Canning basics: Pectin

Let me share with you what I have learned about pectin. I was having too many problems with getting things to gel and just wanted to know what it was all about. What makes pectin tick?

Hello beautiful jelly! We are about to process you, which means boil the dickens out of you for 10 minutes.

Pectin, which comes in both powder or liquid form is a naturally occurring substance that thickens things up.

On the left, a liquid form of pectin, on the right, a powdered form

What I do know is that pectin is naturally occurring in many fruits. Apple peels for instance. Thats often how people used to get their pectin, at least one way was to put apple peels in the recipe. (I suppose they could pick them out after they cooked it?) Strawberries have natural pectin so although you can use pectin in strawberry jam, you could also just cook it down until it thickens naturally. Some people think this wastes strawberries by reducing it so much or that it cooks the nutrition out of them. But others have no problem with it and cook away. After all, it is jam, not really a vitamin supplement.

Which brings us to sugar. Would you like a little fruit with your sugar? Regular pectin needs lots of sugar to work with in order to gel. I have tried to get around this and failed. You would need to use a special low-to-no-sugar pectin made especially for low sugar jams. If you try to cheat and use less sugar than the recipe calls for with regular pectin, you will be sorry. I have been. It just does not set properly unless you follow exact directions. Again, you are probably using a Tbsp. on toast so I would not dwell on it too much.


There are several brands of pectin and you can find them in stores like Wal-Mart, Stater Bros, Ace Hardware or you can order on-line.

Now like I said before, some things do not need pectin. Things like applesauce, salsa, spaghetti sauce, barbecue sauce all do not need pectin.

But most jams and jellies need some kind of pectin. I get kind of squeamish about adding so much sugar to the recipe, for example 4 cups of grape juice to 7 cups of sugar, but if you use low-sugar pectin, you can get good results as well. (which uses no sugar in its grape jelly recipe) I have made jellies and jams with no sugar at all, but used a lot of pectin, crossed my fingers, spun in a circle and hopped on one foot for luck. I got lucky that time. It was probably the lucky rabbits foot I hung from my ear.

You do not want to cook it too long, or too short. Again, follow directions for the recipe. I have had more than my share of grape jellies that just were grape syrups and did not set. I may have overcooked it or undercooked it or I may have tried to use less sugar than was called for. Luckily you can just re-cook it. I just re-did some jelly this morning. It has grape juice from organic grapes a neighbor gave me as well as some organic mix juice of dragon-fruit, pomegranate, apple and a smattering of other fruits. I had to open all the jars, tossing the lids in the trash (not the rings). I washed the jars, reheated the mixture, adding sugar, lemon juice and pectin again, heated to a rolling boil and filled and reprocessed the jars. I think this time it will work great. Here is a picture. I will have specific recipes with the post on making jellies.



You also have to be aware of the acid content of your food. Some recipes tell you to add bottled lemon juice. This is because the PH is a tad too low for whatever you are canning and it needs the acid boost lemon juice would give it. In order to keep bacteria at bay, you need the correct ph. Vegetables and meats have a low ph and cannot be canned at all in a water bath canner, which is what that big black tub is. You would need a pressure cooker to can those kind of low ph food and I will post at that another time.

Do not double the recipe. That is another tip to help with the pectin issue. To double the recipe means a higher chance of uneven heat in the pan as your jam boils. It might get too hot or more likely, not get hot enough. So stick to the recipe. You can always make 2 separate batches.

So what have we learned? Pectin-needs lots of sugar unless you use specifically made low to no sugar pectin; it needs to come to a rolling boil for 1 full minute, follow the recipe, add lemon juice if called for and use the pectin that recipe calls for. Keep in mind that the packages of pectin all have basic recipes on them. In fact canning recipes are all over the place and I cannot fathom why more people don’t give it a go. It uses minimum start-up funds, only takes a small part of one day to make a good size batch of whatever and allows you to tailor your foods to your families tastes.

Give it a go!

On to a post with a recipe and actual canning!


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