One of the reasons I first started canning was control. Control over the food we eat. I wanted it! I wanted to know what was in it, who handled it, how much sugar, was in it, and how that food was handled. And mostly I was hoping to be able to make our foods fit into my new standards for food, (no MSG, no artificial food color, and no HFCS, no fake fats) to begin with. Then as I canned happily, blissfully, and sugarfully I realized-
"yikes, there is a ton of sugar in this jam and what's that in the boxed pectin -- icky fructose, dextrose, etc.. isn't that exactly what I'm trying to avoid in prepackaged foods?"
So I switched to using "low sugar pectin" thinking I was improving our standards--until I glanced at the box ingredients while waiting for things to jell.
"Dang -- this has the same things in it!"
My childhood experience of eating way too much chokecherry jelly that had gone wrong and was now syrup (not that I'm complaining mind you- but Mom didn't love the sugar either - bless her wise heart). I knew that when you fiddle with the sugar amounts in jelled products they don't jell. Yes you can use homemade pectin..( a laborious process of boiling apples or other high pectin fruits to make pectin) but man that sounded too much like work. Grrrrrr........
And then there was pomona pectin http://www.pomonapectin.com/ And the angels sung in harmony and all was good with the world.
No seriously -- it's one of the most versatile and seriously adaptable products on the market. No dextrose, no sucrose, no sucralose, no aspartame, just food! And just what I had been looking for. Hearing good things about it on a canning yahoo group I decided to order some and try it for myself.
Here is what I've found:
Beautifully, in most cases.
Using this basic guide and some basic knowledge.. http://pomonapectin.com/PDF/Recipe_Card_1.pdf I've successfully made all kinds of wonderful goodies using no sugar, low sugar, only natural sugars, stevia and a tiny bit of regular sugar, honey.. well whatever strikes my fancy really!!
Pomona Pectin is a two part product :
(don't ask me how it works -I never said I was a scientist.)
1. A pectin powder which you put into a small portion of whatever you are sweetening your jelly, jam or syrup with.
2. Another powder (a special calcium) which you dissolve in water and add to your fruit base before heating. (above is the pic of the liquid calcium - I store the excess in the fridge in a jar.)
You can convert any conventional recipe to fit pomona pectin or -- you can make up your own recipe. Here is the basic process. Take for example a simple strawberry jam:
On the pomona chart you find the section for cooked recipes - low sugar or honey. It calls for 4 cups of mashed fruit, 1/2- 1 cup of honey and 2 tsp. of pectin powder and 2 tsp. of calcium water.
So-- you would take the strawberries -mashed up, measure them out put them into your stockpot, add in 2tsp. of calcium water (calcium powder that you dissolve in water according to the package directions).
Then you dissolve (or in this case stir in) 2tsp. of pectin powder into 1/2 cup of honey-- you can add more after you taste it at any time in the process.
Heat the fruit and cook for the appropriate time, add the honey and pectin and taste it. Add more of whatever sweetener you want to your own tastes-- you have your minimum 1/2 cup of honey so you can add stevia, more honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, whatever.... you can add any extract or lemon juice or citrus peel, whatever to make it your own. then you continue to cook it according to the directions, as long as you don't increase the liquid too much that is.
It will thicken considerably as it cools-- it may not appear done like those other commercial jelling agents, so - to check this you can take a small spoonful of the jam and put it into the freezer. If after a few minutes it cools down and it is jelled enough for you -- jar it and can it like you would any other product using the approved methods by the canning police or USDA.
Now that you understand how the process works, let's start the fun!
To convert an existing recipe so you can fiddle with the sugars.. I would do it something like this
Blueberry Jam (original recipe)
1 1/2 qt. fresh blueberries, crush to equal 4 1/2 c.
