Turn green apples to jelly pectin

  • ABOVE: Unmolded apple pectin sits in a mason jar. It can be sealed or frozen until needed. PAGE LEFT: Green apples sit in a pail waiting to be made into pectin for use in jams and jellies. HILLARY NELSON photos / For LiveWell

  • Green apple pectin HILLARY NELSON—For LiveWell

  • Green apples HILLARY NELSON—For LiveWell

For LiveWell
Thursday, August 03, 2017

The roadsides and field-edges of New Hampshire are full of apple trees, chance seedlings for the most part, the offspring of cores dropped long ago by lunching humans or thieving raccoons.

I am sure you know some of these trees – scraggly survivors whose fruit goes unpicked every year. When hard frost hits a few times, the apples begin to drop, maybe to feed wild turkey and hungry deer in winter, maybe to wind up as brown smudges on black asphalt. Perhaps you’ve even stopped to taste an apple from some of these orphan trees, thinking they might be worth gathering for a pie, only to discover they’re too astringent, or mushy, or acidic to eat fresh. And so you never bother with the tree again.

But not all apples are genetically designed for fresh eating, or even apple pies. For example, hard cider makers know that many of the great cider apples are so sharp or bitter that no person in their right mind would ever attempt to eat one raw or turn it into strudel. Crushed and fermented, however, and blended with other balancing varieties, these unappetizing apples become stars, creating great hard cider.

It could be that one of the abandoned apple trees in your neighborhood could turn out to be a valuable addition to the catalog of apple varieties available in commerce. But for that to happen, you would have to spend a little time and effort, researching just what makes a great apple, and then strolling around your community, picking and tasting the fruit of those orphaned trees, trying them out as fresh fruit and cooked fruit and cider, seeing how healthy the trees are, how susceptible the fruit is to insects and diseases.

If you find an apple you love, then it will be up to you to propagate it, promote it, best of all, to name it. And maybe no nursery will ever take on your favorite apple, and it will never be available, as they say, “in commerce.” But so what? What winds up in commerce is too often what is safe. Which is to say, pest-resistant, sweet, easy to grow – and boring. What will wind up in your orchard will be idiosyncratic, unique, your very own.

Should you decide to take up my challenge, here’s a great way to start investigating the chance-seedling apple trees of your neighborhood. Get out there now, with a basket. There are only a few apple varieties in New Hampshire that ripen in summer – Yellow Transparent and Red Astrakhan are two. If you find ripe apples, great – pick them and make some pies or apple sauce. Right away! Summer apples turn mealy in a nanosecond, so use ’em up as soon as possible.

Most apples, though, will be small and green and hard right now. Which is just what a pectin-maker is looking for. And you are about to become a pectin-maker. If you make jelly and jam, you know about pectin. It’s the stuff that comes in packets in a box, a powder that is added to cooking fruit and sugar to make it thicken and set and turn into the stuff you spread on toast.

Pectin is actually a carbohydrate chain found in many fruits. This is why, when making jam and jelly, not all fruits need the addition of pectin to thicken. Apples are naturally abundant in pectin, especially green apples. Our great-grandparents used unripe apples to make pectin jelly to add to the kinds of fruit that are naturally low in pectin – such as peaches, cherries and pears – when making preserves.

Your task is to go out and gather four to five pounds of unripe green apples (crab apples will also work here) to turn into pectin. As you gather apples, taste them. Yes, they will not be palatable, but you will get a sense immediately of the flavor profile of each apple. If biting the apple makes you feel instantly thirsty, that apple is high in tannin, a useful trait for cider apples. Maybe the apple is extremely tart – that’s high acid, great for cooking, also for cider. It will also probably turn out to be a good fresh eating apple when it’s ripe. Try to gather a mixture of flavor profiles.

Take the apples home and turn them into pectin (the recipe is below). And over the rest of the summer, keep revisiting the trees and tasting the apples as they develop. By hard frost, you will have a good idea of what each apple is best for. Fresh eating, cooking, cider? Or maybe just feeding the wild turkeys and deer.

And if you decide to adopt that orphan tree, you will need to learn about vegetative propagation. Do not panic – you can do this. The internet is filled with lovers of orphan apple trees who will be only too happy to walk you through the process.

Wild Apple Pectin

(Makes about 8 cups pectin)

about 4 pounds wild green apples

water to cover

enough sugar by weight to equal the weight of the apple liquid (about 3 pounds)

juice from 2 small or 1 large lemon, strained

You will need a wide, shallow pan for cooking preserves; glass measuring cups; sieves, coarse and fine; cheesecloth or a clean, cotton kitchen towel; an instant-read thermometer; a kitchen scale; and canning jars and lids.

Rinse the apples and use a paring knife or corer to remove the stem and the flower-end from the apples. If the apples are large, cut them in half; if small, leave them whole.

Place the apples in a large pot and cover with cold water. Place over medium high heat and bring to a brisk simmer. Cook the apples until they are very soft and can be mashed to a pulp with a potato masher.

When the apples are cooked and mashed, you will begin the three-part process of straining them into a pulpy-liquid. First, push the cooked apple mash through a coarse sieve, reserving the strained liquid and discarding the leftover seeds and pulp.

Now push the sieved apple pulp/liquid through a fine sieve. Again, retain the sieved pulp/liquid and discard what remains.

Next, wet a piece of cheesecloth or a loosely-woven cotton kitchen towel and place it inside the sieve. Pour the apple liquid into the cloth-lined sieve and push through using a spoon. Reserve the strained pulp/liquid and discard the remaining solids.

Weigh the apple pulp/liquid. Weigh an equal amount of sugar. Combine the sugar and apple liquid along with the strained lemon juice. Place in a wide, shallow pan (a copper preserving pan is ideal) and bring to a brisk simmer. Skim the simmering liquid to remove any foam.

While the mixture is cooking, place a plate in the freezer (this is to test the set of the pectin). When the apple liquid seems to thicken a bit and has reached 221 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, test the set by pouring a little of the liquid on to the cold plate. If it sets and thickens, the pectin is done. Remove from the heat.

The apple pectin may be canned in glass jars in a hot water bath, if desired, but I find freezing the pectin easier. Simply pour it into clean 8- ounce containers and cover with clean lids. When room temperature, place in the freezer, where it will keep for a year.

Jam with Wild Apple Pectin

To make jam from low-pectin fruit, such as peaches, cherries, etc., weigh the peeled and pitted fruit. Multiply the weight of the prepared fruit by 0.6; this will be the weight of the sugar to add to the fruit. For every 2 pounds of fruit, add the strained juice of one lemon. Macerate the fruit, the sugar and the lemon juice together overnight.

The next day, put the mixture into a sieve to strain the juice from the fruit. Measure the amount of juice that comes off, then pour the juice into the preserving pan.

Bring the fruit juice to a simmer. Stir in 1 cup of apple pectin for every 3 cups of juice. Simmer the pectin and juice until they reach at least 221 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. You may cook a bit longer, if desired, until the juice seems thickened and sets when a spoonful is drizzled on the cold plate.

Add the reserved fruit and bring to a simmer until the mixture reaches 221 degrees or seems thickened. Remove from the heat and pour into clean glass jars. Cover with clean lids and process using hot water canning, or cool completely and freeze. The canned or frozen jam will keep for a year or more.