Apple Pectin: How to Make It, How to Use It, and Why I Don’t

Fall Sunday 2010

For the past few years, I have enjoyed making my own jam. I love that it’s healthier than storebought jam because I use fresh local fruit and very little sugar (sometimes I even use honey!). I also love that it’s very easy to make and doesn’t take a great deal of time.

Last year, feeling comfortable with the whole jam-making process, I decided to step it up a notch and try my hand at homemade pectin.

What Homemade Pectin Is

Pectin, as I’m sure you know, is what holds the jam together. Pectin is what causes the jam to “set” and become more solid than liquid. Pectin comes from fruit, and apples are particularly rich in pectin.

Most people are familiar with store-bought pectin that comes in powder form and is sold in little boxes. Sometimes people do without any specific source of pectin at all and just boil the living daylights out of their fruit to release the pectin inside it. And sometimes people make their own pectin by boiling the living daylights out of apples.

How to Make Homemade Pectin

The process of making your own pectin is actually quite straightforward: simply cover a large amount of apple “leavings” (peels and cores) with water and then boil for several hours. Strain through a lined mesh sieve and store the remaining liquid in the freezer or in processed jars. If you would like more specific instructions, please see Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’s excellent tutorial on homemade pectin here.

How to Use Homemade Pectin

Using homemade pectin is not nearly as straightforward a matter as making it. That’s because the amount of pectin found in fruit varies greatly, and homemade apple pectin does not come with a chart to tell you how much you should use.

Another element of jam-making adds even more trickery to the issue, and that is sugar. You have to have the proper ratio of sugar to pectin if you ever want your jam to set.

Furthermore, you’re going to need a little bit of lemon juice, which is also essential to the gelling process.

And, of course, how much you use of each of these ingredients depends entirely on how much fruit you have and what kind it is.

Complicated much, yes?! Once again, I will refer you to Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and their Jam Making Primer. But to sum up, when making jam with your own homemade pectin, you need to combine the appropriate amounts of fruit, pectin and lemon juice into a pot and bring it to a full rolling boil. Once the fruit has softened, add the appropriate amount of sugar and bring it back to a boil. Boil the living daylights out of it until it sets. If it doesn’t set, add more sugar or pectin and boil it some more.

Why I Don’t Use Homemade Apple Pectin

Homemade apple pectin seemed like such a frugal and healthy idea – an all natural, chemical free alternative to store-bought pectin that I could make from apple scraps I would normally throw away. Brilliant, right?! Once I read about it, I was determined to give it a go. After excitedly bottling up and freezing several jars of homemade apple pectin during the peak of apple season last fall, I was anxious to try my hand at jam made completely 100% from scratch with the onset of berry season this year.

Imagine my dismay when my experiment was a complete and total flop. Oh, my jam “set” just fine. After I had almost completely boiled it away, that is. And added way more sugar than I usually do. And slaved over a hot stove for much longer than I usually do. And got spattered by hot bubbling jam more than ever before.

I decided that I would never bother with homemade apple pectin again. Why? Oh, let me just count the reasons why:

  1. Making the pectin was easy, but it was kind of time-consuming. And it took up valuable real estate in my freezer.
  2. I had to boil the jam for. ev. er. Usually, jam takes me about an hour, start to finish. With the apple pectin, it was easily twice that long.
  3. I started with four cups of mashed fruit, the typical amount used in an average batch of jam made with store-bought pectin. Typically, that amount will yield 3-4 pint jars of jam. How many pints did I get from my batch made with homemade pectin? One. Just one.
  4. The pectin I usually use requires only 1/4-1/2 cup of sugar (I usually use unrefined sugar) or honey. I can’t remember exactly how much sugar I used with the apple pectin, but it ended up being considerably more.
  5. I had to boil the fruit down for so long that I highly doubt any nutritional value is left.
  6. Also because of the lengthy boiling time, the resulting jam tastes cooked rather than fresh.
  7. Getting the jam to set when using apple pectin is much more tricky than when using store-bought pectins, because you have to get the ratio of pectin, sugar and acid just right  or it won’t work. And you have to test it to see if it’s set, which is, in my opinon, a waste of good jam!

