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Jul 3, 2009 08:59 AM

Making jam with or without pectin?

quick question to the jam makers out there. Made strawberry jam with pectin (a brand other than Certo), however, my mother who is a jam junkie, told me to make the jam without the pectin. Her reason is that jam made with this pectin product typically is not good for more than 1 year or so, where as jam made with just fruit, sugar and lemon juice last much longer.

Any thoughts on this? The only difference that I can see is that the jam my mother makes is more like a compote than an actual jam (a little runnier depending on the fruit).

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  1. Humbug. I've been making jam for over 30 years. I use pectin - usually Certo, because it's the brand most widely available here. The advantage to using pectin, in my opinion, is that you can make jam with a much shorter cooking time, which produces a product that tastes fresher. It also gives you a higher yield for the amount of fruit because you're not boiling all the liquid away until it reaches the gelling point. The results are also predictible and generally foolproof. It WILL gel most of the time.

    On the other hand, there is some charm to the long-cooked traditional jam flavour that a pectin-based jam doesn't have. I think that the fruit almost caramelizes and there's a rich undertone to a jam made that way. However, some fruits just don't have sufficient natural pectin to gel properly - and so you either have to boil the heck out of it or be satisfied with a compote-y textured jam. Plus, if I knew that a batch of jam could take me all day to make, I'd never bother to do it.

    As for keeping qualities - make the jam according to the pectin package directions and process the jars properly and it will keep for years. So your mother the jam junkie is wrong there. I have - and still use - jars of jam that I made 2 or 3 years ago that are absolutely totally fine.

    18 Replies
    1. re: Nyleve

      I make several types of jams and conserves each summer and NEVER use pectin. I find the textures just fine, a little runny, so what? Have recently been using honey as a sweetener rather than sugar and the tastes have been amazing!

        1. re: OCEllen

          Honey! Brilliant. What's your ratio for using honey? How much honey to substitute sugar?

          1. re: Antonio2800

            I've never measured. I go by look and taste. Texture comes as a 'result'.
            (But maybe cup for cup as a sweetener ratio?)

            1. re: Antonio2800

              Ball has a syrup conversion chart. I don't know if it will work for jams etc.

              1 cup sugar, 1 cup of honey, 4 cups of water. This will yield 5 cups of syrup.

            2. re: OCEllen

              I think the flavor using honey would be duh bom, but as much honey as you need for jam, if I figure how much sugar you have to use, honey would be very expensive no?

              1. re: iL Divo

                and there's that whole thing about safety -- I don't cook "by the book" for anything EXCEPT jams and jellies. I'm not obsessive about keeping everything pristinely clean -- EXCEPT jams and jellies.

                The health and wellbeing of my family and friends is just too important to leave to "look and taste", and being random, particularly with honey, which is known to carry botulism from time to time, is a recipe for disaster.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  botulism can be avoided by following the directions at the link below. I think it's great to worry about things like that, but within reason.


                  I look forward to trying honey in my strawberry jam!

                  1. re: mom22boyz

                    the poster to whom the conversation referred said "I've never measured. I go by look and taste. Texture comes as a 'result'. (But maybe cup for cup as a sweetener ratio?)"

                    Jams and jellies are just not the right venue to make it up as you go along.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      I'm meticulous in sterilizing and processing; my 'experiments' as you might term them have always been delicious and 'safe'. There are lots of recipes for making jams and conserves with honey online. The ratio for substituting honey for sugar is 7/8.

                    2. re: mom22boyz

                      I think I'll still pass on using honey in jams, it'd take too much honey to really appreciate it I think, plus not sure how it'd hold up while cooking.
                      anyone care to post a recipe for jam using honey instead of honey? tia

                      1. re: iL Divo

                        I'd never afford cups and cups of honey, but sometimes I add a splash of honey liqeuer towards the end.

