Blueberry Preserves {no pectin recipe}

blueberry preserves no pectin recipeIt seems to be another amazing year for blueberries here in the northeast. The bushes are packed with berries, and they are sweet and juicy. Even if you aren’t blessed to live next door to the family farm where 20 gargantuan blueberry bushes reside, you are still going to find great prices at the U-pick places, as well as at Farmer’s Markets.

We eat a LOT of blueberries when they are ripening, and we get a considerable number of them into the freezer for use in baking through the winter months. [Find out how easy it is to freeze blueberries]

I think our favorite way to eat them though, is in preserves. In January, nothing reminds you of the hot, high days of summer quite the same way as a spoonful of these preserves on your toast. It reminds you that January doesn’t last forever, and that in just a few months, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh berries, warm from the sun. And maybe helps you cope with the fact that once you finish this piece of toast, you have to go out and shovel a foot of snow off the walk. George R. R. Martin aside, summer is coming, even in January. Blueberry Preserves will help you remember that.

But, before you can enjoy that moment, you have to make the preserves, right? There are a number of ways to do this, and a search online will yield a ton of recipes. A lot of those recipes use pectin though, and I am not crazy about pectin. For a long time, I didn’t make jams and preserves, because they use so much sugar, which just didn’t seem like a healthy thing to be feeding my family. Then I realized that pectin was the problem.

Using pectin means you have to use a higher proportion of sugar to ensure the chemical action required to thicken the fruit will take place. Nearly all commercial jams and jellies use pectin. Sugar is cheaper than fruit, products containing pectin don’t have to cook as long, and the final yield is higher because you aren’t cooking off as much moisture. All fine if your eye is more on the bottom line than it is on flavor and texture and cutting back on stuff like sugar. Though, this is not exactly a sugar free preserve. It still uses a lot; just not as much as it would using pectin. I’m not making any health claims here – it’s a treat, not a food group.

Not using pectin means the longer cooking time is going to give you more concentrated, intense fruit flavor, and the sugar will have time to take on almost caramel-y undertones as it cooks, so you end up with a depth of flavor that you will never get using pectin. You do have to watch it more closely, and as I mentioned above, and your yield is going to be a little less, because you’ll be cooking more of the moisture from the berries.preparing blueberry preservesThis is a canned preserve, but don’t let that intimidate you. Preserves are canned using the water bath method which is the easiest canning there is. And this preserve can be frozen if canning is not your thing.

If you are interested in canning, this YouTube video give you a very basic idea of how easy it is to can preserves: Tips for Water-Bath Canning. I don’t have a dedicated water bath canner though. I have been through several of them, and they rust out, and take up a lot of room. I use a pan similar to this one, which can also be used for a lot of other things, and will never rust out on me. I use a round cake cooling rack in the bottom to keep the jars from clattering around – just make sure that it is the right size to sit on the bottom of your pan. Finally, this is a good set of canning tools, many of which can be used for other kitchen tasks though the year.

