Contrary to a 'Jelly Test' which is done at the time the jelly, jam or marmalade is being made, a ' Pectin Test' is done before the other main ingredients in the 'jelling process' have been added, such as sugar and some acidity.
For instance - you can do the Pectin Test as soon as you are done stomping the blackberries. You can't do a Jelly Test then can you?
I shouldn't say that. You really could try a Jelly Test then but you would look like a goofy nimrod trying to get the juice to 'Sheet Off' your spoon at that time.
For a mixture to jell you need pectin, sugar, acidity and heat.
If the 4 essentials are present ( either naturally occuring or added ) then it is just a matter of getting the correct amount of each to make your blackberry juice into jelly.
You can then 'cook it down' until the juice mixture, on a tilted spoon, 'sheets off' instead of drips.
Without acid, or without sugar, or without pectin, ( either naturally occuring or added ) you can cook it down until the cows come home and it will not jell.
One of the nice things to know before getting started making jellies, jams and marmalades is whether or not there is enough pectin in the mix so that your efforts at the stove, stirring, and stirring, and stirring, and stirring is not wasted.
You can determine sufficient pectin content easily with an Alcohol Pectin Test or Epsom Salt Pectin Test.
This tutorial covers the Alcohol Pectin Test. Stay tuned for the other at some future date.
Why do an Alcohol Pectin Test? Why not simply dip a spoon in the jelly mix and see if the stuff 'sheets off' when the spoon is tilted?
Because if you are using a fruit or berry juice that has naturally low pectin content you can spend and inordinate amount of time at the stove waiting for the consistency of your mix to reach the jelly stage. You want to know ahead of time that there is enough pectin in the mix so that when the boiling point is held for one minute that mixture will turn to jelly in your jars rather than remain a syrup.
Also, the Alcohol Pectin Test works great in the normal jelly making process. When checking your juice mixture that you added store bought pectin in do this Alcohol Pectin test to see if your mix has low, medium or high pectin.
You won't have to constantly use a spoon to check if the juice is approaching the jelly stage. Just bring it to a rolling boil, hold it for minute, then put it in jars and seal.
Grain alcohol ( moonshine will do. Or Jim Beam. Indeed, with either the Pectin Testing can be a lot of fun).
( rubbing alcohol works fine - just don't taste the sample. Rubbing alcohol is not meant to be ingested )
Glass dessert dish
Teaspoon or tablespoon ( either will work as long as you are consistent with either )
Fork ( optional )
3. Procedure / technique
When you have processed your fruit or berry juice mixture so that it is what you want to use to make your jelly, jam or marmalade put a teaspoon's worth into the glass dessert bowl.
Here is my Red Crabapple juice which is all strained and ready to be used as Natural Pectin at some later date.
I want to test it to see whether the pectin to water ratio is low, medium or high.
A teaspoon amount from the above pot was put into the glass bowl and allowed to cool off a bit. A couple of minutes will be fine. When no longer hot add a teaspoon of alcohol. Mix it up a bit then let it sit for 5 minutes. After five minutes you can check the consistency to see if any jelling is taking place.
If most of what is in the dessert bowl is juice and just a little has jelled then the ratio of Pectin to Water content is very low ( or said lefthanded - the Water to Pectin content is high ).
The initial test reveals that there is pectin in the mix but there is way too much water.
That is it, Fort Pitt! You just did an Alcohol Pectin Test.
You might not like the results but it is what it is. It could have been a result that shows no jelling took place at all. That would have been worse.
In any case, if you want a higher Pectin to Water ratio then all you need to do is to let the juice simmer - NOT BOIL - until the volume of water decreases.
You want it just hot enough so that there is some constant mist coming off the juice.
After a bit of simmering the Pectin Test was done again, the same way as explained above - a teaspoon of juice, allowed to cool and then a teaspoon of alcohol mixed in. After a 5 minute wait this is the result.
You can see that I have a much better Pectin to Water ratio according to the retest after some simmering.
When you can gather globs onto the tines of a fork and keep them there like shown above, or even better if it's one glob like shown below, then you are creating a juice with a high concentration of pectin.
Here is the third test result after a bit more simmering.
This ratio of Pectin to Water is high. It is what may be wanted, depending on your need.
You can see in the photo that just about every bit of the juice that was mixed with the alcohol has jelled into a glob.
Actually, the little pieces on the bottom of the dessert bowl are pieces of glob that fell off the fork.
If you have been using grain alcohol, like Jim Beam for example for making the Pectin Test, then by all means eat / drink the samples.
Pectin is nutritious and Jim Beam is delicious - not a bad combination.
Every now and then I'll grab my blackberry juice and 100 proof Old Grand Dad and do some serious Pectin Testing.