Here is a perfectly sensible way to spend your time, which may, nonetheless, expose you to no end of mockery. When casual acquaintances, fellow-bus riders, and the like ask you what you did this weekend, and you reply that, among other things, you made apple pectin jelly, eyebrows may go up. If you further explain that this is something you will use, instead of commercial pectin, when you are making other preserves from lower pectin fruit, there may be snickering.
I do a fair amount of babbling and blurting and tend to an excess of enthusiasm. (Which is to say, as you may well have already noticed, that I am a big dork.) It therefore took me a while to realize that it may just be wise to downplay-or totally hide- some cooking details, in general conversation.
People who don't enjoy this sort of cooking, even if they are interested in food in a general sort of way, sometimes can't believe that anyone would want to spend time doing this. In fact, they often seem to think that you are being intentionally weird, and possibly also snooty and affected. You can get this sort of response sometimes, just for making a cake from scratch, instead of from a mix-even though it is often no more trouble.
It's an outlook I don't really understand, but definitely a fact of life. Most folks don't object to being given a bit of some tasty end product, as long as they don't know how it came into being. Since, for some reason I am queasy about disapproval, even from total strangers, I've learned to keep quiet on the topic. Luckily, I can tell you all about it.
I think the deal is, it's supposed to be pretentious, or something. It seems to be acceptable to enjoy elaborate homemade food made by an elderly relative-especially if it is a family or ethnic specialty, but deviant to wish to fix some yourself, especially if it is not from your own, established tradition. I'm just warning you, in case you hadn't already noticed. For some reason, making preserves seems to particularly annoy certain people, none of whom I actually know well enough to ask about it.
Bur anyhow, apple pectin jelly is very easy to make, not at all elaborate, and has many other uses. It makes a spiffy glaze for fruit tarts-especially apple ones. Add a branch of rosemary, tarragon or thyme, and you will have an herb jelly-nice with roasted meats, and chicken. Some cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla, or plain-good on an english muffin with breakfast..or a cup of strong tea. All you need is a bunch of unripe apples (windfall apples are perfect, though a bit of trouble, as you must cut out the wormy and brown bits), sugar and a lemon. To make 4-5 eight ounce jars, it takes 3 to 4 pounds of apples, 3 cups of sugar and one lemon.
You will also need a chinois and/or a jelly bag. Jelly bags and their stands are very cheap, and the stand kind of hooks over your big pot, holding fruit pulp, while the juices drain out for jelly. You can mail order them from a canning supply place-though a well equiped hardware store may have them- that's where I got mine. A chinois is expensive, but multipurpose. Up to you.
This is what you do:
In cold water, wash about 4 pounds of the least ripe apples you can find. Remove stems, but do not peel or core them. Cut them in quarters, and put them in a big heavy pan. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook for about 45 minutes, until very soft. Pour, water and all, into jelly bag over a large bowl. Press on the top a bit, to release some juice, but don't mash it vigorously. Let it drain through until you're sure you have pretty much all of the juices. It should measure a little over a quart.
Line a colander with cheesecloth, and pour the juices through again. Combine them with the rest of the ingredients in a non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil, and skim off the foam as it collects on top. Boil for about 20 minutes, until it reaches 212F on a candy thermometer, or jells when dropped in a little blob onto a cool saucer. Pour into sterilized 1 cup canning jars, and seal with 2 piece lids. Cool, and test for boingers, refrigerating any jar that doesn't seal properly, to use first.
Each of these jars will be the right amount to make preserves from about 3 pounds of a low pectin fruit- for example, pears, or canteloupe. Or, of course, you could just enjoy your lovely, clean tasting apple jelly. If you reheat a bit, and pour it thinly over the fruit on a tart, or on a fruit garnish on top of a cake the top of a cake, it will go shiny when it cools, and look very pro-pastryish.
I'm looking forward to using my 4 jars for some other preserves.
This is my entry, BTW, in this month's Sugar High Friday, on preserving, at Delicious Days. If you click on the jar photo, you can see my little overtly Marthaesque label. My imaginary jam company is called "Wildlife Preserves." In my mind.