Aug 23, 2016

Understanding Pectin

Even among many life-long canners, pectin is a mysterious thing. How does it work? Why are there different types of pectin? What's it really made from? How can you use it and get consistent results? Recently, I chatted with representatives from some of the most popular commercial pectin-making companies, then coupled the information I gleaned from them with my own research. The result? Some definitive answers.

What is Pectin?

Speaking non-technically, pectin is a component (basically, a starch) found in the tissue of all fruits. Under-ripe fruit has more pectin than fully ripe fruit - and some fruits naturally have more pectin than others. Apples, quince, and citrus, for example, all contain higher amounts of pectin than other fruits.

For the purposes of canning, pectin is used to thicken and jell jams and jellies. Pectin will only jell, however, when it's cooked to the right temperature (210 and 220ºF, depending upon altitude). Cooking it cooler or hotter than this will produce jams and jellies with too much liquid. In addition, pectin typically requires sugar in order to form a jell.

Pectin "In the Old Days"

If you look at 19th century canning recipes, you'll never find one that calls for pectin. That's because canners relied on the natural pectin found in fruit, plus a long cook time, and perhaps even the addition of just enough under-ripe or tart apples, to create a jell. In fact, it wasn't until the early 1800s that scientists discovered that pectin is what makes jams and jellies jell, when mixed with the proper amount of sugar.

Here's a good explanation of how pectin works, from the British newspaper, The Guardian:
"Pectin was first isolated by French chemist Henri Braconnot in 1825 and was named from the Greek pektikos, which means congealed or curdled. It is a polysaccharide so, like cellulose and starch, it is made up of long chains of sugar molecules. In fruit, pectin is concentrated in the skins and cores where it acts as structural 'cement' in the plant cell walls. In jam, pectin forms a mesh that traps the sugary liquid and cradles suspended pieces of fruit.
"Branches that stick out from the long chains of pectin bond with each other to form the three dimensional network that jam makers crave. In a solution, these branches are reluctant to bond, first because they attract water molecules, which stops them bonding, and second because they have a slight negative electrical charge, which means they repel one another.
"To solve the first problem we add sugar, which binds to the water molecules and frees up the pectin chains to form their network. The negative charges are reduced by acid naturally found in the fruit or added to the mixture. The acid reduces the electrical charge on the pectin branches and so allows them to bond. To increase acidity lemon juice can be added. But be careful: if your mixture is too acidic, this will damage the pectin."

Citrus pith is an excellent source of pectin. (Photo courtesy of
Commercially Made Pectin

There are two types of commercially made pectin: Powdered and liquid. By and large, most canners in the United States use powdered pectin. It should always be used as directed on the package, and there may be slight but important differences in the instructions, depending upon the manufacturer.

Liquid pectin is added near the end of cooking. Many expert canners prefer liquid pectin, saying it produces a softer jell than powdered pectin, as well as more consistent results. Again, you should always carefully follow the manufacturer's directions for use.

Powdered and liquid pectin are not interchangeable. In fact, which type you use is determined by the recipe you're using. You cannot successfully use liquid pectin for a powdered pectin recipe, and vice versa.

There is some controversy online about what commercially made pectin is made from. Some say "mostly apples," some say "mostly citrus pith," while others say - believe it or not - mold. The answers came easily enough from producers of commercial pectin:

A Sure-Jell Certo (Kraft) representative responded to my inquiries, saying their pectin is made from lime peels.

Ball's representative said their pectin is made " from apple pomace, which is rendered as a byproduct of juice manufacturing. The Ball Canning liquid pectin is derived from citrus peels."

Connie Sumberg of Pomona Pectin said, "Our pectin is made from the dried peel of lemon, lime, and orange, after the fruit has been juiced and the oil has been pressed out of the peel. Pomona's Pectin contains only 100% pure citrus pectin, which is vegan, gluten free, and GMO free. There are no additives, preservatives, sugar, or dextrose. There are no corn or apple by-products." She also noted that other brands of pectin contain additives and sometimes preservatives; some, like

Interestingly, I have yet to find any commercial pectin that is organic - and both apples and citrus are some of our most heavily sprayed crops. 

No Sugar Pectin

Pomona's Pectin is a little different from the other available brands in other ways, too. Unlike most commercial pectin, which need the right amount of sugar to create a jell, Pomona's actually uses calcium to make a jell. This allows canners to use less - or even no - sugar in their jams and jellies, or to easily use alternative sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or stevia. Pomona's is more costly than other commercial pectin, but each box also makes up to four batches of jam or jelly, which is more than other brands.

Other pectin makers also have low- or no-sugar pectin available; these can be used with fruit juices, sugar substitutes, and honey.

Homemade Pectin
Homemade pectin.

