Making Jelly in the Days Before Commercially-Produced Pectin

apple jelly When making jams and jellies, pectin helps make the juice “jell.” A hundred years ago commercial liquid and powdered pectin was not available. Rather cooks used fruits with naturally occurring pectin – and often combined several fruits, including one with a lot of pectin, when making jelly. Here’s what it said in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:

Fruit juice can be made into jelly when it contains two substances, (1) pectin and (2) acid. All fruits do not contain these in sufficient amounts to make good jelly, and often it is necessary to combine the juices of two fruits before the juice will “jell.” Sugar helps to make the juice form jelly, but unless pectin and acid are present, no amount of sugar will have that effect.

Fruits used for jelly should not be over-ripe, and sometimes it is better to use green fruits, because as fruit ripens it contains less pectin and acid. Tart apples, grapes, currants, crab apples and plums are good for making jelly. Sweet ripe apples, strawberries, blackberries, peaches and pears are poor fruits from which to make jelly.

Lemon and orange peel contain pectin in considerable amounts and are sometimes used to make fruit juices “jell.” Remove the yellow layers of the peel and put the white material that is left through the food grinder, cover with water and let stand for several hours, then cook slowly for two or three hours; strain the liquid and add it to the fruit juice that lacks pectin.

Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews



15 thoughts on “Making Jelly in the Days Before Commercially-Produced Pectin

  1. This is really interesting. I didn’t know any of this, even though I grew up with homemade strawberry, blackberry, and peach jam, and crab apple, grape, and plum jelly. Someone in my family knew which fruits to use for each!

  2. I had not thought how the word jelly comes from jell. Interesting about not over-ripe. I recall how people have used lemon and orange peel and I was born after, 1921, Sheryl.😀 Thank you for sharing an interesting and fun post.

  3. I’m from the generation that grew up knowing this kind of stuff from my mother, and we always made our own jams and fruit jellies. It’s good when the natural world helps you along without needing artificial pectin and gelatines!

  4. I have never used pectin but most of my jelly/jam combos use apples or cranberries. I grew up making elderberry jelly with my mother and we did add pectin and lemon juice to that. I will never forget driving around spotting the wild elderberry bushes in flower along the road and making a note of where they were so we could go back and get berries when they fruiting.

  5. Making jelly is a lost art. My husband’s grandmother was a terrible cook, but she made wonderful jelly and yeast rolls! I remember my great aunt making jelly and giving me a little jar to take home. It was always so pretty! Thank you for the reminder of the simple pleasure of homemade jelly and jams!

  6. My mother always boiled apple peels – and added that to her jelly even when it wasn’t apple jelly! It worked great… I never saw her try the lemon or orange method. Probably because oranges were pricey and lemons not available in great quantity.

  7. I’m about to experiment with making jelly out of the goji berries growing in my yard. There are no online recipes for goji berry jelly – only jam – and that has me a little worried about their pectin content. I will see!

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