Really, sometimes there’s no school like old school. I’m pretty darned sure the settlers didn’t have a box of pectin in the back of the wagon. They just used fruit, water, and sugar. That’s it. They relied on natural sources of pectin and just a slight bit of patience. No food colors, no gelling enhancers.
(See my Preserves section of the recipes menu for specific recipes using this source of pectin.)
I have had jams made both with the old-fashioned cook down method, and those with added commercial pectin. While the commercial pectin promises a faster process, there is no guarantee the product will work. I have seen many a syrupy jam that just didn’t set well.
Then there is the quantity of sugar added, nearly twice what you would use doing the old-fashioned method. Proponents of the added pectin method boast of the larger quantity of product, but what you’re really getting is gelled sugar water. There’s just not much flavor. You can actually see this when you look at fruit jams made with both methods. Those done the old fashioned way will have fruit suspended throughout the jar, those with the commercial pectin will have fruit that floated to the top of the jar because there was so much gelled water. No thanks.
After a bit of research, and good ol’ trial and error, I came up with a way to make jams and jellies without the commercial pectin. Best of all, it uses an ingredient you were going to toss out anyway. Major win! It turns out apples are naturally high in pectin, with most of it in the skins and cores. Most recipes for using apples for their pectin have you use the whole fruit, and then THROW. IT. AWAY. Stop the madness!!! You can do better.
Anytime you have apples, save the cores and any peels. I keep a container in the freezer that we just keep adding to until I have enough to make a decent sized batch of jelly or jam. Usually no less than 2 lbs. For larger batches, divide your pectin liquid into no more than 4 cups at a time for making jelly. Too large of an amount means a longer cooking time and can cause your pectin to break down before you have finished, and then it won’t gel.
For every pound of apple peels and cores add 1 1/2 cups of liquid. The liquid could be a combination of water, fruit juice, have herbs added to it, and/or a source of acidity like lemon juice or vinegar. Simmer apple parts in liquid, covered, for 30 minutes or until apple cores are soft and can be easily smashed with a potato masher. Mash the apples as much as possible and simmer another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely while covered.
Strain juice through a sieve covered with a muslin cloth, or several layers of cheese cloth. Twist up ends of cloth and carefully squeeze as much of the juice out of the apple mash. Some may object to this, saying that it will make the jelly cloudy, but if your cloth is fine enough of a weave very little cloudiness will occur. That, and I really am not concerned about it anyway.
You now have a juice that is ready to be turned into jelly. You could even freeze it and use it later if you are pressed for time. I will be adding recipes to this site here and there that will use this basic starting point, so be sure to keep checking under the Preserves section under the Sweet Treats portion of the Recipes page. There are other jams and jellies there that don’t need the added pectin, just in case you want to make something but don’t have apple cores, yet! Once you try this type of jelly, you won’t want to go back to the added pectin method. The jams and jellies have so much more flavor, and even a better texture. Once you’ve done a few of them, you will be better able to tell how to make your own unique creations!