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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Extracting the juice from fruits for jelly-making

In May, I made jelly with currant and crabapple juice that I had in the freezer from last summer. My jelly didn't gel, so I had to remake it with added pectin. Since obviously, making jelly without using commercial pectin is less expensive than with, this year I wanted to make sure that my fruit juices would be prepared in a way that would preserve the natural pectin.

I did some research and think that I discovered my problem.  I had cooked the currants for too long, when first extracting the juice. Today is the day we'll pick the red currants from our bushes. And I'm ready to try again.

What I learned
First of all, fruit needs both acid and natural pectin to gel properly. (And that's why occasionally you'll see lemon juice --an acid-- as an addition in jelly making.)

Below is a table from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which gives the fruits most suited for jelly without commercial pectin. If you stick with Group I, you're on your way to jelly success. If what you have in your yard is in Groups II or III, at least you are well-warned, and can make amendments with commercial pectin and lemon juice on the first try, and not need to remake your jelly.

*note Group I does not include Oregon Grape which is native to the Pacific northwest in the US. I've made Oregon grape jelly quite successfully without adding pectin or lemon juice. There are likely other regional fruits that would make excellent jelly, but are not listed here. (And do tell, if you know of an interesting regional or native fruit for jelly-making! I find that sort of info very interesting.)

Pectin and Acid Content of Common Fruits Used to Make Jelly
Group I:    If not overripe, has enough natural pectin and acid for gel formation with only added sugar.
Group II:    Low in natural acid or pectin, and may need addition of either acid or pectin.
Group III:    Always needs added acid, pectin or both.

Group IGroup IIGroup III
Apples, sour
Blackberries, sour
Grapes (Eastern Concord)
Plums (not Italian)
Apples, ripe
Blackberries, ripe
Cherries, sour
Grape Juice, bottled
(Eastern Concord)
Grapes (California)
Grapes (Western Concord)
Plums (Italian)

Choosing and preparing your fruit for extracting the juice

Under ripe fruit has a higher pectin content than fully ripe. So when picking fruit, pick a blend of under ripe (about 25% of your fruit) and fully ripe (about 75% of fruit). This will maximize your natural pectin, while maintaining the full flavor of the variety of fruit you've selected. 

Wash and sort the fruit, discarding any that looks to be badly bird-damaged, insect-infested or beginning to rot. Minor blemishes are perfectly fine for jelly, and a good use of the imperfect fruit.

Do not peel or core the fruit. Pectin is higher in the skins and cores than the flesh of the fruit. Leave berries and very small crabapples whole. Remove caps from berries. Some folks like to remove the stems from small berries, such as currants. But many old-timers say to leave them on. I leave them on, as it's too much work to strip the stems off all the tiny currants. Leaving the stems on berries doesn't seem to impact the flavor. For larger fruits, cut them into bite-sized chunks.

Extracting the juice from the fruit

For berries and other soft and juicy fruits:
In a large saucepan or stock pot, place all the cleaned and trimmed fruit. For berries, and other very juicy fruits, add about 1/3 of the fruit to the pot, and crush with the back of a large spoon or potato masher, to begin the release of juice, and minimize the addition of excess water. Add the remaining berries/fruit. Add water until you can just barely see it through the top layer of fruit. The water level should be below the top 2 to 3 layers of fruit.

Bring to a boil over HI heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. Fruit should be soft. Do not overcook, as that will kill off the natural pectin. (Here's where I went wrong last year. I got lazy with my timing and just let them cook for a while, without paying attention to condition of the currants or timing of the simmer.) Remove from heat. 

For firm to hard fruits, such as apples, crabapples, plums and quinces:
Place prepared fruit in a large saucepan or stock pot. Add water until you can see it just below the top layer of fruit. Hard fruits require a bit more water than berries and juicy fruits.

Bring to a boil over HI heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, until soft, but not over cooked. Again, overcooking will destroy natural pectin.

Straining the juice from the fruit

Have ready: your jelly bag or cheesecloth for straining juice. If you have a jelly bag, dampen and wring it out, then suspend over a large bowl. Lacking a jelly bag, several layers of cheesecloth (dampened and wrung out) lining a colander, set in a large bowl (or as I do, suspend over a tall stock pot), also works well. (The latter is what I use. I wash and reuse my cheesecloth for each batch of juice.) Allow gravity to do it's thing for several hours. Don't press or wring the juice out. This will cloud your jelly.

Your fruit juice should be full of natural pectin and acid, and now ready for making jelly.


  1. I had no idea that you could eat the oregon grape berry or make jelly out of it, interesting!

    1. Hi Tracy,
      I bet you have quite a few Oregon grape bushes in your area. The berries are very tart, and best in jelly or jam. I prefer the jelly.
      Do you ever pick the wild blackberries in your area? We have a wild patch of those at the back of our yard, which we pick for jam, cobbler and pie.
      Thanks for dropping in!

    2. Yes, we do have a lot of Oregon Grape bushes around, and again, I am awestruck, I had no idea you could eat them! lol AND we have some wild berries, but we bought the goats to take care of that problem so we only get the little variety, not sure of the name of it. AND we have huckleberry's too, they are tart at least the ones that we have growing on the property. Love blackberry jam or cobble or pie, or eating em fresh! ha ha

    3. Are your huckleberries the red ones or the blue ones? I just leave the red ones to the birds, but I do pick the blue ones. And you have goats! Now I can say I know someone who has goats! That's supposed to be such a Pacific northwest thing! What a fun place you must have, with chickens and goats.

  2. This is really useful, thank you!

    1. Hi Pamela,
      Well, it looks like overcooking my currants, when extracting the juice, was the culprit. I cooked up a batch this weekend, and it set perfectly. So, I'd just gotten lazy over the years, and didn't realize that it mattered so much.
      Thanks for dropping in!


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