I spent some time yesterday picking purple violets. My yard was covered with them but, as I needed a full four cups with no stems or leaves, the process took a few hours including breaks for tea. I wanted to make violet jelly, a gorgeous concoction that is fabulous on a scone. I packed the violets in a mason jar and covered them with boiling water. When the water cooled I put the jar in the refrigerator overnight to infuse all of the flavor and color. This morning I strained the flowers out and used the resulting liquid to make my jelly. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for making jelly from what many consider to be a backyard weed. How delightfully sustainable I was.
Then reality hit. Sustainable? Really? How about the purchased pectin, sugar and lemon juice? I certainly can’t get those in my backyard. But after a bit, I realized I was being silly. People have made jelly for centuries without resorting to store-bought ingredients and if they could then I could. It was just a question of figuring out what could take the place of the commercial products I usually bought.
Pectin: Pectin is the substance that make your jams and jellies thick and spreadable. Some fruits like citrus and apple are naturally high in pectin and some have very little. You can make your own pectin by simmering a pot full of under-ripe, cut up apples or crab apples in enough water to cover for about an hour. Strain out the resulting juice overnight through a cheesecloth covered colander.without pressing to get a clear, thickened liquid. Boil this liquid down until it becomes thicker. If you drop a tablespoon of it in a 1/2 cup of rubbing alcohol it should turn thick and ropey in about a minute. If it doesn’t, continue to boil. This pectin can be used on the spot, stored in the refrigerator for a week or two or canned in a water bath canner for 10 minutes and stored indefinitely. Use it as you would any liquid pectin.
Sugar: You can substitute honey for the sugar with some caveats. It will affect the flavor a bit and the jam or jelly may need to be boiled longer that usual to adjust for the added liquid in the honey.
Lemon Juice: Apple cider vinegar is a good substitute although not every fruit will require it. The problem with anything homemade is that it is never uniform the way a commercial product is. With lemon juice and vinegar, the acidity level may not be the 5% you want. Again, this can be adjusted for by extra cooking time.
Final Thoughts: What is your goal? If it’s to win first prize at the fair I would go with the tried and true recipes. If what you want is to feed your family as locally and sustainably as possible or to keep them fed if there is a break in the supply chain and the supermarkets are closed then you should know the process and accept that what you end up may not be exactly what you’re used to. But, then again, it might be a lot better.