Although the Ball Corporation no longer manufactures the well known mason jars, the Ball name is still very much associated with canning (and America’s recent canning boom!) Now licensed to Jarden Home Brands (with a large corporate presence in Daleville, Indiana, about 12 miles southwest of Muncie), the brand is not only a name on a jar, but also an appellation on boxes of lids and containers of pectin. And then there’s the Ball Blue Book, a veritable starter bible for neophyte canners, with its clear instructions, diverse recipes, solid reference, and, very importantly, low price (the “book” is really like a thick magazine).1
So, let’s talk about pectin. What is it, exactly? Well, it’s a structural element found in plants that acts as a gelling agent during canning (nutritionally, it’s also a form of soluble fiber). I won’t delve into the chemistry and biology, because that is beyond the scope of this post (and the post’s author). Suffice it to say that pectin—which occurs naturally in varying proportions, depending on the plant—is a necessary component in the gelling process, and, thus, required for making jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, and conserves. The pectin used by canners may be present in the fruit itself. Some fruits, such as apples and quinces, are naturally high in pectin. Others, like peaches, have lower amounts; as such, many canners use added pectin to speed up gelling. I can both with and without added pectin recipes; I’ll include a couple of simple jam recipes later.
So, is there a difference? In my own not-terribly-humble opinion, I’ve had success with both ways. No-added-pectin jams do take longer and some complain that they have a more “cooked” taste, but my strawberry, blueberry, and sour cherry jams, which are simply cooked down to the preferred gel stage, taste delicious. But I prefer the brightness of peach jam with the added pectin, as peach flavor seems to wash out a bit with long cooking.
Ball® pectins are available in a variety of “styles”—regular powdered, liquid, low/no sugar, instant. And while this may post may seem like an advertisement, remember that we’re talking about a brand made famous in the Flyover States! So, while there are other pectins out there, I’m sticking with Ball®!
1The full title is the Ball Blue Book® Guide to Preserving and it addresses not only canning—both boiling water and pressure–but also freezing and dehydrating. I think this is the best introduction to canning for the novice and, for less than ten dollars, not a huge investment should canning not be your thing.