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My jam tastes like a gummy bear!

My mom used to make strawberry jam without pectin which has a softer set and while I have this recipe, I don't have any recipes for other fruit. I tried using commercial pectin--the standard kind uses too much sugar and the no sugar kind set too much like a commercial jelly--there seemed to be too much jelly to fruit for a real jam. Can anyone recommend a good cookbook for these type of old-style no pectin or maybe reduced pectin preserves? The strawberry that I like has the consistency of liquid plumber gel formula at room temp but fully sets in the fridge--when it hits bread it just sort of melts in except for the strawberry chunks.

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  1. See if you can find a copy of the Woman's Home Companion Cook Book. I have an edition from the mid-nineteen forties. It has a great chapter on preserving foods that contains lots of useful information about jam/jelly making, including the natural pectin levels of various fruits and the proper amounts of sugar to use with each. I don't think any of the recipes there, or "methods" for making jams, jellies or preserves call for added commercial pectin...

    1. Google sundried strawberry preserves. Almost all fruit when finished, little cooking needed.
      Used to do the drying under screens off the back porch. If you cannot find a recipe, post that and l will try to dredge up mine. Comes out very, very strawberryish with little glop.

      1. Old-time cooks used to cook apple peel with the fruit, which extracted the pectin and didn't add sugar or interfere with the fruit's own taste. I saw it done as a child but can't help with the details.

        1. I found a recipe for three cups of sugar per one quart of strawberries. I mashed up the strawberries with the sugar in the pan, and then kept it on the stove until it reached 220'. It set up well upon cooling and approved by my roommates.

          Don't know if that helps. I haven't found that I've needed to add additional pectin using this method.

          1. I'm not sure if the sugar thing is going to be an issue here, but I've had luck with equal parts sugar and crushed fruit and the zest of a lemon or two. The lemon peel has natural pectin, and you can cook it until it's the consistency you like. I recently made a four-berry jam with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Hope that helps!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Caffeine826

              Raspberries especially have a lot of natural pectin, blueberries and blackberries have some too, so unfortunately you can't sub all strawberries in your method and yield the same results.

              BUT if the OP keeps her jam in the freezer instead of canning it, she doesn't have to worry about pectin and can do whatever she wants. This would be for personal use only, up to a year or so.

            2. Recipes will be of limited use here, unless they offer a lot of process information on the variables (fruit ripeness, sugar added, pectin added, cooking time) and how to judge when a hot jelly is sufficiently set. I recall my mom paid close attention to the drippiness of the finished jam - the "spoon test" - but I could never tell set from almost-set. It always seemed way soupy but she was pretty good at getting a pectin-free, nicely set jam. Experience is the key.

              Info on the natural pectin content of different kinds of fruit would be very useful, but bear in mind that under ripe fruit will have more pectin than ripe fruit. My mom always made sure we picked plenty of under ripe (way under ripe) grapes or blueberries that were used for their pectin content. For some fruits, rosehips come to mind, there was so much pectin there was no need to include under ripe fruits. Not sure about strawberries.

              2 Replies
              1. re: BernalKC

                BernalKC has hit the nail on the head--this is a matter of finding just the right balance of pectin, sugar, pulp, and water. I think you will find that hitting the perfect texture (and I agree with the original poster as to what that is) is challenging because there are too many variables to control using a recipe approach, and the difference between too soupy and a bit too firm is pretty slim. Unfortunately, unless you make a lot of jam all the time, it is hard to get the feel for it that I think is required to turn out perfectly-textured jam time after time. I have to content myself with eyeballing, fiddling, testing, etc. and settling for the inevitable variation in the final product.

                I also strenuously agree with BernalKC that using natural sources of pectin is precisely the wrong thing to do if you are trying to achieve consistency. I don't know much about pectin specifically, but polymers and gels are complicated things, and there may be more to the texture of jam than just the pectin content per se.

                If you are really adamant to have it turn out perfectly, I would recommend going easy on the pectin to start, letting it cool for a couple of days in the fridge (takes that long to fully gel), and seeing how it is. If it is too liquidy, you could add more pectin, heat it up, and repeat until Goldilocks is happy. This is more trouble than I am willing to go to!