                        1. re: iL Divo

                          "anyone care to post a recipe for jam using honey instead of honey? tia"
                          reading this just now my face is falling.
                          geeez where is grammar check when you need it

                      2. re: sunshine842

                        Hi sunshine - the botulism you fear is in infants,not adults. However, I would avoid it if it has any spores at all. If you use sugar and lemon in low acid fruits, then you are safe with just a hot water bath or actually just putting jellies in sterile jars and not water bath. My grandmother used wax poured over her jams to seal them - and you can't water bath that :-). As for the pros and cons of pectin - I do like the flavor of no pectin much better, even though its more work. For one thing, the evaporation of liquid some people don't like, gives the jams a rich, deep fruit flavor and on top of that you use less sugar. Always add a couple of TBS of lemon to low acid fruits such as figs and things. Hope this helps.

                        1. re: happygoluckyinoregon

                          A good botulinum colony can indeed be strong enough to fell an adult.

                          Nobody, but nobody in the US or Europe recommends using wax any more -- and hasn't for quite a few years now.

                          The only time I had to toss an entire batch of jam (and I'd even picked the fruit!) was by putting it in sterile jars and turning the jars upside down.

                          It is absolutely not difficult, time-consuming, or expensive to water-bath preserves...especially not when balanced against illness or just having to toss out all your hard work.

                          and all jam has pectin -- it occurs naturally in the fruit; there are just some fruits that don't have enough pectin on their we add pectin (and it's made from fruit....)

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Yes, ALWAYS do that water bath process!

                  2. re: Nyleve

                    Agree. Except for crabapple jelly - that had enough natural pectin I didn't need to add the commercial stuff. I've used both Certo and SurJell. Sometimes if I made a mixed crabapple/something else I didn't need the commercial stuff - but for strawberry - commercial pectin for sure.

                    And it never affected the length of time the jelly/jam would keep - at one point, when I was a kid, we had a 3 year back log of jelly and jam, despite being a 9 person household, none of whom were shy about slathering on the jelly. We started giving it away by the boxful to get the backlog down. It was great stuff.

                    Long ago I had a recipe for making your own pectin, but it's long lost. We did use it for several years when I was very young; but then we became prosperous enough to buy the Certo, and used that from then on.

                    1. re: KitchenBarbarian

                      I found this recipe on
                      Fruit Pectin

                      Wash, but don't peel, about seven large tart apples. Cut them into pieces and add four cups of water and two tablespoons of lemon juice. Boil the mixture for 40 minutes, then strain it through a diaper or cheesecloth. Finally, boil the juice for another 20 minutes, pour it into sterilized jars, and seal them.

                      Read more:

                  3. I made some delicious strawberry jam last weekend WITHOUT commercial pectin. As your mama recommends - just sugar, lemon and fruit. (Plus some water.) In my experience, the keys are including some under-ripe fruit in the mix, as well as sticking to small quantities. The amount of sugar used is also important.

                    After laboriously picking 4 1/2 cups of teeny tiny wild strawberries on Sunday and then just as laboriously hulling them, I had three cups of berries. I added some water and 1 & 1/2 cups sugar, juice from one half of a lemon and half an apple (for added pectin, just in case.) It cooked up in about 15 minutes. Gelled perfectly. Not at all like a "compote."

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: clamscasino

                      This sounds great! I have a question. I usually do my non pectin preserves with equal parts of fruit and sugar and no water. A dash of salt, 1 tsp butter to stop the mixture from bubbling over ( it works) and lemon. The ratio of half the amount of sugar to fruit sounds good to me if it works. Here in Oregon we have tons of blueberries, strawberries, rasberries, etc. I picked up a 5# pack of frozen berries from the farm yesterday to make jam with in the winter for $10.00 !!!

                      1. re: happygoluckyinoregon

                        It seems like your question is about the added water. I checked my book and it says (about jams) that: "Whenever possible they are made without water." I think the water helps fruits that are a little less juicy from scorching at the beginning of cooking. You only need to add a tiny bit.

                        Your frozen berries sound wonderful, but you may need to add some source of pectin, such as the peel from a Granny Smith apple, since the frozen fruit is probably all fully ripe. I always try to include some slightly under-ripe fruit for the natural pectin boost.

                    2. Pishtosh! The addition of pectin does not affect the shelf life of the product.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: The Tattooed Lady

                        ROTFL. My ex used an expression that his mother used every time she was dismissing something (often)...."pish posh tish tosh!" Your post brought back memories.

