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.