Blueberry Preserves {no pectin recipe}
Author:
Recipe type: Food preservation - Jam, Jelly, Preserve
Serves: 9 half pint jars
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Ingredients
  • 10 cups of fresh blueberries
  • 6 cups of granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon zest
  • ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
Instructions
  1. This is a canned preserve, so it's important to make sure your jars and lids are sterilized. If you plan to freeze yours, then you can skip over this first part.
  2. To begin, fill a large stockpot half full of water [you are going to want the water to be over the tops of your jars by a couple inches, so make sure you have enough water in there for that] and set over a medium burner. Make sure the rack is in the bottom.
  3. Carefully put in the jars and lids. Once this comes up to a boil, cover and turn off heat. You are going to turn it back on high for about the last 10 minutes of the preserve cooking time, to sterilize the jars and have the water hot enough to can the final product.
  4. Wash blueberries and pick over, removing any debris and spoiled berries.
  5. Place about half of the berries in a 5 to 8 quart heavy pot. Crush well with a potato masher.
  6. Stir in the other half of the berries, the sugar, salt and lemon zest.
  7. Place the pot over a medium flame, and cover with a lid. Stir every few minutes.
  8. Once the mixture comes up to a simmer or low boil, remove the lid, and continue to stir every 5 minutes, or more often if they start to stick at all.
  9. Place a small plate in the freezer – this will be to test the doneness of the preserves.
  10. Cook about 25 minutes, and test a small amount on the cold plate you put in the freezer. After sitting on the plate for a minute or so, the preserves should look pretty thick, and should not run very freely if you tip the plate. If the mixture is still too thin, keep cooking, and check again about every 5 minutes, returning the plate to the freezer after each check. How long it takes is going to depend largely on the moisture content of the berries you are using. This batch took about 40 minutes total.
  11. At the 30 minute mark, return your large pot of water and jars to a boil.
  12. When the preserves are thick enough, stir in the lemon juice and cook an additional 5 minutes.
  13. Carefully remove the jars from the boiling water in the large pot, and set upright on a towel on your work surface. Keep the heat on under the pot.
  14. Ladle the preserves into the jars – the big funnel in the canning tools set helps keep the edges of the jars clean. Jams don’t need very much headspace above the surface of the jam itself – about ¼ inch between the top of the jam and the rim of the jar is enough room. Any more than that leaves too much chance for bacteria to grow, so fill them right up to that level.
  15. Wipe the edges of the jars clean with a damp cloth, and put on the lids and rings. Don’t screw the rings down super tight – just until they resist a bit is fine. If you have less than enough to fill the final jar, just put that one in the fridge to eat up first.
  16. Carefully place the covered jars back in the large pot of water - there are jar tongs in the set of tools, or use regular tongs to gently set the jars upright on the bottom.
  17. Once the water is back up to a full boil, set the timer for 10 minutes. When the time is up, carefully remove the jars to a wooden cutting board, or a dry towel on the counter - don't use same towel as before since it might be damp and cooler and could break the hot jars.
  18. You will probably start to hear the centers of the lids popping down pretty quickly.
  19. Cool completely and check to make sure all of the centers of the lids have popped down. Refrigerate any jars with a dome still on the lid, and eat up first. When the jars are fully cool, you can remove the rings if you like, though I leave them on.
  20. Store in a fairly cool spot, and when opening the jars, inspect the contents, discarding any jars with mold or questionable appearance. Preserves will keep very well for up a year, or even longer, though the quality may suffer somewhat after a year.

jar of preservesThere is something really special about preserves you have canned yourself. You feel all “Little House on the Prairie” as you open a fresh jar, even if you are in the middle of town. I get an especial kick out of giving a jar of them as a gift – “Here’s a little piece of something I think is important and pretty cool – hope you like it!”blueberry preserves on fresh breadAnd of course, they will.

 

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112 thoughts on “Blueberry Preserves {no pectin recipe}

  1. Just thought you might be interested to know about Pomona’s Pectin. It’s different from other pectins because its jelling power is activated by calcium rather than by sugar. The calcium comes in the box with the pectin. This means you can make a fantastic tasting blueberry jam with 8 cups of whole berries (4 cups mashed) and 1 cup of sugar and very little cooking time. Pomona’s is also unique because it is just pure pectin — it contains no sugar or preservatives. You can find it in health food stores across the country.

  2. Great post! I’ve yet to do much in the way of preserves for all sorts of reasons, the inclusion of pectin being one of them. But I love the recipe and method you’ve developed. The instructions are quite detailed and clear, too. Wonderful post – thanks so much.

  3. I’m so glad I found this, because I have a bunch of blueberries and I don’t feel like going to the store for the pectin. Thank you!

  4. I had never used pectin in my jams and once I tried it hoping it would make them thicken more and it ruined the taste for me so happily I never used it again.

    • Regina – yes they can. The amount of sugar you need might vary a bit, you can just experiment until you get the amount of sweetness you like. Remember the lemon juice you add at the end is going to cut the sweetness a little. Good luck – I hope you will come back and leave a comment about your version!

    • I have done this recipe for raspberry, strawberries and blackberries and even a mix of berries, I even skipped the lemon zest. as a variation to make it thicker I added 1/2 tbsp. chia seeds, its a great vegan friendly way to make jam

    • The jam is not smooth – no whole berries, but you can definitely tell there are berries in it. It would just have a blander flavor without the zest, though the lemon juice in this is supposed to be fresh, so you can just zest the lemons before you squeeze them – I am not sure that bottled lemon juice would work.