                        1. re: The Tattooed Lady

                          I agree that the addition of pectin does not affect the shelf life of jams or jellies. We used to have a plum tree and I made countless batches of plum jam without using pectin. But it took so much longer to make, all that stirring and waiting for it to hit the perfect set. The tree is long gone but I make many types of jams and jellies now, all with pectin. I have used the Sure Jell in the pink box for years because it allowed for using less sugar. I even tried the no sugar needed option once as my husband is a diabetic. That jam tasted fine but an open jar got pushed to the back of the fridge for awhile and when it was found weeks later the product was moldy and had to be thrown out. That never happens to a regular jar of any of my home made jams no matter how long they have been in the fridge.

                          I just heard about Pomona's brand of pectin this month and bought a box at Whole Foods. The instructions say the jams/jellies will last 3 weeks once opened. As this allows making jams and jellies with small amounts of sugar I am wondering if the issue is that very low sugar added jams and jellies simply will not last as long once opened without becoming moldy. I had heard that sugar is a preservative and with my Splenda jam experience I think that might be the issue.

                          I have made two different jams with the Pamona's. The first was pineapple and I only used a half cup sugar to 4 cups of fruit. I think it would be better with more sugar. Yesterday I happened upon a good buy on fresh raspberries so made a batch using 3 cups fruit and one cup sugar. It was quite good.

                          1. re: likes to know

                            I used the liquid Certo for the two batches I just made last week.
                            The instructions call for a huge amount of sugar and I just didn't see a reason to add twice as much, flavorwise.
                            It set up perfectly and the sweetness is perfect far as I can tell.

                            1. re: iL Divo

                              Just remember Sugar can help to preserve so if you change the ratio, keep it in the fridge and use it quickly.

                              1. re: vstock

                                yep. If you're not going to follow the recipes to the letter, don't try to preserve them. Not only could it make you sick, but you might have to throw away all your hard work.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  I've never made for the purpose of preserving, they'll be gone 3 weeks tops.

                                2. re: vstock

                                  hubbys cohort @ work teases him everyday because there's always (for his brekkie or lunch) a PBJ using 1 of the 2 homemade jams. plus I'm eatin 1 every day too-it's just so tasty.

                                    1. re: MsMaryMc

                                      .........well if they're not they should be :-D

                          2. My mother swore by MCP Pectin, but I'm a convert to Pomona's Universal Pectin. It's a different formula--all-natural, but doesn't depend on sugar to gel--so you can use far less sugar, or other sweeteners. This definitely does affect the shelf life--you want to keep your jam in the fridge, or the freezer for longer-term storage--but the way the fruit flavor comes through, it's worth it!

                            Pomona's is a little harder to find, but you can get it at Whole Foods, or many health food stores and natural markets, or online.


                            14 Replies
                            1. re: MsMaryMc

                              I've been making jam w/o store-bought pectin for the past 4 or 5 yrs and haven't noticed that it's runnier. In fact, last year's batch of strawberry got away from me and became a little too thick for my taste. I read somewhere (forget, but maybe Alice Water's Fruit book?), that you actually need MORE!? sugar when using pectin. This seems counterintuitive to me.

                              1. re: cinnamon girl

                                Some tips from the Woman's Home Companion Cookbook:

                                "Tough Jelly: too little sugar for the amount of pectin; also overcooking."

                                "Sirupy Jelly: Too much sugar for the amount of pectin; juice too low in pectin or acid content or both."

                                The book also states that you can test for the amount of pectin in the fruit by gently stirring together 1 tablesppon of the juice with 1 tablespoon of alcohol. If a large mass of jelly is formed, the juice is rich in pectin. If several less firm pieces of jelly are formed the juice is moderately rich in pectin. And if only small flakes is poor in pectin.

                                1. re: clamscasino

                                  Thank you CC: the alcohol tip (both for the jam and the cook), is invaluable. Indeed, I overcooked that jam last summer, no question.

                                  I suppose adding too much lemon would also jack up the pectin level, contributing to "too-tough" jam/jelly. But since the lemon is generally added at the end, there would be time to do the alcohol test; after a couple of summers one could get a pretty idea of how to adjust the amount lemon for the desired consistency.

