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Jul 10, 2010 10:49 AM

Help with peach preserves - pectin question

Got a bushel box of peaches the other day from a friend ... so I figured I'd make some preserves with them. I'm new to preserves ... last time I tried with wild plums, it didn't set up even though I used powdered pectin. (Think I over cooked it.) Figured this time I'd try it not using the boxed stuff.

After much research on the net (found lots of help here), I cut up about 4 lbs. peaches last night and added equal part of sugar, juice of one lemon, and because the peaches are very ripe and probably don't have a whole lot of pectin in them, I also added 4 small green apples from my tree - grated them in. (I figured I'd try 1 apple per lb. this time round.)

This morning I thought I'd try one of the pectin 'tests' I found online: 1 T. rubbing alcohol and 1 t. juice from the mix I made last night to check the pectin level. Well, the juice didn't clump up at all - not even close.

So - am I really dealing with an almost total lack of pectin at this point, or am I getting a false reading because it needs to be cooked some before I do the test?

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    1. i'm thinking the test was accurate and there reallly isn't much pectin in your mix. the commercial fruit pectin recipe calls for 2 pouches for approx. 6 lbs of fruit. that's quite a bit of pectin. you can certainly strain what you've got and can as syrup.

      until you know what can be tweaked and how, the best start is to approach preserves like baking: follow a recipe from a trusted source exactly. the ball blue book is a good one. and if it's still in publication "putting food by" is another. good luck.

      1. Don't panic. Pectin will cause jelly to gel and jams to get a more jelly-like consistency, or to gel with less cooking or less sugar, or add body to the juice surrounding chunks of preserved fruit, or to gel other fruits that don't break down when cooked, but you don't need it to get a thick, spreadable jam. It's like cooking candy to the soft-ball stage -- the sugar will thicken it. It's more likely that you undercooked your plums, not overcooked them.

        The most important thing is to cook the fruit to 220 F. After it hits 212 or so it will sit there for awhile while the water cooks off, and then after enough has evaporated will hit 220 rather quickly.

        Preserves are generally defined as whole chunks of fruit vs. jam, which is mushed up fruit. If you just want jam, you really don't need the pectin. If you want the juice around chunks of whole fruit to gel, use it.

        3 Replies
        1. re: the_MU

          Here's a really useful discussion on jam making, with mentions of when to use or not use pectin:

          1. re: the_MU

            Thanks MU ...

            I went ahead and cooked it up ... as you said, the thermometer hung around 210 for the longest time. I went out to get some lids for my jars and when I came back, the thermometer read 225 and the level was down amazingly. In just 5 min! OK - so now I know! It's jelled quite well so far, so I don't think I'll have a problem with the juice around the peach chunks gelling. I'm just hoping at this point that it won't jell too much as it cools!

            The chunks of peaches remind me of candied fruit - extremely sweet, so I also think I'll cut back on the sugar a bit. This next batch I'm working on is 7# peaches to 5# sugar - hopefully that will help with the sweetness a bit. Also, I'll try removing the peaches from the syrup when they get transparent, as I read somewhere else, then put them back in when the jelly is done.

            1. re: the_MU

              Hmmm ... do you think that removing the peaches when they turn transparent but before the syrup is done would be a problem by adding liquid back to the mix when they get put back in?