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06/18/2015

~ How and When to use Liquid or Powdered Pectin ~

IMG_8645I grew up eating home-canned jellies, jams and preserves (and lots of apple butter too).  In all seriousness, in their lifetimes, between my grandmother and her sister, Ann and Mary, no one in either family ever had to pick up a jar of Smucker's or Welch's.  For a child like me, I found watching these two rocket scientists at work more interesting than anything on television.  This type of fruit preservation can be very frustrating to the uniformed novice:  every fruit gets treated a bit differently, no two recipes are alike and many recipes are cryptic.  It really is rocket science! 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c79e4352970bIf you've never experienced the old-fashioned canning process, it's a lot of hard work that requires attention to every last detail:  weighing and measuring everything precisely, peeling, chopping, mashing and/or straining the fruit, standing over a big hot, spattering maslin pot while constantly stirring until the right consistency is reached, sterilizing the canning jars, filling them via a big funnel to the right level, boiling the filled jars in an even bigger canning pot, then, waiting for the signature "popping sound" of each lid as they cool to insure the all-important seal-of-safety.  

What's the difference between jelly, jam, preserves and marmalade?

IMG_8545It all boils down to the form the fruit takes on in the end.  Jelly is made from fruit juice and is gelatinous. Jam is made from pulp, pureed, mashed or smashed fruit and is softer, more spreadable than jelly. Preserves are made from diced, chunked or whole fruit with it being looser than jam, spoonable rather than spreadable. Marmalade is usually made from citrus fruit, sometimes containing chards of rind or bits of zest, and, it has a consistency between jelly and jam.  

As for jam and preserves specifically:  Depending upon the recipe, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two, and, you will very often see the terms used interchangeably. Why? Past one being mushier and one being chunkier, in both cases, the thickness of the liquid is controlled by how much pectin gets added, which is determined by personal preference.

IMG_8641What's pectin and what's the difference between liquid and powdered? 

IMG_8649Pectin is an all-natural substance found in fruits and vegetables, and, a store-bought product used to thicken jelly, jam, preserves and marmalade.  Some fruits contain so much natural pectin, they require very little or none to thicken it (apples, apricots, citrus fruits and cherries contain the most).  In other cases, mother nature needs a bit or a lot of help -- that's where store-bought pectins comes in (water-soluable, thick gelatin-like liquid or IMG_8648powder made from apples).  Pectin requires sugar and some citric acid to work its magic, and, thickening begins when it comes to a boil, creating a thick, crystal-clear set when it gels.  Pectin is a natural part of the human diet, but does not contribute significantly.  It was first isolated and described in 1825 by Henri Braonnot, though how it works in jellies, jams, preserves and marmalades was known long before with "Pektikos", in Ancient Greek meaning "congealed."

IMG_8644Pectin is not the same as gelatin.  Liquid and powdered pectin are water-soluable plant fiber used almost exclusively in high-sugar products. Gelatin, derived from animal protein, can be used in a variety of ways because it sets without having to be boiled and does not need sugar and citric acid to activate it.  Every brand of pectin is a bit different, so, use what is recommended.  I use Certo and Sure-Jell because they are sister-products marketed by Kraft foods and give me great results.

The amount of pectin used depends upon the fruit you choose & the desired thickness of the end product (spreadable, spoonable or sauce-like).  Here are some helpful conversions:

1 box liquid pectin contains:  2, 3-ounce pouches

1 box powdered pectin contains: 1, 1 3/4-ounce packet

2 tablespoons (6 teaspoons) liquid = 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) powdered

3  ounces liquid pectin (a generous 6 tablespoons) thickens 2-4 cups crushed fruit

1 3/4  ounces powdered pectin (a scant 6 tablespoons) thickens 4-8  cups crushed fruit

IMG_8518While liquid and powdered pectin both achieve the same thing, they're a thickener, they are not used in the same manner.  For stovetop methods, liquid pectin is always added to the boiling mixture near the end of the cooking process while powdered pectin is stirred into the raw fruit at the beginning.  In the case of cooking on the stovetop, the decision to use liquid or powdered is up to you (although you should always follow the recipe).  That said, modern day bread machines come equipped with a jam-cycle and they are great for making small-batches of jams and preserves.  

When it comes to making jam and preserves in  the bread machine, once you start the automatic jam cycle, stirring liquid pectin in at the end is no longer an option.  Therefore, powdered pectin should be used in bread machine recipes.  That said, if you only have liquid pectin on hand, you do have an option which works just fine:  add no pectin to the fruit mixture, let it run through the jam cycle, and when the machine stops, transfer the hot fruit mixture to a 2-quart saucpan, bring it to a boil, add liquid pectin and allow it boil, stirring constantly, for one full minute.  Proceed with the recipe, as directed, filling the jars, then canning, refrigerating, and/or freezing.

IMG_8585"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

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