To sum up:

It’s not QUICK – it takes forever!

It’s not EASY – it involves a lot of work and a more knowledge of jam-making than I possess.

It’s not CHEAP – the pectin might be practically free, but if my yield is less than a quarter of what I would get otherwise, it is not at all worth it.

It’s not HEALTHY – all the nutrients are boiled away, so you’re mostly left with concentrated sugar held together by fruit juices and some pulp.

What I Use Instead

My one experience with apple pectin was enough to convince me to return to my favorite old standby, Pomona’s Pectin. Pomona’s Pectin is incredibly easy to use, is all natural, and requires only 1/4-1/2 cup sugar for most recipes. It also works with all kinds of sugar alternatives, including stevia and honey. I have never had a batch of jam fail in all the time I’ve been using Pomona’s Pectin, and it sets up very quickly – within a minute! No constant boiling, stirring, and testing for a proper set.

I wish Pomona were paying me to say this, but she’s not. The honest truth is: I LOVE THIS STUFF!

What kind of pectin do you like to use?

Sharing at Titus 2sday, Traditional Tuesdays, Homestead Barn HopHealthy 2Day WednesdayWomen Living Well WednesdayWhole Foods WednesdayWorks for Me WednesdayReal Food Wednesday, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Tastetastic Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday

Real Food, Real People

Some friends and I have noticed a growing trend in the whole foods world that we find disconcerting, and we decided to join forces to counter-act it! We believe that it’s important to eat healthy food… but that it’s not everything. Each of us is sharing our thoughts on this subject today; you’ll find links to my friend’s posts at the end of this article. 

True story: the first really bad argument my DH and I ever had was actually before we were married, and involved a quite heated discussion over the merits of… get this… whole wheat versus white bread. Yup. You can guess who was on which side.

Our second really bad argument was over the music we wanted at our wedding. Actually, to be specific, it was about the music for the prelude in our wedding – you know, the part of the wedding where neither one of us would be present and therefore would not even hear the music being played? Yeah. We had some silly arguments.

The second one I let him win because, I guess, common sense (and true love, of course) prevailed. After all, what was the point of arguing about music that we wouldn’t even hear? But the first argument continued to drag on intermittently over our brief engagement (I’m serious!) until we finally reached a compromise: I would learn how to make a good white bread from scratch. I figured that was better than buying the nasty store-bought fluff that passes as bread these days.

That particular argument, though, was only the harbinger of things to come. Around the same time, I read “The Maker’s Diet” by Jordan Rubin, and I realized that everything I thought I knew about healthy food was all wrong. Or at least only partially right. Already having a distinct bent toward all things natural and healthy, this book only intensified my desire to feed my family nourishing foods. On top of which, the author, Jordan Rubin, said that he cured his colitis by eating a diet such as the one he recommends. Since my husband happens to have colitis, I threw all my efforts into over-hauling our diet so that maybe – just maybe – he could be cured of his colitis, too.

Um. Well. That didn’t work out quite so well as I thought it would.

It turns out that my husband was quite pleased with his diet the way it was and had absolutely no desire to change it, even if it would, on the off chance, improve or eliminate his colitis. By this time fully entrenched in the whole foods movement, I set out to change his mind, by sheer force if necessary. I tried my hand at wheedling. At nagging. At expounding on the benefits of whole grains and cultured dairy. At surreptitiously sneaking healthy foods into his diet. At guilt and even occasional manipulation. None of it worked. Surprisingly, it only made him mad.

I couldn’t believe it! Why was he mad at me? I was only trying to help, after all! In my mind, he should have fallen gratefully at my feet, thankful that his wife cared enough about him to serve him only the healthiest and very best food.

It took me longer than I care to admit, but finally I came to the realization that I could not – and should not – try to change my husband. Our relationship became a lot more peaceful when I stopped trying so hard to turn him into what I thought he should be, and simply accepted him the way he was (junk-food-loving fiend that he is!).
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When we’re passionate about something – like good health and nutritious food – it’s easy for those passions to override our common sense, and even our love for those closest to us. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that relationships are far more important than food, and that the value of a relationship far exceeds the nutritional value of the food I eat.

