Summer in Sonoma means canning. Either you have a backyard garden or you’re the recipient of a neighbor’s overabundance. The blackberries are bursting with juicy flavor, the peaches are at their peak and the plums are just now fading. Making jam is an easy way to capture the fresh flavor of the season but most first-time jammers are shocked at the vast quantities of sugar required to jell with traditional sources of pectin, a naturally occurring substance found in fruit. Pomona’s Universal Pectin is a product that uses a bit of basic chemistry to foil the need for so much sugar.
Pomona’s Universal Pectin
The story of Pomona’s began with farmers Brian Saunders and Connie Sumberg, who grew organic berries on their farm in Arlington, Washington. When they went to make jam Brian couldn’t believe that it took up to 9 cups of sugar to make a batch of jam at more than 50% sweetner. He started investigating and after much experimentation came up with Pomona’s Universal Pectin. It uses low methoxyl citrus pectin that requires calcium to jell, freeing us from the need to use so much sugar. Each box contains a packet of pectin, extracted from citrus fruit peel, and a packet of calcium (monocalcium phosphate). After mixing the calcium powder with water the resulting solution can be kept in the refrigerator for months, right through the canning season. Any sweetener can be used, including maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, unsweetened fruit juice concentrate, stevia, xylitol and artificial sweeteners.
With every box of pectin comes a brief set of instructions about how to make jams and jellies, including a helpful guide to developing your own recipes.
Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin
Pomona’s is still a family operation, with Connie, her sister, Mary Lou Sumberg, and Mary Lou’s husband, Paul Rooney, at the helm. They partnered with Allison Carroll Duffy to produce a cookbook, “Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin”, which takes the guesswork out of converting recipes from high to low sugar. The first chapter covers information about both Pomona’s Pectin and canning basics so if you’ve never experienced the joy of home preserving this book has all you need with detailed instructions and illustrations.
Many canning books list the amount of fruit required by weight, which is challenging if you don’t have a home scale (though they are highly recommended). Pomona’s has a handy chart that gives approximate units per pound if you need to estimate.
In scanning the recipes one thing stands out—these aren’t just a rendering of the familiar recipes our grandmothers would have made from the “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving”, an excellent resource from a long-time jar manufacturer. “Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin” contains recipes with creative twists using less common spices, herbs and flavors to create fresh and different preserves such as Rosemary Wine Jelly, Gingered Lemon Fig Preserves and Basil Mint Plum Jam. Time-honored recipes are there too, such as Strawberry Jam, identified with a “Simple Classic” header.
Making preserves and conserves
My husband Steve, who is the master canner in our household, tried out a couple of the recipes with excellent results. We really appreciated not having to use so much sugar and being able to comb through so many intriguing recipes. Mixing the calcium solution couldn’t be simpler: mix powder with water. He made a Plum-Ginger-Orange Conserve and the Simple Classic Peach Preserves using plums and peaches from our orchard when the fruit was at the peak of sweetness and we had eaten more than our fill. He thought making preserves, conserves and jam with Pomona’s Pectin is easier than with traditional pectin because it takes the guesswork out of knowing whether the mixture is going to jell. No need to dribble liquid onto a plate, put it in the freezer and try to discern when the jell is perfect, only to open the jar months later to find a runny, liquid syrup or solid, dense mass. Pomona’s Pectin completes the jelling process as it cools and worked as it should in our jars. The resulting color is brighter and the flavor is closer to that of fresh fruit due to the brief cooking time required. The complex flavor of the Plum-Ginger-Orange Conserve is analogous to a chutney and is delicious on grilled meats, while the freshness of the Peach Preserves brings the memory of the fleeting peach season back in a rush of fruit flavor.
If you try Pomona’s Universal Pectin you may never go back to traditional pectin sources, once you see how the final products are full of fresh fruit flavor and you experience the ease of using this pectin. The “Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin” cookbook is a useful adjunct to understand how to use the Pomona’s Pectin, though some abbreviated recipes are included in every box.
Pomona’s Universal Pectin
Available at Amazon for $6.68 and a set of two at Williams-Sonoma for $9.95 . If you’d like your local store to order it send contact information to Pomona’s website and they’ll submit a request.
“Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin” Cookbook
by Allison Carroll Duffy and the partners at Pomona’s Universal Pectin
Available at Amazon for $13.60