It’s January. We all know what that means.
Arguably, the most popular is lose weight. As most all of us know, one of the best ways to lose weight is to consume less sugar.
Hence, I came up with a recipe for one of the most popular sugar-laden foods out there: jelly. Many commercial jellies have sugar and/or corn syrup as one of the main ingredients. (I know you can get low- and no-sugar alternatives off the grocery shelf. However, I personally find many of them below par in taste and texture.) And, if you decide to make your own, a typical recipe will have 4 cups of sugar for roughly 4 – 5 cups of finished jelly.
I wanted to come up with an alternative that I would eat and enjoy. My recipe is sweetened with honey (equivalent to 2 1/4 cups sugar) and reduced apple cider.
Honey instead of sugar? Yes. For one, honey is a very natural sweetener (so is sugar, but it is generally heavily processed), you use less, and it tastes better. (You can also find sugar-free honey as well.)
I’m also using a more, well, older and ancient form of pectin. Fresh apple pectin.
What exactly is pectin? By way of a quick explanation, this comes from www.wisegeek.org:
“In cooking, pectin is used as a thickening agent, and could be considered one of the most natural types around. The first pectin available for purchase was derived from apples, which have a high amount. There are other fruits that naturally contain this gelling agent, including many plums and pears. The properties of pectin were discovered and identified by the French chemist and pharmacist, Henri Braconnot, and his discovery soon led to many manufacturers making deals with makers of apple juice to obtain the remains of pressed apples (pomace) that were then produced in a liquid form.
Pectin is a complex carbohydrate, which is found both in the cell walls of plants, and between the cell walls, helping to regulate the flow of water in between cells and keeping them rigid. You’ll note some plants begin to lose part of this complex carbohydrate as they age. Apples left out too long get soft and mushy as pectin diminishes. When apples are just ripe, they have a firm and crisp texture, mainly due to the presence of pectin.”
I did a lot of research before writing this recipe and almost all of the recipes I read used fresh apple pectin in their apple jelly. So, that’s what I decided to use.
Now. To the recipe.
Notes: a) I use apple cider in this recipe. It has a better flavor than juice, plus, it still has the pectin. Pectin has been centrifuged out of apple juice. I generally use Martinelli’s Cider because it’s always available. However, if you can get fresh cider, all the better. In other words, don’t substitute apple juice for cider.
b) Green apples will have more pectin than red. Granny Smiths have the highest concentration of pectin (at least that I’ve found). Make sure the apples you use aren’t too ripe or bruised. The riper the apple, the lower the pectin. You want them to be firm.
c) Admittedly, this recipe takes some time to make. You are making pectin and reducing 3 liters of apple cider. So, be prepared to take a couple of days making this recipe from start to finish. It won’t be continual work, but there will be a lot of waiting.
d) If you need to know the hows & whys of making sweet preserves, jelly, etc., please look at my August 10, 2012 post, “Classic Strawberry Jam”
10 lb. Granny Smith apples (make sure they are firm and have no bruising)
6 c. apple cider or water
a total of 6 cups combined cider or water
3 liters apple cider, reduced down to 2 cups
6 tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 c. honey
1. Reduce the cider: In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the cider over low heat. It will slowly reduce over several hours. Be patient. Stir occasionally, especially if you’re using fresh cider because the solids will settle at the bottom. (I don’t like to let the cider come to a boil. I find it makes the cider taste cooked and there’s a risk of “burning” it.)
You want the cider to reduce down to 2 cups. It will be much thicker and darker in color.
At this point, the cider will keep in the refrigerator for 3 – 4 days. Just leave it in the measuring cup and cover it with plastic.
2. Meanwhile, make the pectin: Quarter the apples and remove the stems and blossom ends (discard or put in the compost). Then put the quarters, peels, seeds, cores, and all into a large stockpot. Pour in the cider or water (or both). Place the stockpot over medium heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low. Stir frequently to make sure the apples don’t stick to the bottom.
Cook the apples until they resemble soft applesauce; about 45 – 60 minutes.
3. Have a large colander or strainer set in a large bowl or hung over a large stockpot lined with dampened cheesecloth. Carefully ladle and pour the cooked apples into the strainer or colander. Let the liquid drain for at least 2 – 3 hours, and up to 24.
Many apple pectin recipes warn not to weigh the apples down because some solids may get into the liquid and make a cloudy jelly. Me? I don’t really care. I’ll let the apples drain for several hours and then weigh them down just to be sure I extract as much of the pectin as possible. But, it’s up to you.
You should end up with at least 6 cups of pectin. This is what you’ll need for the recipe. If you have any extra, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week, or, you can process it like preserves (leaving a 1/4″ head space; hot water process for 10 minutes). It will keep for 1 year if you process it.
There is a way to test your newly made pectin.
Take 2 tablespoon rubbing alcohol and 2 tablespoons cooled pectin and mix them together. (Hot pectin won’t work for this test.) The alcohol should jell.
Be sure to immediately discard the mixture. It’s poisonous.
If it doesn’t jell, you may need to cook your pectin down a bit to strengthen the pectin.
4. In a large stockpot (I like to use my pasta pot), combine the pectin, reduced cider, honey, and lemon juice. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot or have one handy. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and slowly cook the jelly until the mixture reaches 220F. (220F is the optimum temperature for gelling.)
Another way to test the set-up of the jelly is to pour a small amount onto a plate that has been in the freezer. Place the plate back into the freezer for a few minutes. When you take it out, run your finger through the jelly. It should be firm and wrinkle as you run your finger through it.
5. Once the jelly is done, remove the stockpot from the heat. With a large spoon, skim off as much foam as you can.
6. Ladle the jelly into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ head space. Process for 10 minutes (begin timing after the water comes to a boil).
Once you take the jars out of the canner, let them sit for at least 12 hours. The jelly needs time to fully set.
Once the jelly has sealed, label & date it. It will keep for 1 year. If it doesn’t seal, place the jar in the refrigerator and eat the jelly within 3 weeks.
Makes approximately 4 – 5 half pints.