Two years ago, we
wild foraged picked some crab apples from a friends tree. It was late in the season and the tree had never had a moment’s care in years so the fruit was pretty sketchy to say the least. Joyce managed to salvage enough bits and pieces and made up a batch of jelly. It had a wonderful flavour and rosy lustre to it. At some point in the discussion, pectin came up and that crab apples were supposed to be a source of pectin. A bit of digging and it turns out that Dolgo crabs are supposed to be the best for making crab apple jelly.
DOLGO CRAB is a Siberian crab that was imported from Russia by the plant breeder, Hansen of South Dakota, and introduced in 1897. Dolgo in Russian means long and refers to the shape of the fruit. The highly-flavored crimson fruit is about 1-inch in diameter, is olive-shaped and rich in pectin. The vigorous tree grows upright with spreading willowy branches and has reddish-green, dense foliage. It is resistant to scab, cedar apple rust, mildew and fireblight. This very hardy apple ripens in late August or early September.
But we couldn’t find any at a reasonable price so we decided on a pair of Royalty Crabs from Golden Bough Tree Farm. Not exactly what we wanted but with reddish-purple foliage, a dark red flower, and dark red fruit, it was a welcome addition to the orchard. A bit more searching over the winter led us to Pineneedle Farms who had good sized trees at a very reasonable price. The orchard is beginning to get a bit full so we decided to plant them in front of the house between the house and the road.
Everyone will get to enjoy the spring flowering spectacle and harvesting will be about as easy as it gets.
OK, so let’s talk about natural or homemade pectin. Over to you, Joyce.
Many people are surprised to discover that it’s possible to make your own pectin rather than buy it. But most store-bought pectin (powdered or liquid) is actually made from apples or crabapples, so you can eliminate that expense by making your own.
Although many fruits such as berries, Concord grapes, lemons and plums contain high amounts of pectin, the best fruit to use are tart apples or slightly under-ripe crabapples – the sweeter and riper the fruit, the less pectin it contains. Wash fruit and cut into chunks, including the skins, seeds and cores. Cover apples with water. Bring to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot and then turn the heat down to low. Keep the lid on, so the steam does not evaporate – you want the apples to cook down while retaining the liquid. Stir occasionally so fruit doesn’t stick to the pan or burn. When it looks like applesauce, strain through a jelly bag or fine sieve to collect the jelly-like pectin. If you want clear pectin, don’t squeeze the jelly bag or push the apples through the sieve; just let the liquid drain on its own.
Now that you have your own pectin, you can preserve it by canning it just like you would jelly or jam: pour into sterilized mason jars, cover with new snap lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath for five minutes. Don’t simply melt paraffin wax over the jelly or turn jars upside down to “seal” – old recipes may call for such measures, but there’s no guarantee that the jars have properly sealed.
When using homemade pectin in jams or jellies, you’ll have to adjust the amount of sugar and pectin you use to ensure it sets properly (i.e., not too runny or not too solid). The best instructions I’ve found are in Samuel Thayer’s “Making your own apple pectin“.
Making jams or jellies with your own pectin takes a bit more skill than using commercial pectin, but once you have adapted your favourite recipes, you’ll find it’s not difficult. If you make preserves with fruits you’ve picked or grown yourself, why not go the extra step and use your own pectin?