Mysteries of Jelly Making: How Calcium Water Works

Author and blogger Kathy Harrison

I’m a curious cook. I like to understand the why’s of what I’m doing in the kitchen so when I began using Pomona’s Universal Pectin I wondered about why this product was so different from the powdered pectins I had used for years.

Fortunately for me, the Pomona Company is located just a few miles from my home in Western Massachusetts and I was easily able to access the information I was looking for. (Might I just add that the customer service was excellent?) They got right back to me and answered all of my probing questions without acting as though it was an imposition or questioning my motives. Here’s what I learned.

Lehman’s 100% fruit juice comes in 8 delicious varieties. Available at or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

There are two packets in each box of Universal Pectin. The larger packet is the pectin. It contains pure, citrus derived pectin and nothing else. Because it has nothing else added it needs an activator in order to thicken fruit or fruit juice. The activator is the calcium. It’s actually monocalcium phosphate powder, two naturally derived minerals (calcium and phosphate) that are also used as a yeast nutrient, an acidulant (adding acid) in baking powder and as a nutritional supplement. Both powders are shelf stable and have indefinite shelf lives. Some berries have calcium as part of their make-up and don’t require the added calcium powder but there is no easy way to determine which fruit will have enough and which won’t so the directions just say to add it every time.

Enamelware water-bath canner. Available at or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

Because you are water-bath canning the jelly you must add lemon juice as well to insure enough acidity is present to make a safe, preserved product. The nice thing about using Pomona’s Universal Pectin is that the fruit is relying on the pectin and the minerals to make a jell. This means you can use much less sugar than is necessary with other pectins. You can also use honey, agave nectar or stevia. I’m all for using less sugar. It’s the fruit I want to taste.

For those of you who have not used this method of jelly and jam making, let me tell you the process. First, you need to make the calcium water. Mix ½ teaspoon calcium powder into ½ cup water and mix well. The mixture will be clear. It lasts in the refrigerator for several months so you don’t need to worry about tossing any out or using it all at once.

Basic Canning Kit available at or Lehman’s in Kidron.

Get your jars, lids and canner ready to go. You need four cups of fruit or fruit juice. Put that in the pan and add the calcium water. How much will depend on the fruit. Add the lemon juice and stir well. Measure your sweetener into a bowl and add the powdered pectin and stir well to combine. Bring the fruit mixture to a boil and after a minute or two add the sweetener and pectin. I like to add it slowly so lumps don’t develop. Mix it well and bring it all to a boil again. It will take a minute or two for all the pectin to dissolve. Once it reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and you’re done. Just fill your hot jars and process for ten minutes in a water bath.

Choose the best jar size for the project! Lehman’s carries all sizes, plus standard and wide-mouth jars. Visit Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio, or click to

I’ve been using Pomona’s exclusively for a few years now and I have never had a failed batch of jelly or jam. Here are a few ways to use the pectin that I hadn’t considered. The pure pectin will thicken yogurt. A smaller amount mixed into fruit juice will make a delicious syrup and if you add more pectin you can make a fruit candy. The directions can be found on the Pomona’s Universal Pectin website. I love to write about this stuff but I need to wrap this up for now as I have a bushel of peaches to put up and I’m thinking some canned peach syrup will make someone a dandy Christmas gift.

Editor’s Note: Although Pamona Universal Pectin isn’t currently available at Lehman’s, you can find easy-to-use pectins that will suit your needs.

Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.