Some canners enjoy making their own pectin from under-ripe apples or crab apples. It's not a difficult task, but it does take a lot of apples to make much pectin. (However, it's a great use for all the tiny, immature windfall apples you'll get if you don't thin your fruit.) Some expert jam makers dislike homemade pectin, however, because it can lead to inconsistent results (due to the fact that you have no way of knowing exactly how much pectin is in any given batch).

In addition, jellies made with homemade pectin may turn cloudy - not a big issue for most of us, but something to consider if you plan on entering your jelly into a competition - a local fair, for example. In addition, homemade pectin (and commercially made powdered pectin, too) will likely lead to any fruit in your jam rising to the top of the canning jar.

No Added Pectin Recipes

It's perfectly possible to make fruit jams and jellies without adding any pectin whatsoever. However, the fruit must be cooked down longer, which results in a different look to the finished jam or jelly - and a more cooked flavor. In addition, compared to making fruit with added pectin, it will take considerably more fruit to make the same amount of jam or jelly. The upside is that you can often use less sugar in no-added-pectin jams.

When making no-pectin-added jelly, you may wish to add some under-ripe fruit to help the jelling process; although I have never personally had a problem getting a jell even when using quite ripe fruit, results vary depending upon the natural pectin amounts found in various fruits.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Ivey Rock

Testing for the Perfect Jell

Unfortunately, pectin doesn't jell jams or jellies until the mixture cools down. That's why my favorite way to test for jelling is the cold plate test.

Before you start cooking the jam, place a small saucer or plate in the freezer. Once you think the jam is finished cooking, place a dollop of jam on the plate, place it in the freezer for a minute, and then run your finger through it. If the jam or jelly runs back together, you need to keep cooking the jam. But if a clear pathway stays where your finger ran through, the jam is finished.

Troubleshooting Pectin

Here are a few of the most common jam and jelly making problems canners encounter - and their solutions.

Lumpy: Too much pectin.

Stiff: Too much pectin; overcooked.

Runny: Too little pectin; jam not cooked long enough; jam overheated.

Too soft: Overcooked; undercooked; insufficient acid; recipe doubles or otherwise increased; jam or jelly not allowed to sit in the jar long enough to set properly.

Too Stiff: Overcooking; too much pectin; too little sugar. 

Weeping: Storage space is too warm or the temperature fluctuates; too much acid.

Moldy: Not processed in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after putting in the jar; poor seal on jar; jars stored in too warm or bright a location.

Related Posts:

* How to Make Apple Pectin
* Other Uses for Homemade Pectin
* Peach Jam With No Added Pectin
* Bumbleberry (Mixed Berry) Jam
* Apple Pie Jam
* Dandelion Jelly

* Title image courtesy of

Aug 20, 2016

Weekend Links & Updates

In the orchard.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

"A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel."

* My children's chapter book, based on a true American Revolution story, is free this weekend Don't have a Kindle? No problem! Use the Kindle app to read the book on your computer or mobile device.

* When your kids, when everyone and/or everything is driving you out of your mind...remember this

* It's so hard to find beginning reader books kids actually want to read. I'm checking out this list of "not boring" early readers for my little guy.

* FREE downloadable, printable grammar and spelling books for grades K - 6

* How eliminating screen time can "magically" change your household.

* Tylenol use by pregnant women is linked to ADD and other behavioral problems in children

* Lots of lawsuits now against Mansanto, makers of RoundUp, for putting our health at risk. One of the more compelling stories (found here) is that farmers who use RoundUp have a higher incidence of lymphoma.
Some of the things I'm harvesting.

* If you own a smartphone and you want to avoid buying GMO foods, check out this app!

* Vitamin deficiencies are linked to many diseases...and, in this case, even anxiety.

* Here is something new to me: Canning jar labels that stick on...but WASH OFF in water! Nifty! And perfect for gift giving.

Puppy love!
*Another addition to the homestead is coming next week! He doesn't have a name yet, but just look at his face! Not only has my son been pining painfully for a dog for at least two years, but we really needed a dog the kids could take with them around the property, to scare away bear and cougar. This big-little puppy's parents are both working hobby farm dogs, which is just an added bonus for us! The mama is half German Shepherd and half King Shepherd, and the papa is English Shepherd. They are some of the most gentle, mellow dogs I've ever met...and this pup latched right on to my son, even letting him pick him up awkwardly (because he's heavy for a puppy). He never wiggled, let along scratched or yelped. He was perfectly content to be held for as long as my son desired. We're pretty excited to bring him home next week.
Oldies But Goodies:

* Canning Salsa - a recipe you can safely adjust to your taste!
* Canning Green or Frozen Tomatoes
* An Easy Way to Make Tomato Paste from Tomato Skins 
* Avoiding Food Waste Through Freezing

Aug 19, 2016

Midnight Ride Without Paul Revere - My New Children's Chapter Book!

