It should be a crime to take beautiful fruit you bought at a farm stand or hand-picked yourself and cook the joy out of it. Cooking any mixture of fruit and sugar long enough will result in a jam that will set up in your canning jars. But longer cooking times can mean over-processed flavor, darkened color and a lower yield. Adding pectin allows you to cook jam for a much shorter time, which may result in the jam of your dreams. Here are five reasons to add it to your next batch.
1. Pectin doesn’t have to come from a box. Pectin is a natural fiber found in most plants. Fruits like apples and oranges are particularly high in pectin, with the highest concentrations in the skins, cores and seeds. Boiling two pounds of tart green apples (slightly under-ripe apples work best) with four cups of water and one tablespoon of lemon juice for half an hour, then straining through cheesecloth before boiling further to reduce the volume by half will result in an effective homemade liquid pectin.
2. Preserve fresh flavor. Overcook anything and it stops tasting like nature intended. Strawberry jam with added pectin can be cooked in as little as ten minutes, preserving that fresh berry flavor and quality. Strawberry jam without added pectin needs to be cooked up to four times longer to reach the gel stage, resulting in a much sweeter, less fresh-tasting jam.
3. Maintain natural color. The longer you cook a jam, the darker it gets. By using a shorter cooking time with added pectin, you are locking in the vibrant natural color of those ruby-red raspberries and sunny peaches. A shelf full of brightly-colored jams will cheer up any winter morning.
4. Reach ideal texture. A jam cooked for a long time can have a thick, uniform stickiness by the time it reaches the gel stage. Jams cooked for a shorter time with the help of added pectin have a glossy, spreadable texture with large or small pieces of fruit suspended in gel. Digging your knife into a jar of homemade jam should feel luxuriously silky.
5. Get more jam from your fruit. A shorter cooking time means you won’t boil off a lot of your fruit’s natural juices. The long boil method can result in up to 50 percent less jam from the same amount of fruit. And who doesn’t want more jars of delicious homemade jam? Sometimes more is just more.
(Images: Amy Bronee)