I have discovered there is a way to make my own homemade pectin that can be used in all kinds of preserves. Basically, any kind of apple, be it Crab Apple, Granny Smith, or Macintosh, can be used as they are naturally high in pectin. In this case, I have some huge crab apple trees around the gun shop that I used to make my pectin with.
Apples contain a more concentrated amount of pectin when they are under-ripe rather than ripe. This means that I will have to pick the fruit about two weeks before it's harvest ready, when the apples are still green and tart. Some apples, like the crab apples, will still contain enough pectin when ripened to be useful, while others loose the pectin as they ripen.
I have picked about 18 gallons of crab apples for my pectin and I am hoping to get about 7-8 quarts of pectin out of it when I am finished.
To start I have to wash and pick through the crab apples to remove badly damaged or worm eaten apples. If I have larger apples then I would cut them into smaller pieces, but these apples are small enough to cook down whole. Then they are placed in a heavy stockpot, which has about 4 inches of water on the bottom, until the pot is about 2/3 full of apples. The water will cover about 1/2 to 2/3 of the apples as they start to cook down and soften. Water can be added later if needed.
Over medium to low heat I cook down the crab apples, stirring occasionally, until they have broken their skins and are mushy. While this is cooking I have to prepare another stockpot or food grade plastic bucket to strain the apple mush into. I will only be using the liquid part of the cooked apples, which is actually the pectin. You can use cheesecloth or a clean t-shirt to strain the pectin; I'm using t-shirts. Stretching the t-shirt over the opening of the bucket I leave it in such a way that it creates a bowl to pour the apples into. Then I secure the t-shirt in place with a string tied around the rim of my bucket.
Once my apples are ready I carefully pour them hot into the bowl I made out of the stretched t-shirt over my bucket, watching to make sure the t-shirt stays in place. The pectin immediately starts to drip through the t-shirt into the bottom of my bucket. I let the apples sit there for about 20 to 30 minutes to drain as much of the pectin out as I can in that time. I can allow the apples to sit and drain over night if I choose to, but I have left them long enough so that I can no longer hear them dripping into the bucket.
Here is a photo of a fresh batch of poured apples on the left and a batch that has been sitting for 30 minutes on the right.
In order to make my pectin as translucent as possible I gently stir the apples as they drain, once or twice, to see if any more of the liquid passes through. If I press the apples it can cause some of the pulp to pass through the t-shirt clouding up my pectin. Cloudy pectin is still usable, but it may also cloud your preserves.
When I no longer hear anything dripping into my bucket I then remove the cheesecloth and apples and view the liquid pectin that remains. I then set this aside in another pot to reheat later as I finish cooking down and straining the remaining apples I have collected.
Once all the pectin is combined the next step is to test its strength. In a small bowl I have placed some rubbing alcohol and will add approximately 1 teaspoon of cooled down pectin to it. The pectin will thicken like jelly in the alcohol after about 1 minute. If my pectin is concentrated enough I can lift it out of the alcohol with a fork. I know when it is ready when this happens, but if the pectin is runny off the fork then I will have to boil it down some more until it becomes thicker. I can repeat the alcohol test again until it is ready.
WARNING: Do not eat the pectin that has been tested in the alcohol as it is poisonous.
This pectin is now ready to use:
My pectin can be used right away in this form if I am planning on canning some preserves later in the week, or it can be canned and used as needed. A newly opened jar of pectin can be refrigerated for two weeks. When planning on how much pectin I will need for my preserves for the year I have to remember to make enough pectin for my early berries the following year. Harvesting pectin happens in the middle of the summer, so I would use the previous years pectin to can all of my early preserves.
In the canning process I will sterilize my jars and lids ahead of time to be ready to use. Then I have to reheat the whole batch of pectin and bring it to a boil and remove it from the heat. When it boils there will be a thin layer of foam over the pectin that I have to skim off.
The heat of the pectin placed in warm jars will seal them selves eliminating the need for a water bath. To warm the jars I simply place them in some hot water right before they are needed. This way the heat of the hot pectin won't crack the jars and they are ready to be filled.
I fill my jars to just reaching the groves on the jar where the lid screws down, wipe the rim to remove any spillage, and place the lid and covers on. Then the jars can be placed upside down on a towel and covered to cool slowly. The jar will seal as the pectin cools down.
The pectin that I have just made will be slightly congealed so that it leaves a film on my utensil, but it will not completely jell until it is combined with the fruit and sugar in which ever recipe I am using.
In order to use the pectin there is a simple ratio to go by.
4 to 6 tablespoons of pectin for every 1 cup of prepared fruit or fruit juice.
Example: 9 cups crushed berries with 2 1/4 cups of pectin (4 tbs x 9)
Then it is equal amounts fruit/pectin mixture to sugar.
Example: 11 1/4 cups of mixture (see above ratio) with 11 1/4 cups of sugar
In order to accommodate the proper ratios then the recipe being used may need to be altered.