How to Make Your Own Pectin

Jams and jellies were and still are an excellent way to preserve fruit, and make a delicious treat that can be added to all forms of bread, hot cereal, and even cooked rice. Pectin is one of the things required to make them, it adds the gel like quality to low pectin fruit, and is one of natures best preservatives. Most people who make preserves buy pectin from the store in the form of powder or liquid from Sure-Jell or Ball. Both manufacturers make excellent performing products, which store wonderfully for long periods of time, but the price has been creeping up on them. Homemade pectin very economical and frugal.

The Why

Not all fruit needs pectin added to make jam or jelly, some fruits like cranberries, grapes and apples (just to name a few) naturally contain high amounts of pectin, so they only require some extra boiling to concentrate the fruit and sugars.  But other fruits, like strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, and peaches are very low in pectin and you can’t achieve a nice jam or jelly just by boiling them down.  In these cases its very handy to have pectin to add to your preserves to help the juice and sugar to ‘set’ and this also greatly reduces cooking times.  The less it’s boiled, the more nutrition will be preserved from the fruit.

Homemade pectin is usually made from apples or crab apples, both of which have an abundance of pectin.  Making homemade pectin is one of those things you can do to save some money and to learn as a self-reliance skill.  If there was ever a time when the stores are closed or sold out, knowing how to make pectin would be a very valuable skill that could help your family and community preserve food.  Just like everything else, the homemade version is less processed and by default more healthy than store-bought stuff.

The How

I usually start making pectin by making something else with apples, like pie or apple sauce or hard cider. Then I use my apple peelings and cores to make the pectin since the natural pectin in apple is concentrated in those areas. This way, I can still use the meat from the apples for other food. Most other recipes for making pectin involves cutting up and using whole apples, and I always felt like I was wasting the apples. One of my favorite ways to go about this is by using an apple peeler. I have several brands of these peelers and they all work similarly when properly adjusted. They take a slightly bigger bite out of the apple while peeling which works exceeding well for making pectin, they also core and slice the apples for you making a pile of apples quick work.

1) I gather all the peelings and the cores (I try to discard as many of the seeds as I can) and throw them into a large stock pot.  I then add just enough water to cover them and get them boiling.  Since I am boiling peelings and cores (the tougher parts of the apple) I boil them, uncovered, for an hour with medium heat, which is a little longer than most recipes that use whole chunks of apple call for.  It’s also important to note here that I usually go with the amount of peeling and cores I end up with and am therefore happy with whatever amount of pectin I end up with, but, if someone absolutely needs a recipe, start with 2 pounds of peelings and cores plus 4 cups of water (courtesy of WSU Extension Office).

2) Once an hour has passed I remove them from the heat and line a strainer with some cheese cloth (cheese cloth is great, I prep it, and I use it a lot while preserving and cooking food)  and strain the mixture for several hours.  I try not to press the peelings as this will make the pectin more cloudy.

3) After the liquid has drained I add it to a smaller stockpot and put it back on my stove to boil.  I start off by reducing the liquid by 30-40% before I even test the strength of the pectin.  I have found there is no need to test before reducing, it ALWAYS needs to be reduced.  Later I feed the left over apple pulp to my chickens so there is literally no waste.  Horses and cows also enjoy a pan of grain topped with warm apple pulp, especially on a cold winter day.

4) It usually takes between 30 and 40 minutes to reduce the liquid, but it’s one of those things that I just have to keep an eye on.  At this point most recipes say to just wrap it up and be done, but when I started making my own pectin I found a simple way to test (thank you again, WSU Extension Office) the strength of it so I always end up with a consistent product.  This takes a lot of the guess-work out making and using your own pectin!

Test for Pectin: An alcohol test gives a rough estimate of the amount of pectin in fruit juice. In a small dish, put 1 teaspoon juice and 1 Tablespoon 70% rubbing alcohol.  Stir slightly to mix.  Juice high in pectin will form a solid jelly-like mass that can be lifted with a fork.  Once I have reached the point where its solid enough to lift it out with a fork my pectin is ready for use and for storage.  PLEASE NOTE:  Do not taste this mixture.  Rubbing alcohol is poisonous.  Keep the container out of reach of children and pets.  Dispose of the liquid down your sink, rinsing your sink, and your testing vessel (I usually use a shot glass) with water promptly when finished. 

5) When I have reached the right strength of pectin I prepare it for long-term storage by water bath canning it.  Homemade pectin is completely safe to be canned there is even an approved recipe (see above) and procedure (see below) – it may not be in the Ball Blue Book (after all, Ball sells pectin) but it can be found through those handy and helpful local extension offices!

Pour hot pectin into hot, sterilized, half pint or pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Clean jar rims, apply hot and sterilized lids and then rings to finger tip tightness.  Process jars for 15 minutes (don’t forget to adjust for your altitude).  Remove jars and allow them to cool and rest completely undisturbed for 24 hours.  Then remove the rings, check for good seals, and label the pectin. Store canned pectin in a cool, dry, dark place.  How much one ends up with will depend on many factors like how long the peelings are cooked for and how much the resulting liquid is reduced by.  Refrigerate and cap pectin after opening and between uses.

Using Homemade Pectin

Homemade pectin from apples will not change the flavor of the jam or jelly even though the pectin will still smell like apples.  Homemade pectin may replace commercial liquid pectin (⅔ cup homemade pectin equals 1 packet commercial pectin).  Use ⅔ cup homemade pectin for each 4 cups of fruit.  Lemon juice should be added to prepared fruit that doesn’t taste tart (1 Tablespoon for each cup of juice) this helps activate the pectin, adds vitamin C and helps to preserve flavor and color.  Low pectin fruits may require the addition of another cup of homemade pectin solution for each 4 cups of fruit.  Try the minimum amount (⅔ cup of pectin) first.  Add pectin to prepared fruit in a large kettle and bring to a boil.  After 2 to 3 minutes of boiling, add 2 to 3 cups of sugar and boil rapidly until the gelling stage is reached.  Remember, it may take several days after your preserves have cooled to completely set up.

Please enjoy your homemade pectin!  Share pictures of your work with your friends and encourage them to give it a try as well! Leave a comment here and let us know how it worked!

The recipe listed in this article, and advice to use peels was provided to me via the WSU Cooperative Extension office.  There are MANY pectin recipes out there online, any similarities are merely coincidental.  Another notable article on homemade pectin from apple peels can be found at the Canning Granny Blog, one of the web’s best canning resources. 


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