Let me say that again:

Relationships are far more important than food,

and the value of a relationship far exceeds the nutritional value of the food I eat.

Simply put: food is not worth arguing about with the people I love. The preservation of the relationships I treasure is of more importance to me than the food I – or anyone else – eats. In practical terms, this means:

  • I don’t offer my opinion on food and health unless somebody asks for it. (This blog is the exception. This is where I come to spout off my opinion!)
  • I eat where everybody else wants to eat, even if that means a fast food restaurant.
  • I don’t ask about the ingredients or method of preparation of food when I eat at someone else’s house. (Exception: if my children are eating food someone else has prepared. They have food allergies, so it’s essential that I get nosy about the food someone wants to give them. If you have any kind of dietary concerns, you understand what I mean.)
  • I don’t refuse food given to me simply based on the grounds of its nutritional value (or lack there0f).
  • If the situation warrants (like a pot luck dinner, or a casual dinner), I bring a healthy dish to share, but I still eat the other food that is offered.
  • I occasionally buy special (and not particularly healthy) treats that my DH and children enjoy.

My DH and I have both grown since those early days of our marriage. I backed off on forcing him to change, and instead began to introduce small changes to our diet as he was receptive to them. He, in turn, relaxed and became more and more willing to try new and healthier foods. We’ve been married 6 years now, and our diet at home is at least 80% whole foods, and both of us are happy. He still gets to eat things like hot dogs and marshmallows sometimes, and I’ve completely given up on trying to get him to eat homemade yogurt, so he still eats sugar-laden store-bought stuff. But he’s also learned to enjoy healthier foods, too, like whole grain pasta… and even whole wheat bread! Yes, that argument has finally been put to rest.

And I’m happy to report that at his last check-up, his colon was completely free of inflammation! I can’t claim the credit for that; God is the one Who heals – or not – as He chooses. I also can’t forget that the condition could flare up any time, regardless of what he eats. But for now, we are both grateful that God created so many healthy and nourishing foods that are also delicious and enjoyable to eat!

Does your significant other balk at healthy food? How do you handle it? 

Read the rest of The Real Truth About Real Food posts:

Linking up at:
Titus 2sdays

Women Living Well Wednesday

Healthy 2Day Wednesday

Works for me Wednesday

Fight Back Friday


Freaky Friday 

Feeding Baby: When it All Goes Wrong

All I wanted with Baby #2 was a normal food relationship. You know, the kind where you nurse Baby, and he grows, and then you feed him solids – all different kinds of solids so he continues to grow healthy and strong and doesn’t get picky – when he’s old enough, until eventually, you wean him to milk and table food.

You know, the kind of relationship most babies have with food.

It seems that is not the plan that Heaven has in mind for me. Apparently, instead it is my lot in life for my babies to have completely abnormal relationships with food, and not in a good way.

Not that I am complaining. At least not now. I have moved on past that: I’ve accepted the situation, I’ve learned how to make the best of it, and most days it is just a way of life that I don’t even think twice about it.

But there have been a few bumps in my road that jostle up all the emotions, bringing them to the forefront for a little while until I work through them once again and get on with my life. I’ve already told you about his struggle with constipation, and his lack of interest in finger foods, but there’s another concern that’s been building for a while and finally came to its ultimate and undesired conclusion.

I am now supplementing breast milk with Nutramigen. I did it before with my Certain Little Someone, and I am doing it again with Baby Boy. The problem is that he was not gaining weight, and had not been for some time. After ruling out other causes, like possible allergens still in my diet, I realized that I was just putting off the inevitable and admitted that he simply wasn’t getting enough milk from me to help him grow. He was getting enough to satisfy his hunger, keep happy most days, and even grow lengthwise, but not enough to gain weight.

Coming to this realization was painful, to say the least. Like I said, all I wanted with Baby #2 was to have a normal nursing/feeding relationship.

I went through the same exact thing with my Certain Little Someone and have come to the conclusion that when I take certain things, like dairy and eggs, out of my diet, I don’t replace them with an adequate amount of calories that would enable my body to keep up a good supply of breast milk.

