Boxed pectin is for sissies

by Kate Djupe

There have been a lot of oranges coming through this house.

I used the zest for blood orangecello (or blocello, as it has come to be known); the juice for drinking, blood orange curd, margaritas, and a few other projects to come. But at the end of all of that zesting and juicing, I found myself with piles like this and no good ideas.

I had always heard that you shouldn't put citrus in compost bins for a host of reasons all of which I now know to be wrong. You can compost all the citrus you want if it is in small pieces (some sour oranges do not break down if they are kept whole - I don't know the science). 

So, armed with this new information, I knew that I was going to be finding a quick way to break all of these remains into small pieces for composting.  

Let's hold that thought for a moment (because this is how my brain works)...

  • When I was making jams last summer, I found myself trying not to use those packages of store bought pectin. I don't know why. Perhaps just to see if I could?
  • Pectin wasn't available in boxes back in the oldie days. 
  • Apples and citrus are full of naturally occuring pectin.
  • I have piles of blood orange remains that I need to break down for composting.

Do you see how this happens? One minute, you are perfectly sane while juicing a perfectly normal amount of oranges and the next you are considering making your own pectin. (Those italics denote sarcasm,)

Homemade Blood Orange Pectin

Note: I used the Googles to see who had already tried this about halfway through my own process. There have been a couple of people - each with their own very different process. I will not be applying the Cooks Illustrated treatment to pectin making. Instead, I will be adding to the variety of techniques that are out there and encouraging you to make it up as you go.

  1. I chopped up the zested, juiced orange remains and put these blood orange carcasses in the blender. I added as little water as I could get away with.
  • As I finished each batch, the pink mush went into a big stockpot. 
  • I covered the pot and left it sitting on the counter while I attended to family stuff for a few hours. (I don't know if this is necessary in your pectin making adventures. I didn't have a choice.)
  • Bring the mess (it looked a bit like ground pork) to a boil (I had a lot of oranges so this took a good long time). Well, mine didn't actually boil boil. But it was more like simmering and if I didn't stir it, it would burn at the bottom of the pot and around the edges. I stirred and let it simmer for about a twenty minutes.
  •  See the burnt bits on the edges?
  • Strain the mess through a fine mesh strainer. I pushed and pushed to get every last drop of liquid out. My resulting pectin was cloudy and ultimately separated into clear and cloudy after sitting for awhile. This is where I would do things differently. Next time, I would not try to push on the solids so aggressively to get the liquid out. Take what you can get gently. By doing so, the pectin will be mostly clear. 
  • Discard the solids left in your compost bin (or trash can - I don't judge. Mostly. I mean, you are making your own pectin, so surely you are out there enough to have a compost pile, right?) 
  • I boiled the liquid pectin for an additional 5 minutes. 
  • To test your pectin, pour some of your pectin into a small bowl of rubbing alcohol. In a few seconds, it should gel up enough to pick up with a fork. If it droops off the tines, it will result in a loose jam. (tip courtesy of eatyouridols)Update
  • Depending on your pectin/rubbing alcohol test results, you can further reduce your pectin on the stove or pour it into a jar.
  • Eatyouridols says that pectin will hold in the refrigerator for a week. I added a little lemon juice to mine, put it in sterile jars, left 1/4" headspace and processed in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
  • (Remember - I have 2 different colors because I pushed a bit too much on the fruit to get the liquid out. The top half will result in clearer jams.)

    I tasted the pectin. It is bitter (not surprisingly - it is made of orange piths) but has some of that distinct raspberry flavor of blood oranges. I am very excited to play with this in the summer. 

    Things I want to remember:

    • One package of store bought pectin is 3 liquid ounces. Until I make some jam with those early June strawberries, I won't know if this pectin can be substituted in equal amounts. 
    • If I want my jams to be clear, I will only use the pectin in the top half of my jars. If my resulting product can afford to be cloudy, I know that I can use the pectin from the bottom of the jar as well. 
    • If I make my own apple pectin, I can skip the composting and make fruit leathers with the remaining mush. Crazy.

    One final warning: Making your own pectin results in an INSANE amount of dirty dishes. Seriously insane. But then again, so is making your own pectin.

    As always, I want to thank my husband for putting up with the madness and for taking some of these pictures when my hands were ridiculously sticky and stained red.