Preserving fruits with less sugar

Second in a series of archived food columns.

 It’s harvest time again – my grandfather’s plum tree is turning a blushing pink, and daring me to pick what I can through its surprisingly sharp spines. I love eating all the marvelous fruits and vegetables that are available during this time, but one can only eat so many peaches in one sitting!

 This time of year, my thoughts turn to the question of preserving that bounty – to try and capture some of the harvest taste for blizzard time, when I miss it most. With fruit, I first think of jams, preserves and fruit butters. I love the glowing jewel tones of jams lined up in a row in my pantry, but when it comes time to eat the stuff, I’m always disappointed. The beautiful jiggly stuff in the jar tastes more like sugar than the fruit it’s supposed to be. In fact, store-bought jam has to be between 55% and 65% sugar to legally carry that name. 

Sugar serves two functions in the world of fruit preserves.  Of course, it sweetens; but we have many existing alternatives for that. More vitally, it interacts with pectin to create the jelled texture in preserves. How do the big commercial manufacturers make that All-Fruit stuff, then? They are able to use a type of citrus pectin that jells with calcium, instead of sugar. That way they are able to achieve the taste they want using the natural sweetness of fruits like apples and pears. A company in Massachusetts has finally made this type of pectin available to home jam-makers, freeing us to substitute honey, artificial sweeteners, or simply fruit juice concentrate in our favorite recipes.

Their pectin is sold as “Pomona’s Universal Pectin”, available online or over the telephone with the contact info at http://www.pomonapectin.com. I found a box at the Earth Pantry last year, and finally got around to using it in September when a lug of peaches at Royce’s couldn’t be ignored. The included recipe sheet (visible at http://www.pomonapectin.com/pr1_a.gif and http://www.pomonapectin.com/pr1_b.gif) gives outline instructions for jelly, cooked and freezer jams using honey, artificial sweeteners, and fruit juice concentrate. Just pick what kind of preserves you want and what fruit you have, and the recipe is very easy to follow. It really does work like the box says – following the All-Fruit recipe, I was able to achieve a nice firm jell while retaining a wonderful tart peach taste. In my case, only one box of pectin was needed to turn 16 large peaches and 2 cans of orange juice concentrate into 21 cups of jam.

I’m really happy that I noticed the lonely blue box on the bottom shelf. I now have wonderful jam that is better for me and cheaper to make than the standard kind, but most importantly, tastes like fruit instead of sugar. After all, the best kind of jam is the kind you actually eat.

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