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make your own pectin

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Get ready for a SERIOUSLY old-school skill.

When you make jam or jelly, you need something to make it jell. Most folks use commercial pectin–a product extracted from fruit–usually powdered (although liquid pectin is available). But. BUT.

What if it was doomsday and there was no pectin in the stores? WHAT WOULD WE DO?????

The trick of making your own pectin was common knowledge in the olden days. Now, practically no one even knows it’s possible. The Damsel just learned it’s actually not that hard, especially if you have one of these trees:

If you have an apple tree you need to thin, (like described in this thinning apples post) the sacrificial baby apples can be used to make pectin. Their short lives were not in vain!

You can also use crab apples…apparently they make excellent pectin, and no one feels too sad about not getting to eat them. People have even used apple peelings.

Take your little apples, wash them, cut them in half if they are on the big side, and throw them whole into a pot.

Add water to the pot until the apples are nearly covered. Cook on medium heat for a long time. At least an hour, until the apples look sort of like bizarre lumpy applesauce, full of stems and skins and so on. Stuff no self respecting applesauce would normally have.

Stretch some cheesecloth (or a mesh strainer) over a container and let the cooked apples drip a couple of hours, or overnight. You could stir them lightly to get a few more drops, but don’t press them. That will make the pectin cloudy. It won’t hurt its jelling ability but cloudy pectin? Seriously?

After you’ve waited all you’re going to wait on the dripping, pour the liquid off into a container. You can use it right now to make jam or jelly, or it can sit in the fridge a couple of weeks till you’re ready.  Some people cook up enough to make it worth processing it in a canner. (email mhovley at gmail dot com for instructions)

Here’s how to test if your pectin is the right strength: Pour a little rubbing alcohol into a dish. Pour in a teaspoon or so of pectin. Wait one minute. Scoop the pectin with a fork.

The pectin will cling to the fork in a glob if it is “strong” enough. If it runs off the tines of the fork, put it in a pan and boil it till it reduces, let cool, and repeat the rubbing alcohol test. (The pectin needs to be cool.)

And for heaven’s sake, don’t taste the “test.” It’s rubbing alcohol, people! Does the Damsel have to tell you everything?

Now, how do you use the stuff? Because every batch of pectin is a little different, and different kinds of fruit jell better, there’s no hard and fast rule. But here’s a place to start–mix 1/4 to 1/3 cup of pectin per cup of crushed fruit (or juice, if you’re making jelly). Then stir in sugar equal to the amount of pectin+fruit. Boil until it foams. Skim that stuff off, but don’t fuss.

Jam doesn’t set until it’s cool, so it’s hard to tell if things are okay. If you’d rather not wait around, scoop a little out in a spoon and hold an ice cube on its back. (Normally the Damsel doesn’t advise holding an ice cube on someone’s back. This is mean. Spoons don’t care though.)

If it’s still runny, add more sugar and pectin and reboil. Some people say adding lemon juice also helps pectin to work better. And, there’s always this rescue runny jam post, for any kind of runny jam, whether made with commercial pectin or homemade.

Now celebrate! Making your own pectin is really kickin’ it old school.

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  • Well said and precise! Thank you!!

  • Seriously, is there any end to your plethora of knowledge!!!?? THIS is good stuff! Thank you!

  • This is awesome! Thanks so much it is so neat that we can make our own pectin. Really you amaze me with this stuff.

  • Adrienne

    That is SO DANG AWESOME! I knew that there had to be a use for crab apples. I think I'm going to go steal some from the mall… and make me some pectin!!

  • Carol

    Come doomsday, I'm comin' to your cottage. I loved this.

  • Sprog #1

    you sure didn't seem to mind putting ice down our backs 🙂

  • have you tried this with orange peels? I read that dried citrus peels are really high in pectin.

    • I haven't tried orange peels. I wonder if it works! None of the websites I researched mentioned them, though.

      • Delfeld

        It’s pretty standard in marmalade to use lemon peel — just the whites, not the zest — to thicken the mixture. Slice very thin and boil the white parts with water to cover for 45 minutes, then let it sit for 24 hours. You will have a thick mass where the whites have disintegrated into jelly. Adding the flavoring fruit and sugar boiled down makes marmalade.

        So, yes, there is a thickening agent in citrus. Lemons and grapefruit make a pretty firm jelly.

        • thedamselindisdress

          Great idea! I didn’t know that about lemon peel.
          Margot (The Damsel)

      • Delfeld

        I forgot to mention that orange peels — the whites — do not usually have enough pectin to thicken well (some varieties do, but not the most common ones eaten in the USA). It ends up that you caramelize or burn the sugars in oranges long before it sets. However, there is a chance I was not cooking it correctly, so please try it and find out! It should only take 3-4 oranges to make a test batch.

  • This is really amazing. YOU are amazing!

  • I had no idea what pectin was made out of, now it seems to easy, why ever buy it? Wonderful lesson, as always.

  • Wow, this sounds easy and do-able! Now I just need to plant an apple tree!

  • You're amazing. Seriously. When are you getting your own TV show?

  • Shirley

    You can also make your own pectin from quince. Same method. If you don't happen to have a quince tree available then use the fruit on a flowering quince bush! And it turns a lovely pink when cooked.