                                  1. re: cinnamon girl

                                    Cinnamon G: Not sure that lemon "jacks up" the pectin level. Your comment though piqued my curiosity, so back to the Woman's Home Companion Cookbook, (copyright 1942 and has an excellent chapter on preserving). There it says "To make jelly the fruit juice must contain the proper proportions of pectin, the jellying substance, and acid, which gives the jelly its firmness and tenderness." Hmmm firm and tender? Now there's a concept to muddle over...

                                    The last batch of preserves I made (sour cherry) I augmented the pectin with the peel from an apple, as suggested on another thread. And I added lemon juice, which I probably didn't need for the acid with sour cherries. But it all came together wonderfully.

                                    1. re: clamscasino

                                      Thanks CC: Yes that sounds right - why would it generate pectin. As your Women's HOme Companion Cookbook points out the lemon affects the gel. So I'm obviously confusing gel with pectin. What a great book!
                                      I was having trouble posting so hope this isn't in twice

                                      1. re: cinnamon girl

                                        Yes it IS a great book! It went through several editions throughout the 1940's, (at least) and mine is the 1945 one. and according to the introduction was meant to be "a handy kitchen encyclopedia." The recipes are clear and concise and several variations are suggested for many. It's my favorite book for making things like pancakes, dumplings for stew and many other old-fashioned traditional favorites. Since it was a "war-time" cookbook it also has an emphasis on economy and health. The wartime postscript states: "A healthy nation is the best contribution our homes can make to the war effort."

                                        In the preserving section it has numerous tables for processing times by different methods for a myriad of vegetables, proper proportions of sugars to juice for 19 types of fruits, including elderberries and gooseberries, etc., etc. Also, as hinted at above, it has great tips on pectin levels naturally occuring in fruits. A great find among my grandmother's belongings. If you can find it (and copies do come up on the internet) it is well worth buying.

                                        1. re: clamscasino

                                          That edition of the cookbook sells for quite a lot now:

                                          Shame, I was hoping to buy one :)

                                    2. re: cinnamon girl

                                      I overcooked a batch of blueberry as well last year - I still have some, did you come up with any good uses for it? I didn't like it as jam but it was good mixed into muffin batter...

                                      1. re: geminigirl

                                        The strawberry jam still tasted fine . . . still tasted of strawberries rather than overcooked sugar. I just prefer it a little looser. Your muffin batter idea is inspired! What abt making blueberry and nectarine pie/crumble/cobbler and using a dollop of it as part of your sweetener? Might it reinforce the blueberry flavour? Of course it wouldn't have to be w/ nectarines but I love the blueberry-nectarine pie filling from Baking with Julia and use it for something every summer.

                                  2. re: cinnamon girl

                                    This is true - look at the pectin recipe - its a couple of cups more sugar. I think maybe because its not cooked down. With no pectin fruit, you cook until the liquid evaporates and get way more intense flavor, and thus you need less sugar. You are still getting probably the same amt of sugar in a TBS due to liquid loss. I will try my no pectin again -how much sugar do you use per fruit/sugar ratio. I use equal amounts.

                                  3. re: MsMaryMc

                                    Thanks so much for the link. I was looking for a way to use less sugar. Will try this product and ordered another box for my friend.

                                    1. re: jammaker

                                      I use Ball Low/No Sugar Pectin. I can control the amount of sugar, no need to cook the fruit to death and when waterbathed, holds very well on the shelf. Just opened a 2 yr old jar of jelly while inspecting and rotating the pantry and the taste/consistency was just fine.

                                    2. re: MsMaryMc

                                      All pectin is all natural. Pomona's uses a citrus source and a different method for creating the gel (Pomona's is a low-methoxyl pectin, which is why you need the calcium; the standard pectins rely on the acid of the lemon juice and sugar to catalyze the gel), but the others tend to be from apple skins. None of the commercial brands (including Pomona's) are organic.

                                      Also, as long as your properly canned (see current, science-based recommendations at food maintains its seal, it it likely safe. After a year, the quality, though not the safety, will start to decline.

                                    3. I'm not a jam maker, but my mother was. She didn't use pectin. She made Concord jam every year till she was 80 and simply cooked the grapes in their skins, along with sugar and a little lemon juice, then strained it at the end. Best tasting jam with natural flavor on earth.