Nutramigen is not what I want to be feeding my child – it’s full of ingredients that I otherwise avoid. But it’s too late to replenish my supply, and my only other alternative is to make formula myself, which is just not going to happen (I do not have time in my day for that!). So I tell myself to be grateful that dairy-free formula exists because at least it will help my Baby Boy to grow!

It’s been almost two weeks since I started the supplementation, and this morning when I weighed him, Baby Boy had gained about 5 ounces. Right now, for me, that makes it all worth it.

Food Allergy Awareness Week: School and Snacks

Now here’s a hot topic! Because of the prevalence of food allergies these days, your child is likely to have an allergic classmate at some point in their school career. Managing allergies in the classroom is tricky at best and controversial at worst. Schools and teachers have been forced to attempt to make food allergy policies that protect the allergic students while not creating a hardship for the non-allergic children and their parents. Some have found a better balance than others; policies range from one extreme to the other, including:

  • peanut-free classrooms across the board OR peanut-free classrooms when a peanut allergy is present
  • separate lunch tables/work tables for food allergic children
  • special allergen-free zones
  • removing play-dough from pre-schools, daycares, and Kindergarten classrooms (because it contains wheat and a reaction can occur on contact even when it’s not ingested)

Even the parents of food allergic children are divided on the best way to handle food allergies at school, because it IS difficult to find the balance between protecting the one and preserving the freedom of the other. I’m not going to get involved in the debate, in part because I’m not entirely sure myself of the best solution.

However, I do want to address one thing: complaints about the policies from parents of non-allergic children.

What I really want to say to those parents who complain is this: Grow up.

Instead, I’ll say this:

Put yourself in the shoes of the food-allergic parents. Imagine that if someone touched your child with peanut butter on their fingers, your child might end up with an allergic reaction so severe that potentially inexperienced strangers will have to inject him with epinephrine and call an ambulance. If the treatment is not immediate and administered correctly, your child is in danger of dying. All from peanut-butter fingers.

When you look at it through someone else’s eyes, you can begin to appreciate the necessity of keeping a safe environment for food-allergic children. Most of the time, the prevention policies are reasonable enough and easy for everyone to follow. Of course, it can get ridiculous in extreme cases where children are severely allergic to multiple things; in that case, I personally think it’s probably best for the parents to consider if it might not be better to home-school or tutor their child rather than forcing 30+ individuals to totally change their lifestyle for the sake of one person.

So what can you do if your child is in a class with a food allergic child? Regardless of whether or not the school or teacher has policies in place to protect the food allergic one, here are some things you can do:

  1. Educate yourself about their specific allergens and the typical severity of their reactions. Talk to the parent and find out: would they have a reaction on contact or only on ingestion? Can they have eggs baked into cakes and cookies or not at all?
  2. Strictly follow whatever policies are in place. If that means no peanut in your child’s lunch, then don’t put peanut in your child’s lunch. Simple! (Avoiding peanut for one meal a day is really not that big a deal. Imagine trying to avoid 8 different common foods for every single meal and snack! If you’re stumped for lunch ideas beyond PB&J, check out this back-to-school post.)
  3. Educate your child. It means so much to me that my brother- and sister- in law – who live in the same town I do so we see them a lot and spend a lot of time with them – have educated their two children about my Certain Little Someone’s allergies and have strictly instructed them not to feed him anything other than what I allow them to feed him. They are so well trained that the other day, when we were eating out with him, my Certain Little Someone grabbed a (safe) french fry from his cousin’s bag. The cousin instinctively reacted with a gasp and grabbed the bag away from him. He didn’t see what my Certain Little Someone had eaten and was afraid it was unsafe for him. You can teach your child to be the same way for the sake of the other food allergic children. Tell your child to keep his or her food in the spot where it belongs and not to let it get anywhere near the allergic student. After eating, wash hands carefully to avoid touching the child with allergenic fingers. And carefully wipe your spot after eating (if eating in the classroom).
  4. Even if the parent of the allergic child brings a special snack just for her, consider preparing snacks that are allergen-free. Many kindergarten and lower elementary classrooms have special snack days or birthdays where parents bring in food to share with the class. If that’s the case in  your child’s class, consider bringing food that is safe for everyone, including the allergic ones. I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy rice flour or other exotic ingredients just for that one snack, but consider foods that are naturally allergen-free, like fruits and vegetables. Serve them in finger-food sizes or with toothpicks. Offer a dip for those who don’t have allergies. For very young children, a box of allergen-free cereal (like Kix, Chex, Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms, or the like – no, not healthy, but an easy snack!) will be just as appreciated as anything else. For older children, plain potato chips are usually welcome. If you want to be a little healthier, there are several brands that make safe sweet potato chips that are healthier than regular chips. Tortilla chips and salsa are also usually free of the top 8 allergens. Fruit snacks and gummy snacks are usually allergen-free (albeit dreadfully unhealthy). OR talk to the parent of the allergic child and see if they have any ideas of a quick safe snack you can provide for all the children.
  5. If you want to bring a goodie bag for all the children to celebrate your child’s birthday, focus on non-food prizes like stickers, pens or pencils, erasers, notepads, and little toys. The party favor section at any big box store or party store will have a lot of options. If you must throw in a special treat, consider hard candies (for older children) or gummy candies (for younger children), as those are almost always allergen-free. Once again, check with the parents of the food allergic child before assuming anything.

