With all the bad press that pectin gets when it comes to fruit preserves, it's almost as if it should have a parental advisory notice, so I've asked Drake about his Views on the subject and watch this lemon for me while I talk a little about pectin...
Pectin is a naturally occurring soluble fiber used by many fruiting plants for structural support of cell walls in their fruits. While all fruit has some level of pectin in the cell walls, there are those that have quite an abundance that make them good for extracting a natural pectin that is useful in all sorts of fruit preserving projects. Pears, apples, cranberries, blackberries, dates, guavas, quince, plums, gooseberries, and most citrus contains large amounts of pectin with the biggest difference between all these being that citrus has it in the pith of the peels whereas the other fruits contain the throughout the fruit.
Pectin is what helps the gelling take place in jelly and jam making, and is indispensable when making pate de fruit in order to get that candied texture. You can always make your jams and jellies without pectin if you know the tricks of the trade, of course. Depending on your flavor combination, you can always throw in some grated apple, some blackberries or even some date paste without affecting the flavor profile significantly and giving it that added boost of pectin needed for proper gelling.
So, what's the difference between a homemade extraction and a store bought pectin? All the store bought products have to start with a source of fiber. In their case, either apple or citrus peel since extraction from other sources can be more costly to produce whereas apple scraps and citrus peels can be purchased rather inexpensively. Store bought products also have to consider a much longer shelf life, so additives and preservatives is what then makes them stand apart. Clearly, this is where pectin gets it's negative predisposition since citric acid, dextrose, potassium citrate and sodium benzoate don't easily roll off the tongue as natural ingredients that you want to add to your homemade goods.
Earlier this year, I came across quite a bit of Meyer lemons at the end of their fruiting season, and to keep them from going into compost, I brought home much more than what I could figure to do with in a short amount of time. So, a good amount of them were washed, zested, juiced and the rinds were tossed in ziplock bags in the freezer. In essence, I knew I would be tackling this project sooner or later, and from what I figure, every part of the lemon is going to good use and the spent rinds will go into compost afterwards.
The process I'll be describing below is no trade secret and a quick search on the internet will yield a number of recipes that basically call for the same process. I custom tailored my batch to the 18 lemons I had in one freezer bag, and adjusted the remaining volumes with very good results. So, let's get down to it!!
I used the following in what would constitute a "double batch" so feel free to halve these numbers and you should come to the same conclusions for a smaller batch:
18 whole lemon rinds
4 cups of water
1 cup of lemon juice
Non-reactive pot large enough to hold everything
Jelly strainer or clean old t-shirt
and some rubbing alcohol for testing your results
Since I'm starting with lemons that I knew I was processing with this use in mind, I'm starting with lemons that have been juiced, zested and the thawed rinds softened up considerably. Were I to have been starting from scratch with the whole lemon that Drake is watching for me, I would have to zest, juice the lemon and allow for the rinds to sit in the water and lemon juice concoction for at least an hour to soften up.
Because you want as much surface area as possible, you will want to cut up your lemon rinds to about 1/4" chunks. A sharp knife and some elbow grease will get you through this part just fine.
Next, I added 4 cups of water and the cup of lemon juice to the mixture in a bowl. Here is where the softened rinds from having been in the freezer helped out, since I went right into the next step. As I mentioned earlier, had I started with fresh lemons, you would want to let this rest for at least an hour.
The lot then went right into the 18 qt. stainless steel pot I had on hand to be placed on high heat to bring to a boil.
Once it comes to a light boil, turn down the heat to a simmer. I then let it simmer for 20 minutes to extract as much pectin from the rinds as possible. The goal here isn't to evaporate the water, so be sure to keep it a no more than a simmer. If you happened to go the longer route and left the mixture sitting in water for the hour, you can call it done after 10 minutes.
While the mixture is cooking up, that's when you want to grab your colander, secondary pot where the liquid pectin will go into and your jelly strainer/t-shirt to strain the mixture. Be sure to boil up some water separately to pour over the filter medium in order to sanitize those surfaces.
Next, I poured the entire mixture into the colander with the t-shirt. Here you will want to leave this sit for at least a few hours, if not overnight, which is what I did. The t-shirt comes in handy since it easily can cover the mixture sitting in the colander to keep out anything from getting into the mushy citrus peels.
The next morning, I found that I had this off-yellow liquid waiting for me. The mushy peels went off to the compost and I only needed to test the pectin content of what I had.
In order to test the pectin level, take a few tablespoons of rubbing alcohol to be placed in a small bowl. Take one tablespoon of the liquid pectin to be placed in the rubbing alcohol and let it rest for a minute. Using a fork, you should be able to pickup the transparent glob of solidified pectin out of the bowl.
If it's not coming up as a single piece, you may need to reduce the mixture a bit. Place the liquid pectin on the stove and reduce up to 1/2 of the volume you are working with. Retest once the mixture has cooled again and you should have some good stuff.
Place in the refrigerator for immediate use and it should keep for about a week. In the freezer should give you about 6 months, and if you can it using traditional water bath canning technique, it should be good for up to a year.
For use, a good guide to start will be 4 tablespoons per cup of fruit used in your recipe. This will vary to taste depending on how you like your jam set (loose or firm), which fruits you are working with and their natural pectin contents and ultimately the concentration of pectin in the homemade batch you produced.