. Because of the velcro like fibers of the seeds the liquid blocks and refuses to flow without it. AND as always a batch of apples cooked in the pan makes a lovely apple juice that mixed with any fruit makes a fabulous multi fruit jam with a wonderful mellow flavor and pectin content is great! I often make many-fruit jams or many-fruit jellies. Always working on recipes that will allow less sugar…

  13. when you are reducing the liquid for pectin does it get thicker or will it still be quite thin? any amount of time to shoot for? I have all mine apples strain and am just beginning to heat it. Do you think I could can it also or would that heat it too much?

    thanks looking forward to your experiment

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