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  6. I made this today and it will be the recipe of choice for all future canning! I added this to my vanilla yogurt and dipped my peanut butter cookie in it. Will be making blueberry milkshakes with it too! We didn’t even have that good of a crop of this year due to excessive rain. I wasn’t going to even attempt to do anything with them, but hubby went ahead and froze what we had. I was so tired of not having room in my freezer, I pulled them all out and decided to face my fears of canning them. I’m so thankful that I found your recipe and wonderful encouraging teaching techniques! You’ve blessed me in many ways today!

    • Hi Pam – though i haven’t done this myself, I am certain it will work with frozen ones – I think it might take a little longer cooking time, but I would just watch it and test as per the recipe to get the texture you want. I hope you will come back and let me know how it turns out and any changes you might have made.

  7. Marianne Grace

    I have never given my jam a water bath just turned the jars upside down let them stay like that for 12 hrs. made sure the lids were tied and didn’t pop up when tested. the jam tasted great but am I doing it very wrong this way ? I don’t have a canning pot either..

    • Hi Marriane – this is a tricky question for a food blogger. While I know plenty of people who can jam in the way that you describe, I just can’t recommend it for fear that someone will do it that way and have it go bad. There are so many variables that could come into play, and I have no way of guessing what they might be, so I go the safe route, both in practice and in what I relate to my readers.

      Having said that, if you have made your jam without a water bath, and it has come out well for you and you are comfortable do it that way, then I would not tell you to discontinue that.

      On the other hand, any pan that is deep enough so that whatever jars you use will be covered by at least an inch of water, and that has a lid, can be used for a waterbath. It just offers a slight bit more safety, but we each do what we are comfortable with. I have made jam the way you currently do, but I’ve switched to a waterbath. It only take a couple minute, and I have that little bit more assurance that nothing is going to go awry.

      Thanks so much for the question – I truly welcome these discussions!

  8. I was so excited to have found a recipe that didn’t use pectin and couldn’t wait to try it. The local fruit market had blueberries for super cheap and I ended up with 4.5 lbs – 14 cups of blueberries. Apparently, my math skills need work because I used almost 9 cups of sugar and I goofed this up right out of the gate. My batch is way too sweet. As in all you can taste is sugar. 🙁

    I ended up needing to simmer it for an hour and a half before it thickened enough. The blueberries were ripe and juicy and I’m sure the excess sugar also contributed to the extra time. I was about to scrap the entire batch in tears but it finally started thickening. It canned up nicely though, and I’m hoping no one notices how super sweet it is, and if they do – they’ll be too polite to mention it.

    • Having posted that, I’m thinking of trying to fix the batch by getting more blueberries, crushing and simmering them enough to soften, and then adding what I already canned to the pot, and then canning it again. What do you think? I’ve never done that but figure I’ve got nothing to lose but new seals for the jars.

      • Beth, I think this is a good idea. I would simmer the fresh berries separately for awhile, and then mix in the jam from the previous batch. And don’t feel too badly – I have made similar mistakes myself, because even recipe developers don’t always read the direction accurately! Best of luck, and I hope you come back to tell us how you got on with your fix.

  9. This is my first time making and I made a boo boo. I added the lemon juice before cooking. How does this affect the process?

      • Hi Sally – adding the lemon near the end does a couple things – it helps set the pectin a little better, and the flavor is brighter if it doesn’t cook so long. Putting it in at the beginning is not at all a disaster – you will still have really tasty preserves!

        • Thanks. I had to cook for 1 hour and 20 minutes. It set well, so far, cooling. I ended up with 6 1/2 pints. Was hoping for the 9.
          But, I am proud of myself as I have never made preserves! 🙂

          • It’s fun, isn’t it? I always feel like I really did something when I can! Glad you are happy with it and thanks so much for coming back to tell me how it went for you 🙂

    • thanks for asking this question Sally! I did the same thing. I also doubled the recipe & apparently the cooking time, yikes…

  10. Thanks for this post. I’m always interested in recipes and techniques that promote the flavor of the main ingredient (blueberries in this case) instead of sugar. I like to say… “don’t substitute sugar for real flavor”. I will be trying this recipe.