2 tbsp. lemon juice
7 c. sugar
2 pouches Certo fruit pectin
1 tsp. butter
Pomona's recipe for a Cooked blueberry jam looks something like this:
4C mashed berries
2t Pectin powder
2t Calcium water
1/4C lemon or lime juice
1/2 - 1 cup of honey or other sweetener
In this case I would use the 4c of mashed blueberries so the ratio is right with the pectin
*Note I'm using a cooked recipe and comparing that to a cooked recipe -- you can also do freezer jam if you don't want to cook your jam, but the ratios are very different, so keep that in mind. Also, I'm using their information in regards to blueberries -- keep in mind different fruits have very different natural pectin amounts in them and so compare like fruits with like fruits so you get a properly gelled product. Apples will not jell the same as berries would.
So.. my "recipe" based on the original recipe would be like this.
4 c mashed berries- mix in 2 tsp. calcium water
2 T. - a bit shy lemon juice because we aren't using exactly the same amount of blueberries
1 tsp butter -- this is to prevent foaming at the end.. optional IMHO
and again I'd dissolve 2 tsp pectin powder in the 1/2 cup honey, maple syrup, whatever...**to start with and add as needed more sweetener of any kind.
TASTE AS YOU GO... that way you know you have a product that is meeting your needs.
** I've found when using stevia, if I keep some other natural sweetener in there too-sucanat, honey, whatever, and sub out 1 tiny tsp (tiny one that comes in the jar of stevia) per 1 cup of fruit I'm usually spot on for sweetness level.. that said I would ALWAYS start shy of that-- and work my way up testing as I go because if you get too much stevia, you get a nasty, nasty aftertaste. .. ick. So-- if I were to do this recipe I would start with 3 tiny tsp of stevia, and about 1/4 cup of honey, then add as needed. Tart fruits obviously will require more sweeteners.
Now let's say you wanted to make a lemon blueberry jam.. which as I'm writing this I'm wondering to myself-- "hmm, wonder if I have enough blueberries in the freezer to make some?" Anyway, it might look like this:
4 c mashed blueberries
1/2 cup lemon
1 tsp lemon zest
2 T. limoncello
1/2 cup agave nectar ( I like that it doesn't alter the flavor of things it sweetens)
stevia to taste
2 1/4 tsp. pomona pectin powder
2 1/4 tsp. calcium water
I increased the amount of the pectin and calcium water a bit because I added some liquid in there.
Perhaps you want to make a blueberry syrup... take the original recipe we came up with and the only change you would make is to use half the pectin and half the calcium water.
Want to double it, triple it, quadruple it.. as long as your pan is big enough you can do it!!
The other spectacular thing about Pomona Pectin is that you can double and even triple or quadruple recipes successfully. Try THAT with your boxed sure-jell!! I know I've done both. Sure-jell doesn't work, Pomona Does!!
As long as you keep in mind the natural pectin levels of what you are using and match them similarly to the chart-- you are golden.
If it doesn't gel up when you do the spoon test I suggested above you can simply add more calcium water to your base and dissolve some pectin powder into a smaller portion of your base or more sweetener. I advise against adding more pectin powder straight into your jam without first integrating it into something else -- it globs up and you will be whisking your brains out to get it dissolved if you do.. not that I know this from experience or anything..lol
2 other important things to think about
1. I've had to start canning my jams, jellies, etc in only jelly jars or smaller because I've found that once open these items don't last nearly as long in the fridge as their full sugar counterparts. So keep em from sliding to the back of the fridge. (previously I canned jelly in pint jars)
2. Because there is no sugar or very low sugar in these jams and jellies I also would not fiddle with using low acid items in my jellies or jams as sugar can act as a preservative. That's my own personal take on things -- you may differ, but I would consider it an added risk of botulism and would compensate by using high acid like citrus juice or vinegar or keep the sugar closer to what the original recipe calls for, while sugar won't appreciably change the acid level it will act as a preservative.
I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have about using pomona pectin or canning with low or no sugar. I have no training in canning safety, nor am I a safety expert, but since most jams and jellies are high acid and because they use fruit I feel comfortable with the safety of altering the sugar content.
**I don't advocate using Splenda as it's chemically based and toxic IMHO, but I suppose you could if you wanted to, I just couldn't begin to tell you how to do it.