  • This is great…I love the detail.

  • Excellent. I have made jam a few times using commercial powdered pectin. But, now I know! And we have an apple tree! And it's apples always fall off before they're ripe anyway, so looks like I'm all set to make pectin. Hmmm….whether I will is another question altogether, but I've stumbled this to remember should ever get the urge. Thanks!

  • That is so cool! Thank you so much for this information.

  • Mary Hammond

    WOW! I have 4 apple trees. Will this work with any type of apple? And does it add an apple taste to the jam? Thanks for sharing your knowledge!!

  • I believe it will work with any type of apple tree as long as the apples are unripe. And I haven't noticed any apple taste so far. Hope that helps!

  • Amazing, simply amazing. I hope we never have to make pectin but it's nice to know it's possible.

  • Pingback: Real Self Reliance » Make Your Own Pectin [LINK]()

  • suezeeque

    Question… when you drip the apples through the mesh strainer, do you also use the water from the pot (the water that the apples were boiled in)? Or only the apples?

    • the_damsel

      Excellent question! I should have made that more clear. You do use the water from the pot. When the apples have cooked long enough, the liquid will be clear, sort of thick, and a little slimy.Let me know how it goes!Margot (The Damsel)

  • Jessie-Kate

    Will baby pears work? I don’t have enough baby apples to do this, but if I mix in some baby pears I should have enough. I want to make some rose jelly and my rose bush is covered in roses now.

    • Anonymous

      I tried to look up some info about this and wasn’t able to find anything conclusive. My first inclination is to say yes, it would work to mix a few green pears in with the green apples, but I’ve never tried it and I can’t find mention of anyone else trying it either. So I’m sorry, I’m not much help. I guess you could try it and see, but it’s a lot of trouble to go to when you aren’t sure it will work. If you do try it, let me know, okay?

      Margot (The Damsel)

      • Jessie-Kate

        Okay then, I might try it and let you know, but I just realized why our pears never got ripe, so we can actually eat them this year, haha. I may just have to wait for more apples.

        • West

          Jessie why have your pears never ripened. I have the same problem. Lots of fruit but they never ripe.

  • Jessie-Kate

    Okay, so I tried it! I didn’t have near enough apples so I ended up using some baby apples and baby pears all cut in half, a banana peel torn into little strips, and a lemon (without the juice) cut into fourths. I have plenty and the alcohol test says it works! It’s a pretty pink color, much pinker than your photo and a little more transparent. (That might be lighting though)

    • Anonymous

      Yay! I would never have thought of using the peel and lemon. Thanks for letting me know!

  • Pamela Porterfield

    Hi Damsel! I’m making pectin today. I have cooked the apples for almost an hour and the water is getting really low. I assume I should not add any more water to the pot. Maybe I should just take it off the heat and let it strain.

    • Anonymous

      I think that’s probably the right thing to do (take it off the heat and let strain) but it could depend on a couple of things. How cooked do the apples look? Was the pot narrow or wide? Were the apples covered with water to begin with?

  • I love the post.  I can a LOT, and have been planning to switch to my own pectin.  Your site has clear instructions, great photos and a nice look.  

    • thedamselindisdress

      Thanks so much! It’s just about pectin making time again at my house. Margot (The Damsel)

  • I just found out that my pectin is msg! Wow! Was I surprised! Well, I now need to make a lot of pectin, because I LOVE jam and jelly! Thank you for the helpful info! 🙂

  • Do you use the same method for apple peels?  Can the apples be ripe?  I’m just getting ready to make a bunch of apple butter and will have tons of apple peels left over.  I’d love to put then to some use.

    • thedamselindisdress

      From what I understand, you use the same method with peels or ripe apples. But the amount of pectin contained in ripe apples is less, so be aware your yield may be quite low. Margot (The Damsel)

  • Pennie

    can this be done with pears?

    • thedamselindisdress

      I’ve learned that pears have a low pectin content so it may be difficult. I haven’t tried it, but if I had a bunch of little green pears that were going to waste, I might be tempted. You’d probably need to boil it down considerably in order to get a concentration that would jell. Hope that helps!
      Margot (The Damsel)

  • Christine

    That is really cool I never tried making my own pectin but I will try this receipe

  • Can this be frozen?

    • thedamselindisdress

      I haven’t tried it, but my guess would be that it would be okay.

      Margot (The Damsel)

  • yahoo.com clasic

    im an evanglest penacostal,apastolic 14yrs.im 63 could you send me a directions to make dry fruit pectin show pictures of its tghickening in alchoal prosess making this for fruit preseerves

    • thedamselindisdress

      I’m sorry, I don’t know how to make dry fruit pectin.

      Margot (The Damsel)

  • NedraE_eastTN

    Shirley is QUITE RIGHT…. and I have about 5 or 6 different quince trees (or bushes)… all are different varieties of the fruiting quince. I met my very first quince bush oh… possibly in 1970. I fell in love with them. In those days, quince had to be cooked, not eaten raw. I’m hoping the breeds I bought from a nursery will produce soon so I can find out if my current quince are enjoyable to eat raw as several breeds have been developed to have this attribute.

  • West

    I have canned this but don’t know how long it will keep, any in put?

    • thedamselindisdress

      If it is sealed correctly, I believe it will last for several years.