  11. I want to make blueberry jelly- I have already crushed my berries, cooked them with water, and strained the juice (which tastes pretty good, tart bc I have not added sugar). I had an idea in the middle of the night that it might be interesting to add whole blueberries to the jelly – so not quite jam, jelly, or preserves. Can you advise when would be the best time in the cooking process to put the whole berries in. I want them to cook all the way through, but not get too mushy. Or is that totally crazy? Also I will be using stevia instead of sugar for dietary reasons and will that affect the thickening?

    • Hi Elaina – I think that part of your idea would work ok, though for me, if I am just going to put whole berries back in, I don’t think I would go to the trouble of making the syrup from berries in the first place. Preserves aren’t the healthiest food exactly, if you are watching your sweets, but at least with whole berries, you are getting some fiber. As to when you might add them, I can’t really guess that, because there are a lot of variables that I can’t account for. I avoid giving advice about methods that I have not yet tried myself.

      I can tell you that adding stevia as the sweetener is unlikely to give you a good result – a large part of the thickening that occurs in a preserve is a result of the cooking down of sugars – both the natural occurring ones in the fruit and the processed sugar that you add per the recipe. You might want to google recipes that use stevia instead of sugar.

  12. Just made this tonight, and it’s delicious! A bit more tart than i would have thought, but is that due to the lemon juice? Still great, though- and I got 10 half pint jars, too!

    • Hi Alissa – it’s supposed to be a little tart, and blueberries can vary in their sweetness, so one batch might be a little more tart. If you find that it is consistently too tart for you, add a bit more sugar. You need the lemon juice, both for the flavor and it does help with the setting as well.

  13. Thanks for a great and easy recipe. I have 2 blueberry bushes that produce so much each year I always wanted to try canning. This works. And this is easy, fun, and delicious. I love the texture and flavor…just sweet blueberry. I will definitely do it again.

  14. Do you have a natural sugar alternative? I have stopped using refined sugar and have stuck with maple syrup and honey lately. My body just likes it better. Any idea how much of either would work?

    • Hi Tiffany – I haven’t tried either of these sweeteners myself in this recipe, so I can’t really guess. Honey is generally twice as sweet as granulated sugar, and maple syrup is not quite as sweet as sugar, but even that doesn’t address the “setting up” action of either of them. I would advise searching for recipes that specifically use those sweeteners, rather than trying to modify this one.

      • I’ve just my first of blueberry jam w/out pectin, I used half sugar & half splenda, had to cook longer. Thanks for your recipe and everyone’s comments. BG

  15. I’ve just made my first blueberry jam w/out pectin, I used half sugar & half splenda, had to cook longer. Had 8 cups blueberries & 4 cup sugar mixture, made little over 3 pints. Thanks for your recipe and everyone’s comments. BG

  16. I used this recipe today. It took about 50 mins to thicken. Tastes good, but it only produced 4 and a half 1/2 pint jars! Any idea why? I was disappointed to go through all the hassle of canning for so little! Maybe I reduced for too long?

    • I am not sure Jessica – I double checked and the amount is correct, and it looks as though some other commenters have gotten the same amount from a batch. Are you sure your jars were 1/2 pints, which are also called jelly jars?

  17. I made this today and it was a flop. I got it to the point where it had the right performance on the cold plate. But when the batch cooled it was like taffy. Much too stiff and much too sweet to use as a spread. What could have gone wrong?

    • Frank, I am sorry that it didn’t work, but I am not sure why that would be. I have made many batches and never had a problem, and as you can see from the comments, others have had success as well. Most of my recipe failures have been because I measured wrong or didn’t read the directions correctly – it happens. Other than that, there is no way for me to know.

      All is not lost – I would cook some more berries and mix in the batch that is too sweet and too thick to get it where you want it to be.

      Again – so sorry that it didn’t work for you.

