Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Friday, October 16, 2009

somebody help me!

I'm a really good jelly maker. Jam maker, too. Ask anyone. But I could use some help with this: Pomona's Universal Pectin. How does this relate to New York City gardening? I hold Pomona's responsible for wasting two of my precious NYC foraged crops.

I'm a big fan of the Amelanchier. It does great in containers:

and provides the multi-season interest required by small gardens.

flowers in spring

berries in summer

foliage color in fall

Every year I harvest the berries and make jam or jelly, sharing it with the clients who actually own the tree.

Jams and jellies made without commercial pectin generally require a 3:4 ratio of sugar:fruit to produce a good jell. Using commercial pectin (for fruits that don't contain enough natural pectin to jell) requires more sugar to balance the bitterness of the pectin; you might need as much as a 7:4 ratio of sugar:fruit. Pomona's lets you use less sugar, or experiment with alternate sweeteners like honey or agave nectar (even stevia, O.E.!). This year, in an effort to be healthy, I tried the Pomona's pectin and used agave nectar.

What a disappointment. Not just because it wasn't tasty, but because instead of the clear, vibrant, purple color that one has come to expect from amelanchier jelly, I was left with a cloudy, muted purple jelly that wouldn't be allowed in a county fair.

Instead of learning my lesson, I gave Pomona's a second try, this time with the precious Mayapple. Mayapples are an under-appreciated native plant, perfectly suited to shady back yards.

Most parts of the mayapple are poisonous, but the RIPE fruit is both safe and delicious. Local fauna is privy to this secret, making it difficult to gather enough ripe fruit to DO anything with. In NYC, however, our special brand of wildlife (rats, pigeons, and cockroaches) is less interested in wild fruit than in dumpster diving, making it an excellent place to forage.

Mayapple jelly is like sunshine in a jar. Hard to describe in terms of other fruits but here goes: a combination of citrus, guava, and pineapple. I thought by using sugar instead of agave nectar I might have better luck with the Pomona's, but alas! No clear, sparkling color and a lackluster taste...what a waste!

So here I am at my wits' end...not a happy place to be. I'm going to throw out my remaining two boxes of Pomona's unless you, dear readers, can tell me where I went wrong. Is Pomona's an inferior product or am I missing something? I have some terrace-grown plums waiting to be jell-ified and I don't intend to blow it again.


Shady Gardener said...

I'm so sorry I cannot help you on this one... but I'll be interested to see if someone can. How disappointing to have something that normally turns out well, not be as it should. Can you still use it, though?

Frank said...

All I can say is go over to 66sqft and ask Marie, she's
always making jams and jellies! Good Luck!

Ellen Zachos said...

Thanks Shady and Frank,

I was trying to come up with a low-sugar jelly so I could give it to my diabetic dad. I think the compromise on color and taste may turn out to be one I'm not willing to make!

Georgia said...

I have no experience with this matter but writing to express my regret that the experiment did not work for you.

Marie said...

Going over to me would be no help, I'm afraid (sorry Frank!), as I am pectin-clueless, never having seen my mom use it, growing up...I just use lemon juice...I was also tempted by it so I could use less sugar, and did, with a batch of raspberry jam. I wasn't too impressed.

The only time I made amelanchier jam it set really firmly, and found it a little chewy/seedy - jelly would have been a better bet.

Now Mayapples: I need to find some when ripe :-)

Ellen Zachos said...

Last year I made an amelanchier/rhubarb jelly and it rocked! Jelly is definitely the way to go with amelanchier and elderberry, else the seeds get in the way.

Shannon V said...

I have the same trouble with Pomona's - I love that it allows me to sweeten only to taste, but the vibrant colors of California summer produce are inevitably lost. I did a strawberry-peach-ginger today that looked gorgeous while I was cooking it but turned out a boring tan color in the jars. :( I've been using Pomona's for about 4 years now, and I think the no sugar jams I make with it taste great - like fresh fruit instead of sugar, plus they're good for my diabetic cousin, but no denying that they look old and nasty. (My grandmother would not approve. And they are definitely not fair-worthy, as you said). I think it has more to do with the lack of sugar than the Pomona product itself. I have a little better luck doing about half sugar which helps keep the brightness, and for extra-special batches that I'm giving as gifts (I'm doing Ollalieberries next week) I forget the health concerns and just do regular pectin and full sugar. Good luck!

Ellen Zachos said...

Shannon! I'm so happy to hear from you. Not just because misery loves company, but because I was beginning to think I was crazy...couldn't find anyone else who'd had the same experience. I guess the verdict is that when you have a very special jam or jelly to make, and you want it to be a feast for the eyes as well as for the stomach, forget the Pomona! Thanks for sharing.

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