It's that time again. I saw people lining up at the strawberry stand last week, and my daughter is already watching for the peaches to appear in her cereal bowl. My jars are clean and waiting, my fingers itchy to begin the years cutting and pitting and jamming and canning.
In recent years many people have been influenced by books such as "Sweet and Dangerous" (Peter H. Wyden) and "Sugar Blues" (William Dufty) and have made some real changes in their family's eating habits with regard to the intake of refined sugar. As a culture we consume far too much sugar, and doctors are now telling us that sugar is the agent responsible not only for tooth decay, but also obesity, hypoglycemia and coronary disease.
Even with the best of intentions, however, many of us who have substituted honey for sugar in recipes all year long, and have successfully reduced our family's intake of cookies, candies soft drinks will during canning season trek to the grocery store and bring home 20 pounds of white sugar to use in processing the year's fruit. Some of us try to substitute honey into bottled fruit recipes, but until recently no one I knew had much success with eliminating sugar from jam or jellies.
One of the main reasons it is difficult to remove or replace sugar in jams and jellies is that the whole jelling process usually requires sugar. The chemical interaction among pectin, sugar and acid is what causes fruit syrup to stiffen, and commonly used commercial pectins (MCP, Sure-Jell, etc.) require even more sugar to attain a jell than do the natural fruit pectins utilized in the old-fashioned cook-down method. Unfortunately, however, if honey is substituted for sugar in the old method, the extra liquid takes longer to cook out, and extensive cooking of honey results in darkening and loss of flavor.
The secret seems to be in the type of pectin used. One of my friends discovered something called low-methoxyl pectin in a natural foods catalogue, and we made last year's jam with it, using no sugar at all, and only a small amount of honey, Low-methoxyl pectin uses a calcium salt to form a jell instead of sugar, and so it allows us to make jam and jelly with honey, or with artificial sweetner, or with no sweetening at all, if desired.
This pectin was discovered by Euell Gibbons' brother, a diabetic, and he experimented with it in the production of his own sugar-free preserves. Low methoxyl pectin has been used for years by commercial canners, but now can be purchased from some health food stores, along with the calcium salts needed to stiffen the fruit. They can both also be obtained from Walnut Acre, Penns Creek, Pa. 17862.
To make jam with low-methoxyl pectin, choose fully ripe fresh fruit, rinse well and simmer until quite soft (or crush in a blender) in as little water as possible. (Remove seeds before cooking or put the cooked fruit through a sieve to remove seeds and skins). Measure the finished pulp, place it in a large saucepan over low heat and bring just to a boil.
Prepare a small container of calcium solution by dissolving 1/8 teaspoon dicaleium phosphate in 1/4 cup water. Set aside. Measure into a mixing bowl 1 teaspoon mild honey and 1/2 teaspoon low-methoxyl pectin for each cup of fruit and mix thoroughly. Pour this mixture into the boiling fruit and stir thoroughly until the pectin is completely dissolved. Taste for sweetness, and add more honey if necessary, or lemon juice for tartness, or any spices you wish. When you are happy with you jam, add 1 teaspoon of calcium solution for each cup of fruit and quickly stir until mixed.
At this point you can pour the jam into sterilized jars, seal and set aside to cool, or you may remove from heat and place a tiny amount in a saucer in the refrigerator to test the jell. If it is too stiff, add a little juice or water to the pot; if too runny, add another teaspoon of the calcium solution. Be sure to seal the jam properly with two-piece sterilized lids in sterilized jars, because the ommision of the large amount of sugar leaves the jam open to spoilage if it is merely paraffined.
A second method sugarless jam was taught to me this year by a friend, Dorrie Adams. Originally discovered in "you Can Can With Honey," a pamphlet by Nancy Cosper, McKenzie Bridge, Ore. 97401, her recipe uses a seaweed thickener called agar. Dorrie's version of strawberry jam, which can be altered for other fruit, calls for 1 cup of mild honey for each 8 cups of crushed fruit. Heat fruit just to boiling, stir in 4 tablespoons lemon juice. Boil 2 minutes and pack into sterile jars; seal.
Because this jam requires very little cooking; it may retain more nutrients. A drawback is that the jam must be refrigerated or frozen if it is to be kept longer than a couple of months. However, the flavor of the jam is far fresher and naturally fruit-tasting then traditional, oversugared preserves. CAPTION: Picture, no caption