Apples add the pectin needed to make the fruit juice gel.
Jellies made from just the juice of fruit are the most beautiful preserves, and they have many uses beyond PB&Js, including glazing fruit tarts and cakes, glazing meats, using in thumbprint cookies, even adding to herbal vinaigrettes for a hint of both sweet and fruit.
The only difference between making jam and making jelly is the extra step of extracting all the fruit juice and discarding the solids. Jellies can be made easily with high-sugar pectins like Sure-Jell, with low-methoxyl pectins, like Pomona's Universal Pectin, or from homemade pectin. Or you can just throw some apples into the pot and let them contribute the pectin, which is what I do.
Although you can make completely sugar-free jelly, I don't recommend it. The sugar is a preservative. Once opened, low-sugar jellies and jams will keep for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator before starting to mold or ferment. No-sugar jams have an even shorter shelf-life.
This summer with the last of my strawberries, I made strawberry jelly. Sixteen cups of mashed fruit (plus 4 apples) will yield about 8 cups of juice. The juice, sweetened with 2 cups of sugar, will yield about 4 half-pints of jam. To increase the yield, increase the sugar. These numbers apply to all the berries and stone fruits.
Don't double your batches (unless the commercial pectin you are using says you can). Working in large batches runs the risk of overcooking and destroying the natural pectin in your fruit.
There are two ways to extract the juice from fruit. The first is with a steam juicer and the second way is to cook the fruit until it yields its juice, then drain. Steam juicers run $75 to $150 and take a lot of cupboard space. If you are going with the draining method, you may be enticed to buy a stand with a jelly bag, which run from $10 to $20 (again think of storage space for the stand). I use butter muslin (denser than cheesecloth) and hang it from a cupboard over a bowl.
Cook the fruit and apples until completely broken down.
After extracting the juice, add sweetener and boil until it reaches the gel point – either following the directions of the commercial pectin you are using or bringing the jelly to 220 degrees Fahrenheit or testing for jelly visually: by the sheet test – the jelly drips off a spoon in a single sheet rather than individual drops – or the cold plate test – your finger will leave a distinct trail through the jelly.
Here's how I make jelly with apples.
1. Quarter and chop 4 apples (don't peel) and add to a large heavy saucepan with 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice (the acid helps extract the pectin) and 2 tablespoons water (to prevent the apples from scorching). Cook while you prepare the fruit (because apples take longer to break down than softer fruits like berries).
2. While the apples are cooking, prepare the fruit. Peeling isn't necessary. Just chop, pit as needed, and measure. For this batch of jelly, I used 16 cups of mashed strawberries.
3. After the apples have cooked and broken down to a mashable state, 20 to 25 minutes, add 16 cups of mashed fruit and bring to a boil.
4. Cook until the fruit is completely broken down, another 20 to 25 minutes.
Drain for 4 to 6 hours.
5. Set up a damp jelly bag over a bowl. Or line a colander with a damp double layer of cheesecloth or a damp square of butter muslin. Set the colander in a bowl. Pour the fruit into the jelly bag or cloth-lined colander. Gather the corners of the cloth and knot onto the handle of a cupboard or refrigerator shelf so it drains into the bowl. Let drain for 4 to 6 hours — you will have about 8 cups of juice (the exact amount is not important).
6. Discard the fruit solids and proceed to make jelly from the fruit juice. Or refrigerate the fruit juice overnight and continue the next morning. Alternatively, freeze the juice and make the jelly sometime in the future.
7. Before you start to make the jelly, put a plate in the freezer to get ready to test for doneness. Sterilize 4 half-pint jelly jars (I always sterilize a 4-ounce jar also, just to be safe), place the canning lids in warm water, and prepare a boiling water bath canner or an atmospheric steam canner (see the MOTHER EARTH NEWS article "Is Steam Canning Safe?")
8. Bring the fruit juice to a boil over high heat. Add the sweetener (I use 2 cups sugar) and return to a boil. Continue to boil until the jelly reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit on a jelly thermometer, or until the jelly sheets off a cold metal spoon, or until your finger leaves a trail through a spoonful dropped onto a cold plate.
The test on the left shows the jelly isn't ready; one the right, my finger left a clear trail and the jelly is ready.
9. Fill hot sterilized jars leaving a 1/4-inch headspace. Screw on the two piece lids. Process in a boiling water bath or atmospheric steam canner for 5 minutes, adjusting for altitude and using the steam canner as directed. Let cool for 24 hours. Test the seals and store.
Andrea Chesman has written more than 20 cookbooks, including The Pickled Pantry, Recipes from the Root Cellar, Serving Up the Harvest, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. She teaches and does cooking demonstrations and classes at fairs, festivals, book events, and garden shows across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont. Read all of Andrea's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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