      • Elgog Partynipple

        The taffy texture is a result of cooking at too high a temperature. The jam should be simmered at 220 degrees. You should adjust your heat, using a candy thermometer to measure, so that the jelly maintains this temp. It’s related to how sugar reacts to heat. The higher the heat sugar gets to, the more stiff the sugar becomes. Maintaining 220 degrees allows the water to evaporate while keeping the sugar in the “Jelly” stage of texture. Chances are your sugar got to about 320 degrees or the soft ball stage. This is the taffy texture you spoke of. One you start using sugar, the rules for candy making shoud be observed. Cooking is chemistry and there are rules. Turn the heat down next time and use a thermometer. My meat thermometer goes to 450 degrees so I use that to monitor temp. when I cook with sugar.

        Elgog Partynipple

  18. Thanks for the comment. I’m beginning to think I cooked it too high and long at the end after it looked OK on the cool plate. So maybe the sugar caramelized. I’ll see if I can recover it by adding some more cooked berries.

    • It should work, Frank. Making a preserve without pectin is not as exact a thing as it is with pectin – there are more variables at work. Last year I ended up re-canning a whole batch because it came out too runny, so I had to empty out all the jars and cook it down more.

      • I decided I had cooked too much of the fruit water out of the mixture. So I slowly reheated it, added water a tablespoon at a time until it fully recovered. I’ll start enjoying it at breakfast first thing in the morning.

  19. This jam sounds really tasty! I have a bunch of frozen blueberries that I picked, and I was wondering if I could use those instead of the fresh ones?

    • Yes Bob, frozen will work – I’m not sure if they will take as long, since frozen berries are likely to break down more quickly, but just keep testing it till it is the right consistency. For me though, I think I would just go pick more fresh berries, since they are still in season and very reasonably priced.

  20. I’m so excited to try this! I saw some of the other comments asking about refined sugar alternatives – I plan to use coconut sugar. I’ll check back and post results!

  21. I was really interested in this recipe because I want to reduce my family’s sugar intake too! I compared it to my current go-to recipe that comes with the Sure-Jell Low Sugar pectin (pink box) that I have used for years. Their recipe has a ratio of 6.5 cups fruit to 4.5 cups sugar whereas this recipe is 10 cups fruit to 6 cups sugar. My math tells me that there is about 1/2 cup more sugar in the recipe I use compared to this one. That’s roughly 1 tablespoon more per jar, so I guess you have to decide convenience/time/flavor factors when deciding whether to use pectin.

    • This is a great recipe. I swapped lime juice for lemon juice, and it is absolutely delicious. Many thanks for sharing – with the bumper blueberry crop this year at our place in the Catskills, I’ll be making a few more batches I suspect…

  22. Hello,

    Like everyone else, I want to thank you for your recipe. I have quite a few pounds of blueberries in my freezer and right at 10 pounds fresh sitting in my fridge. I liked your recipe because it was specifically for a recipe without pectin. My preserves turned out great and I’ll be blending some up with softened cream cheese to spread on my bagel for breakfast.

    This was my first time making a jelly or jam of any type and I love the fact that your recipe is straightforward. I’ll definitely be using this again in the future.

    Sincerely,

    Debbie Andrews

  23. I just goofed up. I didn’t read carefully and I put the lemon juice/ zest in at the begining with the blueberries. Is this batch ruined?!

  24. Just made this and I only plan to let cool then store the cans in freezer. How long should I let them cool before I put them in freezer?

    • Sorry Patrick – I wasn’t around last evening. I am sure by now you have put them in the freezer – they would just need to be at room temperature to put them in. Hold you enjoy the preserves!

  25. Hi there! I just wanted to let you know that if you are processing in a water bath for ten minutes or more, you do not have to sterilize your jars first, the ten minutes is enough to kill any bad stuff…you can check with your local cooperative extension, but they will tell you the same thing. Hot soapy water is just fine for pre-washing. Sterilizing is only necessary for processing times under ten minutes, like many pickles.

    Also! You can add a couple of apple cores to the mix for a little help in setting quicker…they have natural pectin and add a sweet touch of flavor. I pull out the seeds, but then just add two or three cores to the bubbling goodness…this is a very common method in Europe for jams.

    Lastly, you can have a lot of fun adding different things to the sugar…this batch I put spruce tips in the food processor with the sugar and ground them in and had some sprucy blueberry jam, wonderful! Tomorrow I may try it with lavender…

    Thank you for the recipe!!

