With summer knocking at the door, I thought I'd share my method for making jam without commercial pectin. Agar-agar is made from a variety of sea vegetables (seaweed/kelp), and is used like gelatin ... only it's completely vegetarian! It's a great alternative to pectin in jams, and it can be used to thicken anything you cook. Agar-agar must be heated to "release" the jelling properties, then it will set up as it cools. Agar-agar flakes are best ... less processed than agar-agar powder. My recipe is for flakes.
Pectin is found in the skins/peels of many fruits and has thickening properties. Commercial pectin, on the other hand, is a processed powder made from apple (typically) and/or citrus peels. It is far from natural ... have a quick look HERE at a chart showing the steps to make powdered pectin. You'll probably realize why you're allergic to it, if you are!
I used the recipe from my Ball Blue Book of Canning for peach preserves, and modified it to include blueberries and to use the agar-agar. Here are the ingredients lists for both ... each uses 4 pounds of fruit. Note the amount of sugar called for in each:
8 cups sliced, peeled, pitted peaches (about 4 pounds)
1 package powdered pectin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
7 cups sugar
Blueberry-Peach Preserves With Agar-Agar
4 pounds combination blueberries and peaches (slice, peel, and pit peaches)
4 tablespoons agar-agar flakes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups pure cane sugar (do use CANE sugar ... others can be from sugar beets or other cheap sweet stuff)
Did you check out that difference in sugar? This jam has a delicate sweet flavor that comes from the fruit itself, rather than the overpowering taste of sugar. I love it! Here are the instructions for how to make it:
– Have your jars sterile and ready (I just use my dishwasher, and keep the door shut to keep them hot; it takes my canner about 40 minutes to boil, I think, so I start the water bather heating when my dishwasher has about 40 minutes to go until the end of the cycle).
– Put all ingredients, except agar-agar, into a stock pot or deep pasta pot. Mash the peaches and berries with a potato masher (you could use a food processor ... but I like my jam a tad chunky, so I don't use one for this). Stir to mix sugar in well.
– Bring a good book or magazine to have by the stove (you'll see why ...).
– Bring it all to a boil, stirring constantly.
– Add agar-agar, stir in well.
– Turn down heat to warm, and mash some more with the potato masher (the hot fruits are softer so they'll mash really nicely now ... careful that you don't get spattered with hot fruit).
– Turn heat back up to resume a gentle boil; set the timer for 20 minutes, and keep stirring.
– Keep stirring, stirring, stirring ... just keep stirring the whole 20 minutes!
The agar-agar will begin to thicken at the end of the stirring time. ***DO NOT ADD MORE AGAR-AGAR ... WHAT YOU HAVE IS PLENTY, AND IT WILL THICKEN! BE PATIENT! ***(How do I know this? I wasn't patient, and I added another tablespoon of agar-agar ... my jam is delicious, but really jellied ... more than I would like.)
– When the timer goes off, you're ready to ladle this into your hot canning jars; be super careful, this stuff is super hot. To prevent the jars from possible cracking, hold a metal table knife in the jar with one hand while you ladle with the other.
– Wipe down tops and sides and tightly screw on lids. Some people just let the lids seal at this point, but I water-bath processed mine for 10 minutes.
I hope you'll give it a try this summer with the fresh fruit you purchase at your local farmers' market, or that you grow yourself if you are so blessed! Let me know how it turns out!