That’s it for Food Allergy Awareness Week! I’ll be back tomorrow (hopefully!) with another great powdered-sugar-free frosting recipe for you. To recap, here are all the other FAAW posts:

The Dangers of Food Allergies

Food Allergies 101

Hosting the Food Allergic

A Rose By Any Other Name…

…is still thorny.

The Corn Refiners Association is on a mission to change the negative image of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the public eye by giving it a new name… corn sugar. They’ve applied to the federal government to make the name change official, but in the meantime, they’ve already launched an advertising campaign with Facebook, twitter, a website , and TV commercials. Their main point of attack is that HFCS is metabolized in your body just like real sugar, so it’s no more or less dangerous to consume than your average granulated sugar. Their favorite argument, which I have read in multiple articles and sources, is, “The bottom line is people should consume less of all sugars.”

Now that much is definitely true, and I can whole-heartedly stand behind such a statement. It’s the question of whether or not HFCS is worse than regular sugar that leaves me scratching my head when I try to delve into the topic. I am no scientist, and I don’t claim to be able to understand or rationally sift through all the opposing information that is available on the subject. It’s hard to know who is speaking independently, without a political or financial investment in their point of view. If you’re interested, this article explains some of the history of HFCS and the issues behind it and discusses the topic with people on all sides of the conflict. It’s difficult to wade through all the evidence and the assertions to arrive at a confident conclusion.

There are, however, a few things I know to be true

1. HFCS is experiencing a 20-year low in public consumption. This is a widely published, accepted fact. 

2. The Corn Refiners Association is made up of corn refiners who are losing a lot of money because their product has earned a lot of negative press and is regarded warily by many consumers. 

3. HFCS is highly refined, and far removed from its natural state.

4. HFCS has no health benefits whatsoever.

5. All the nutritional experts agree that, whether or not it is actually harmful, it should be consumed in small quantities. This is difficult to do when it is hidden in so many processed foods. 

My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that whether or not HFCS – or corn sugar, whatever you want to call it – may not necessarily be detrimental to your health (although that’s hard for me to swallow), it’s certainly not good for you! If the best argument in its favor, and the crux of its makers’ campaign, is that it’s “just as bad as every other sugar”, well then. That indicates to me that it’s not something I want to be a regular part of my diet, as no one is even attempting to argue that it has actual health and nutritional benefits. 

So no matter what it’s called, I will continue to avoid buying foods containing this ingredient, and will continue to focus on limiting my overall consumption of sweeteners. Yes, I know, it’s practically impossible to eliminate HFCS altogether, but it helps when you make most of your food from scratch and avoid obvious sources like soda and sweets. 

What about you? Do you avoid HFCS/corn sugar?