In 2011, when my kids were madly reading through (or having me read) select titles in The Magic Treehouse series, I felt inspired to write a chapter book with a similar action-packed storyline, but a Christian world view. I loved every minute of writing the resulting book, which became A Day With the Dinosaurs. Initially, I wrote it just for my kids, but later I published the book and made it free for everyone. Kids read it and loved it - even some Sunday school teachers read it to their classes, who could hardly wait between Sundays to hear what happened next. Everyone was happy.

I fully intended to write more books with the same characters, but during those years, I grew increasingly ill with two autoimmune disease and other, more general health problems. But last summer, as I was planning my children's homeschool curriculum, I felt inspired to pick up those characters again, at last. The result was Midnight Ride Without Paul Revere. And again, I'm releasing the story to the public.

In this, the second Tilly's Time Machine book, Matt and Tilly risk another attempt at time travel and find themselves amid strangers who think they are Revolutionary War spies. Just when the friends think they might be in real trouble, a teenage girl named Sybil Luddington chooses to believe their loyalties lie not with the King of England, but with American revolutionaries. And Sybil trusts them enough to take them on a special mission - a mission that proves kids can change history.

Sybil Luddington was, by the way, a real person - a heroine of the War, though many people today have never heard of her.

As with A Day With the Dinosaurs, the back of this book features discussion questions, fun facts, and activities to go along with the story. The book is also lightly illustrated.

So whether your child just needs a fun book to read at the end of summer, or you want to use the book as part of your homeschool or after school curriculum, Midnight Ride Without Paul Revere is sure to fit the bill.

Normally, the book will be just 99 cents - but from August 19th through the 23rd, I'm offering it entirely FREE. And, of course, A Day With the Dinosaurs continues to be free, too. Enjoy!

Age range: about 7 - 11.
Grade range: about 1st - 5th.
Flesch-Kinkaid Reading Level: 3.2

P.S. Like the book? PLEASE take just a moment to leave a review on Amazon! This helps other people find the book, since Amazon buries any books with zero or little reviews. Even just one line counts as a review! Thank you.

Aug 17, 2016

The Lazy Way to Freeze Green Beans

In case you haven't noticed, I have a lot going on! That's why it's nice to have super easy ways to preserve things from the garden. For example, when I realized there was a crop of green beans that needed picking yesterday, I decided right then and there I was going to freeze them the "lazy" way.

Now, the "correct" way to freeze green beans is to bring a pot of water to a boil, drop in the green beans, and set the timer for 3 minutes. When the 3 minutes are up, immediately drain the green beans and submerge in a bowl or sink of ice water until fully cooled. Pat dry, place in freezer bags, and pop into the freezer. It's not hard, but it does take a wee bit of time, especially if you have a large crop of green beans.

However, a few years back, I discovered that this method (called "blanching") isn't absolutely necessary. Yes, scientists say it preserves the beans' nutrients best. But, actually, I rather prefer my green beans frozen without blanching. And not just because it's easy; I also find that not blanching the beans mostly does away with the weird squeakiness blanched and frozen green beans have!

The Lazy Way to Freeze Green Beans

1. Wash the beans in cool water. Thoroughly, pat dry.

2. Pinch off or cut the stem ends. If you like, pinch or cut off the tail ends, too. Leave the green beans whole, or cut them up, as desired.

3. Place the green beans in a freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible.

4. Pop into the freezer.

It doesn't get any easier than this, folks!

Aug 15, 2016

Meet the Chicks!

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

It's true; we still haven't really started unpacking. Our storage container is full to the top. I still
don't have most of my kitchen equipment. The kids don't have their toys. My gardening stuff is still in the container...somewhere. But we just couldn't delay getting chicks anymore.

It was a sad day for my hubby when he took down our suburban hen house and gave our chickens away to a co-worker. He loved those birds. The kids loved watching them. I loved those much-more-delicious-and-healthy backyard eggs. But buying a bunch of stuff we already had - in storage somewhere - so we could get chicks this fall wasn't something I wanted to do.

Still, last weekend, hubby and I went to the feed store. They didn't have our favorite breed (Australorps), but they had Barred Plymouth Rocks, which are a great laying bird, pretty, and they have a cool name. But when we started filling a shopping cart with the stuff we'd need to keep the chicks healthy - a plastic storage container to use as a cheap brooder, a heat lamp and bulbs for it, a waterer, a feeder... - I added up the cost, told myself it was wrong to buy new equipment when we had perfectly good stuff in storage, and we walked away from the store empty handed.

Then I paid the monthly bills and missed backyard fresh eggs some more, and this morning said, "Let's just do it."

Hubby, the kids, and I were all ridiculously excited as we packed into the car. We love this property, but it just wasn't a homestead without the chickens. In some ways, it just wasn't home without them, either.

And in the delightful way God works, on Saturday we walked into the feed store to discover the Barred Rocks were gone...and had been replaced by Australorps. That really got me grinning.