                1. re: zamorski

                  So I had bought this gourmet preserves cookbook and I flipped through it again last night and it looks like the author has already done the work for me----she uses commercial pectin but around 1/3 to 1/2 a packet (2-3 T of 6 per pkg) but additionally tests for jelling using the plate method but also aiming for around 218 which is maybe 2 points below the gelling point so i'm not sure about that---she also has some which use apples or pears in the recipe to provide natural pectin for things like strawberries and cherries. I'm planning on testing a few out this weekend. I'll let you know how they turn out.

              2. Try half of the pectin and a grated apple in the next attempt. A tablespoon of cornstarch might also help set things up without effecting the flavor.

                1. UPDATE: So I tried a couple of recipes this weekend. The first used around 1/3 apples as the fruit content in combination with sour cherries which are low pectin---no pectin was added. This formed a pretty decent gel and the texture was soft and nice---more of less what I was looking for although the apple does seem to sweeten the cherries some. Second batch was a no pectin Nectarine/pineapple---this uses the older method of basically cooking down the fruit---it does end up as soft fruit in a syrup-like base---more like a fruit butter in taste. Not enough gel but it still tastes good. The final method used about 1/2 the box of commercial pectin and was a strawberry jam---it came out really thick and oddly kind of stringy---still tastes good but the texture is off. After having this experience I started reading about pectins. I had used the low sugar pectin for this----it was all that was in stock at the store. Apparently the gel structure formed by low sugar pectin is not the same as for "normal" HM pectin. I think part of my problem is that I like the HM pectin which is more typical of apples and that---where as the LM pectin is usually either citrus derived or chemically modified by exposure to acid. I just thought they added some magic ingredient (Ca++) in order to get the gel to work without sugar but there are changes to the pectin structure itself and that changes the gel network. My basic hypothesis is this---LM pectin forms a tougher gel than HM or apple pectin---its not the amount of pectin which is critical as half a box of LM pectin created a loose gel with tougher strings of gel interspersed. Quite literally, the different pectins are like mixing apples and oranges.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sally599

                    Hi Sally,

                    I'm a new poster (though long-time reader) on Chow. Just thought I would chime in with my thoughts on pectin. I'm pretty new to jam making, but very enthusiastic and having fun with it. This summer I've made strawberry-mint, strawberry-basil-lime, strawberry-balsamic, burnt raspberry (a mistake turned good), fig and star anise, plum-apricot and peach jams. I've tried out regular powdered pectin, low-sugar powdered pectin and liquid pectin.

                    I am curious: is there a reason why you don't want to use pectin beyond that it has failed you, consistency-wise, in the past? If a pectin gave you the set you are looking for, would you be into using it?

                    I'm not into no-pectin jams because I don't like to cook the fruit too long with so much sugar, not into that syrupy business. You are so right, pectins can be so different. For now, I've come to the conclusion that I like liquid best. I was convinced by Linda Amendt's book Blue Ribbon Preserves. Basically, she argues that liquid pectin is the best because it gives such a lovely, consistent set (so far I have experienced this to be true), and lovely fruit-forward flavour. Sounds like the setting you are describing matches the jams I've made from this book. So far, anyway.

                    Her formula is pretty simple: Combine fruit and sugar, let sit a little. Boil for short amounts of time, skim foam, then add liquid pectin, boil one minute more, skim foam again and you're done.

                    But as discussed here, everyone's jam-making styles are completely unique. I personally really don't like super sweet jams so I always cut the sugar contents in recipes (so my jams have a 6-month use-by rather than a year). I also don't like the jelly consistency of low/no-sugar pectin. And I like to experiment by adding herbs and spices, which some people find superfluous. Anyway, a few more jams'preserves on my to-make list for the coming weeks: blueberry-lime, drunken fig, more peach (maybe peach-ginger?), more plum...


                  2. I think this may be off track here but I'll raise it just in case it helps.

                    At the yard sale I had recently, I sold a copper jam pan. (For a pittance.) Then I remembered why I bought it in the first place. Something about the copper heating up quickly so you could get fruit mixtures to the right setting point without having to overcook them to the point they became gummy.

                    Is this part of the equation also? (I know you experienced jam makers will know.)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: karykat

                      Hmmm....the copper thing sounds more like voodoo: The advantage of copper pans is that they conduct heat nicely (and look pretty, as long as you fuss over them). Many other pots also conduct heat nicely and evenly (e.g., thick aluminum). I think that the advantage here would not be in doing something special with respect to setting but instead preventing scorching, which is always a threat with the cook-down approach to jams. I use nonstick heavy aluminum pans (Calphalon), and it works fine for this...