Friday, May 8, 2009

Canning Fruit Spreads: What is Pectin?

Since Sunday is Mother's Day, I would like mention the woman who introduced me to home canning. I admit that for her, gardening and canning was sometimes more of a burden than a hobby. Sometimes she had to force herself to do it in order to afford to feed her family. Still, there were plenty of times when she had fun and plenty of times when she was pleased with the results of her work. Helping Mom out with gardening and the canning created memories that will last forever, Thanks, Mom.

I also want to say thanks to The Ungourmet for the nice comment that she wrote about my blog.


If you have never canned jam or jelly before, you may be wondering, "What is Pectin?"

Pectin is a soluble fiber that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables. It is the interaction between pectin and sugar that causes jams and jellies to set. The PH of the food also plays a role in this interaction between pectin and sugar, so some recipes call for lemon juice in order to make the recipe just acidic enough to set.

Spreads usually take anywhere from 24 hours to 2 weeks to set. I actually had a batch of blueberry jam that took even longer than that one time. Why? I don’t know.

Recipes can basically divided into two categories depending on whether they rely on the natural pectin in the fruit or whether they call for added pectin. Recipes that rely on the natural pectin have to be cooked to 220° F in order to set. This temperature is called the “gelling point.” Recipes that call for added pectin do not need to be cooked as long. This can result in more of a fresh fruit taste as opposed to a cooked taste.

Since the amount of pectin in the fruit decreases as the fruit ripens, you should not use overripe fruit for either kind of recipe. In fact, for recipes that rely on the natural pectin in the fruit, it can be helpful to intentionally have about 1/4 of the fruit be a bit under-ripe.

The white part of citrus peels are very high in pectin. Therefore, most of the commercial pectin in this country is extracted from the peelings that are left over from the juice industry.

Commercial pectin comes in powdered or liquid form. They are not interchangeable. Use the form that the recipe calls for. Commercial pectin also usually comes with recipes. In the past, I tried to intentionally buy as many different brands as I could just to increase my recipe collection.

You can also buy pectin that is specially designed to set with little or no added sugar. These come with low sugar recipes in the box. Most canning books also include a few low sugar recipes. Regular pectin depends on the sugar to set, so if you are using regular pectin, then do not decrease the amount of sugar.

When it comes to creating your own jam recipes, I wish I knew some magic formula that you could plug all of the ingredients into and it would tell you whether or not the ratio of pectin to sugar and the PH was just right to end up with a jam that is just the right consistency. However, the only method that I know of is to start with an existing recipe as a guideline and then experiment.

Though people write instructions for how to fix your jam if it doesn’t set, my advice is much simpler. I say, just cover the label with a new label that says “sauce” rather than “jam.”

In fact, I think that a good way to come up with new sauce recipes for pancakes, cheesecakes, ice cream etc., is to simply leave the pectin out of a jam recipe. You can come up with an endless variety of sauces that way; and the canning instructions for these sauces is the same as jam.


  1. Thanks for the great information on the pectin. This reminds me that I need to go pick some strawberries for jam this next week!

    Your Mother sounds like a wonderful woman! I am so glad that my mom taught me about cooking and sewing when I was a girl. It really meant a lot.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. When I was growing up it was my dad who was the avid gardener and canner. It was my job to be his little helper. Because of him I now grow a huge garden and can tomatoes, pumpkin, and jam. With your site I hope to learn how to can more goods. Thanks for the great information.

    PS - I found you through The Un-Gourmet, I love her site.

  3. I agree, The Un-Gourmet, does have a great site.

  4. This is fabulously informative. it's nice to know the "why" behind the directions in a recipe. That's what enables you to get creative on your own...

    And the ungourmet is the best!!

  5. I am one of those people who is totally terrified of canning. Make a wedding cake? Sure! But make some jam? No way. I will do some reading on your site to try and get over my fear!

  6. I certainly would not be brave enough to attempt a wedding cake. You impress me.

    Are you afraid that your food will spoil? Modern home canning methods have pretty much been turned into a science. I plan to continue writing about food safety and how to know what is a safe method to follow and what methods should be thrown out the window.

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  8. Charlotte,your mother sounds like quite a woman - one of a dying breed. I hope you both have a wonderful Mother's Day. I'm a food preserver but no where to the extent I was 30 years ago. I love your blog.

  9. can I use clear gelatin - this is so funny I was just typing 'certo substitutes' in google and then I saw your post...what is a substitute or can I make my own pectin somehow?

  10. If you want to try making your own pectin, here are some instructions

  11. Thanx for visiting my blog..lots to explore in your blog and very informative..

  12. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful tips and information. I love to read your blog. Thanks for drop by my blog too.

  13. Thanks for the info. I like to make my own jam and ur site gives some useful tips.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog helping me to discover yours.

  14. What a lovely idea for blog. My mother canned a lot and always helped her and my grandmother.
    When I started making my own jams, I used to buy powdered pectin, but then I discovered that simply adding some apples or lemon juice did the same effect and my jams tasted different and original (compared to store bought ones, of course). My favourite combination is Strawberry, apple and orange jam. look forward to more advice from you

  15. Thanks for stopping by my blog and giving me the chance to find yours. Now I know where to go when I have canning questions.

  16. amen to that sauce idea. The first time I made strawberry rhubarb jam, it didn't set. We had so many jars of sauce. I was panic-y what would I do?? But alas we discovered trifle and it was a very good year at our house!

    thanks for the encouragement.

    mama to 8
    one homemade and 7 adopted


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