The fluff balls peeped all the way home, then piled on top of each other in their cardboard box because they were getting cold. (TIP: Always go straight home with the chicks. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Those babies need a nice, warm brooder ASAP.)  Once home, I lined the plastic tub with sheets of packing paper, filled the waterer and feeder, and hubby hooked up the heat lamp. The chicks huddled under the lamp for a bit, then wandered away and literally fell flat on their faces, sound asleep.

As I type this, they have slept off the excitement of their big move and are now eating and exploring their new digs.

We've never purchased chicks in the fall before. It seems like a less economical way to do things, since hens don't start laying until they are 5 or 6 months old, and since darker, wintery weather reduces egg laying, too. But it will be interesting to observe any differences.

Anyway, it's good to have them home.

Related Posts:

* Getting Ready for Chicks
* Buying and Caring for Chicks
* Setting Up the Henhouse and Run
* Predator Proof Your Henhouse and Run
* Chicken Care
* Why You May NOT Want Chickens

Aug 13, 2016

Weekend Links

Loki on a foggy summer morning.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."

Jer. 29:11

* Recall on six brands of tumeric for excessive lead.

* If you are a Christian in some parts of the world, you are 97% likely to be killed for your faith. And why that matters to American Christians. A must read. 

* A to Z Bible verses; great for preschoolers, kindergartners, and the early grades.

Oldies But Goodies:

* 6 Ways to Teach Children to Worship God Every Day
* Why You Shouldn't Use Teflon Cookware
* 10 Ways to Save Money on School Supplies
* Free Resources for Teaching Kids About the Election

Aug 12, 2016

Waste Not...

It's been an interesting week on the homestead. We began by celebrating the return of water, but shortly after sighed because the washing machine began spurting water all over the floor. Then the propane oven leaked gas (my fault for accidentally - again! - turning on one of the knobs when reaching for a high shelf above the stove). Then the baskets of apples I'd picked began rotting.

We first noticed it after an evening out. We walked into the house and BAM! rotten apple smell. I sorted through the apples right then and there and was happy to only have a handful for the compost bin. But the next day, I imposed upon my mom-in-law (for her stove, her jars, her kitchen) to make applesauce. Today, I'm making apple pie filling for the freezer. Where I will put that apple pie filling, I don't know, because my freezer is full of yellow plums. Even after making jars and jars and jars of (delicious) plum jam, plus canned plums, plum pie filling, and dehydrated plums.

In the meantime, the prunes (and maybe more apples) need harvesting, the dehydrator never stops, and the wild berries are begging to be picked.

It's a little overwhelming, all this abundance. This morning, though, my husband comforted me: "Honey, there's no way you can preserve every piece of fruit on this homestead."

Yes, I knew that in my head, but my heart felt relieved to hear it spoken aloud. Because it's true; when you have nine apple trees and eleven plum trees and no animals (yet!) to help you consume them, there's going to be some "waste," no matter how much you give away or preserve.

I put "waste" in quotes for a reason, though. Because fruit that falls to the ground or stays on the trees or vines feeds the wild critters. Once we have our homestead animals, they will enjoy fruit that's less than perfect, too. And there's always the compost bin, where "waste" turns into a valuable resource for building up the soil.

So, I take another deep breathe (usually taking in the amazing smell of apples and cinnamon combining) and thank God for this gorgeous place and the longish journey, full of miracles, it took to get here.

* Title image courtesy of Valdemar Fishmen.

Aug 9, 2016

Ditch Fillers

We aren't ditch diggers. We are ditch fillers.

It saved us thousands of dollars to connect the new and old wells ourselves. And by "ourselves" I mean my husband and dad-in-law. They rented a trencher and installed the pipe last weekend. But then my hubby started fretting that it might rain before he could fill the trenches back up. Right now, the soil from the trenches is light and sandy. But after a rain, it would be compacted and the job of filling in the trenches considerably more difficult.

So, I offered to fill the trenches while he was at work.

I've always been willing and able to work hard, but after a couple of hours of filling those trenches, I was ready to quit. And only half the job was done. So today, I enlisted the help of the kids. ("There will be ice cream when we're done!")

They cheerfully helped me fill in the rest of the trench (at least the part my husband was ready to have filled in), and even though we were largely working in the toughest area - where the berry brambles were seriously in our way - they didn't complain.

Something I've learned about kids: Generally, they are eager and willing to help if they feel their job is useful and helps the family as a whole. Picking up toys, on the other hand, well - good luck with that!

As you can imagine, I'm now catching up on laundry and other cleaning chores that were difficult to do with the small amount of rainwater and the tiny amount of well water the old well was producing. And oh, the new well water! It's abundant and crystal clear! I really feel the well running dry was a blessing, because the new well is just plain better.

"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Matthew 6: 31-33