Making summer fruit jam—should pectin be an ingredient or not?

Published by: Nancy Meissner

Pectin in Jam?

For years I did live canning and bread making demos as part of our seminar lineup at event centers and churches. And to demonstrate water bath canning I almost always prepared and made a fresh fruit jam.

The Case For Pectin

I discussed and recommended using a natural pectin product, Pomona’s Universal Pectin, as a way to get as many jars of jam as possible from the produce you had on hand. This product also has the advantage of not relying upon a certain amount of added sugar (usually a lot!) for the jam to thicken to a spreadable consistency.

And truly, if you use Pomona’s Pectin or any other type of commercial pectin you should end up with a much larger amount of jam, since you didn’t lose perhaps half of the jam by boiling the fruit down to your desired thickness or consistency!

However, what about flavor? And what about the consistency of the jam if it’s not all eaten within a short period of time? Is anything lost by using commercial pectin rather than boiling it down?

My answer after years of using the commercial pectin is “Yes”! If I’m going for volume and want as many jars as possible on my shelves—then I still recommend Pomona’s Pectin. But if you are looking for intense flavor and a softer, more spreadable consistency—there’s nothing like making jam with no added pectin! Or, if the particular fruit you’re using doesn’t contain much of its own natural pectin and doesn’t thicken very easily by boiling it down, you could try using your green apples or crab apples to make your own homemade pectin (see my recipe for “Apple Pectin” on p. 9 in “The Contemporary Artisan’s Collection of Recipes & Methods”).

Why I Stopped Using Pectin In Jam

For the past four years or so I’ve been omitting the pectin in my jams and I love the results!

I’ve been taking my delicious strawberries or raspberries or huckleberries—adding only enough sugar as needed for taste—then boiling them for as many minutes as I need to thicken the jam by reducing the water in the fruit. In this way I obtain a soft but very spreadable consistency. I find that I generally have to remove my pot from the heat even before it’s exactly the “right” thickness, as it continues to thicken as it cools.

When making raspberry jam, if I want to remove some or most of the seeds, I run the berries through my Victorio Strainer before the boiling process.

When making my jams for extended storage rather than for fresh eating, i follow the Ball Blue Book method for water bath canning.

Strawberry Jam With A Little Fireworks

However, In honor of today—the 4th of July—I thought I’d share a recipe with you for my fresh unprocessed refrigerator jam that is so quick that you can make it in no time and share today with your family and friends on this special holiday (or whenever)!! I don’t recommend this particular jam for water bath processing. Just make it quick and eat it fresh! It can be stored in the refrigerator.

“Strawberry Jam With A Little Fireworks”!

20 C. fresh strawberries
1/3 C lemon or lime juice
5 C. Turbinado or other sugar, (or to taste—it gets sweeter as it boils down)
2-4 jalapeño peppers, seeded or unseeded, or to taste (dice very finely)

Rinse berries and remove stems/leaves. Chop or crush and place berries in a large pot along with lemon or lime juice, sugar and peppers.

Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Continue boiling until mixture becomes clear and thickens to a soft consistency. As you continue to boil and stir the fruit you’ll notice the thickening process taking place. To check for thickening, dip a cool metal spoon into the boiling mixture and lift the spoon out of the steam so the syrup runs off to the side. When the mixture first starts to boil, the drops will be light and syrupy. As the jam continues to boil, the drops will become heavier and will drop off the spoon two at a time. When the two drops form together and “sheet” off the spoon, the jellying point has been reached.

Once the mixture is your desired thickness but still soft and slightly runny, remove from heat. Pour into hot half-pint jars. The amount of jars will vary depending on a number of factors, but I think you should end up with about 10-12 half-pint jars. Top the jars with lids, put a label on the side of each jar or write “Strawberry Jam with a Little FIREWORKS!” on top of the lid with a magic marker—and take to your holiday get-together to share with family and friends!!

I recommend this recipe as a refrigerator jam to eat fresh, not for canning.

1 Comment

  1. grammy em

    sometimes if i cook down sweetened fruit, it darkens or even sticks to the pan. not good. my fix has been to cook down in the microwave! faster and no darkening or sticking. the same tests for jelling work, tho i use an instant read thermometer to quickly see if i have reached 220 degrees.


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