    • Hi Sarah – thanks for your thoughts. I think most people prefer to err on the side of caution, and as someone who might be advising people who have never canned anything before, I prefer to recommend the absolute safest methods. An experienced canner like yourself will do it however they already know, of course, but newbies are very cautious about the idea of canning, and sterilizing the jars and lids makes them feel more comfortable. And, since I just do it right in the water that I’m heating for the canner anyway, it is not any more trouble.

      Thanks again, and your additions sound intriguing!

  26. I will be trying out your recipe over the weekend. I’ve been looking for a good preserve recipe that doesn’t use pectin. However, I’m only making a very small batch of blueberry as I am much more interested to see if it will work out as well with huckleberries. As there are a lot of similarities between the two berries I believe it should turn out fine. I have two gallons of huckleberries that I will be making into preserves and can’t wait to get started tomorrow. I’ll come back and let you know how they both turn out. 🙂

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    • Hi again Christina – cooked a little too long maybe? Glad they taste good – if you want to fix it, as you open each jar, heat the preserves up in a saucepan, and add some juice – apple will work – to thin it back down a bit.

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  29. Thank you for the recipe! I ended up using a couple cups of cherries because my kids ate more of my blueberries than I had realized! As a distracted chef I added the lemon juice along with all the other ingredients, oops! Do you know what the reprecutions will be? Thank you! ♡

    • Hi Amy – cherries sound like a great idea! It won’t make much difference about the lemon juice – you add it at the end partly to keep the flavors clearer, and it does help with the preserves setting up, but others have said it came out fine when they made the same mistake.

  30. I just made my first batch using your recipe. I’ve never canned before although I use to help my mom when I was a kid. This was an awesome way for me to learn on my own. Thank you so much! I’m addicted now!!

  31. Great recipe! I went a hair lighter on the lemon juice and sugar and added just a touch of cinnamon (1/4 tsp) which adds a little hint of something extra. it doesn’t taste like cinnamon but a wee bit more complex.

    Thanks for posting this!

  32. Thank you for this recipe, I have just started on a half bushel of fresh picked this AM Blueberries. First batch done and may I say, the best use of blueberries (besides wine) in a recipe to date. I used half lime, half lemon and mine did take a bit longer to cook down due to moisture content. Anyway- thank you much again for sharing, it’s a keeper.

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    • Hi Dana – I have not used bottled, because I think it tastes pretty awful, so from a purely taste perspective, I would say go and buy some fresh lemons. If that is not an option for you, I think you can get by with bottled, but again, the flavor will not be the same. You do need that acidity to help the natural pectin in the fruit though, so don’t skip it altogether.

    • Hi Kurtis – there is no sub for the sugar in this recipe. The sugar is what turns the berries into a jam, and the result is meant to be consumed by the teaspoonful [on a slice of toast for example]. There are other recipes on the internet for jams using artificial sweeteners, but I don’t use those kinds of ingredients – a Google search will turn up those recipes for you.

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  36. Sorry but will not be pinning this or saving it. WAY TOO MANY pop up ads and crap to weed through to even get to this to tell you I am not saving it. Good lord. Get rid of the ads.

  37. Just wanted to let you know that I cut the sugar in half but kept everything else the same. The preserves came out 100% better! Six cups of sugar is too much; it’s almost inedible.

    Changing the amount of sugar affects the yield, and I found that 10 cups of blueberries, 3 cups of sugar, the lemon zest and the lemon juice (I use two whole lemons), and the salt yields seven (7) half-pint / 8 oz. jars.

  38. Way out in the north Atlantic on our island of Newfoundland we picked the berries today as they are now just ripe enough. The recipe worked out perfectly. I am making 60 bottles for a family wedding for wedding favours. Thanks Donalyn!

  39. Wonderful post!! I will definitely be trying this! I’ve never canned but thinking of joining a CSA this year and have a feeling I’ll have some extra fruits and such so I’m going to give it a shot!

  40. I totally agree with one of your commenters about Pomona’s Pectin. I will use nothing else for canning fruit, jams, etc. 1/2 cup of sugar, or honey or ANY sugar substitute to 4 cups of mashed fruit. Makes me shudder when I read 6 cups of sugar and long, long, long cooking times.

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