Finally, Jellies, Jams, and Preserves Explained in Plain English

Jams, Jellies and Preserves are all basically the same type of fruit preserve. All three are fruit mixed with sugar and pectin. The difference comes in the form the fruit takes. Jelly is clear and smooth because it is made primarily from the juices of the fruit only. Jam is a bit more chunky as it is made with the pulp of the fruit and preserves uses the whole fruit or large chunks of in a sugar syrup or jam. Because jams and preserves have more fruit in them, they tend to be less solid than Jelly.

Where does Marmalade fit in?

Homemade MarmaladeMarmalade is most similar to jam in that it uses the pulp and rind of the oranges. There are recipes out there for lemon marmalade and lime marmalade and while are similar in process and final product, are not true marmalades. They would better be called jam. The word Marmalade comes from the Portuguese word marmelos, which means quince paste. In many parts of Europe, all jellies and Jams are mistakenly referred to as marmalade while in Britain, it refers to citrus jams only. True Marmalade is only made with bitter Seville Oranges from Spain.

Which one is healthier?

If you are health conscious and still love your fruit spreads, there are some things to be aware of. First, Not all jellies and Jams are equal. As a generality, Jam is the healthier choice because it uses more fruit and less sugar. Break it down further by spending time in the jelly aisle at your local Walmart, and why wouldn’t you, you will find that all brands of jam have different amounts of sugar. If health is an important factor to you you really should be reading labels.

How do you make Jellies and Jams at home?

Step one: Get Berries

I remember berry season at home growing up. My mother had bushes all over the hillside that she would send us to to pick berries. It was a wonder that she ever had enough by the time we made it off the hill with out buckets. I never got an allowance growing up, but during berry season, she would give me a dollar for each quart of berries I picked. Here’s the catch. All of these berry bushes were wild. Mom decided that she would fertilize them in order to get bigger and more fruit. Living on a horse farm, we had an unlimited supply of fertilizer, if you know what I mean. You haven’t lived until you sat in a pile of horseshit in a thorn bush and picked berries while getting eaten alive by flies. Good times.

But I sure didn’t complain when the jelly was done. Slathering homemade goosberry jelly on mom’s fresh bread was like heaven. Today, there are other options for getting berries to make jams and jellies. You can go to a U-Pick place that seem to have sprung up every where, stock up at the farmer’s market, or plant easy to grow fruits like strawberries in the garden.

Step two: Clean the fruit.

Brries for jelly and jamAll of the leaves and stems need to be removed from the fruits before you can turn them into jelly or jam. This can be a time consuming process, but doesn’t require a lot of thought. You can easily pick through a bowl of blackberries while watching an episode of The Walking dead.

Once all of the stems and leaves are gone. Wash the fruit thoroughly in the sink and allow them to dry in a colander.

Step three: Prepare to extract the juice

Large fruits should be cut into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Smaller fruits should be crushed to start the flow of juice. Place the fruits into a large flat bottomed kettle or pot and begin to cook. Water will need to be added to pull the juice from the fruit. Skins and cores of fruits should be included in the pot as well as this will add pectin and help the gelling process.

Step four: The juice

Strain the contents of the kettle or pot through a jelly bag or double up some cheese cloth. Allow the juice from the boiled fruit to drain through. Do not squeeze the fruit in the bag or cloth. It should be left to drain naturally.

Step five: Add Sugar, Pectin, and Boil

Place the juice back into the pot. Add Sugar and pectin if the recipe calls for it. At this point, you need to follow the specific recipe for the amount of time to boil the juice. Especially if adding pectin. Overcooking and under cooking will have adverse effects on your jelly. It may not set and become a runny mess.

Can I just use fruit juices from the supermarket to make Jelly?

Yes, you can use fruit juices from the supermarket to make jelly, but not as it comes directly from the bottle. Juices from the bottle lack pectin. Pectin is a special starch that is derived from the fruit that makes the jelly gel. You will need to buy a box or packet of pectin while you are at the store. It is usually sold in the baking aisle.

What is the difference between Pectin and Gelatin

Pectin is a plant-based starch that comes from the cell walls of the fruit. It is the substance that gives the cell it’s structure. When this starch and the acid from the sugars combine at high temperatures, they form the gel in jellies and jams. Gelatin is made from animal by-products usually derived from the skin, ligaments and bones of pigs and cows. A product called ‘agar agar’ is sometimes packaged as gelatin, but is a vegan product made from seaweed.

Making Jellies and Jams without Pectin

You can make jams and jellies without adding pectin, but most fruits are going to contain at least some pectin. So, If you are looking to make a batch of jelly without running to the store for a pack of pectin, it’s going to come down to the fruits you choose. Using a mix of 3 to 1 ripened to unripened fruits, you should have enough pectin for the jelly or jam to firm up.

Can I use Gelatin to make Jelly and Jam?

What I have read suggests that you can substitute Gelatin for pectin only in certain recipes, like refrigerator jam that will be eaten very quickly. It should not be used in jams, jellies of preserves that are going to be canned. Because Gelatin is an animal based product, it contains enzymes that produce an environment that can promote bacteria growth. It’s best to stay away from gelatin when making jams and jellies for canning.

Is it possible to can your own Jellies and Jams?

Absolutely! Jams and Jellies are perfect for canning and because of the acid content, are a great option for the beginning canner. Fruits with high acid content like Jams, Jellies and pickles can be canned very easily with a water bath canner without much concern of bacteria growth or spoilage.

What equipment do you need to can Jelly?

You only need the very basic equipment to can Jellies and Jams. The biggest piece of kit will be the canner pot and rack. These are the large pots that you need to submerge your jars in in order to get them to seal. They are available on Amazon for your stove top or you can get a stand alone electric canner. Aside from that, you will need jars, lids, lid rings, a canning funnel and various spoons.

Berries and fruits aren’t the only thing that can be turned into jelly.

I walked into a BBQ place in Little Rock Arkansas years ago and ordered cornbread to go with m rack of ribs. The cornbread came out in a little cast-iron skilled and on the plate next to it was a small crock of jelly. This wasn’t your ordinary jelly. It was jalapeno jelly and it was divine! I had never heard of such a thing. It haunted me for days. The spicy sweetness danced on the cornbread. I finally broke down and had to search for a recipe. Pepper jelly is now one of my staples when it comes to eating cornbread. Here are some other jellies that you may not have heard of:

  • Corn Cob Jelly
  • Honeysuckle Jelly
  • Dandelion Jelly
  • Watermelon Jelly
  • Pumpkin Jam

Making Jellies and Jams with artificial sweetener like Stevia or Splenda

You can make Jelly or Jam with artificial sweetener, but you run into one big problem. The sugar is gone. While this is good it you are watching your sugar intake or are a diabetic, this is not particularly good for the Jelly. The thing that makes jell gel is the sugar bonding with the pectin at high temperatures. No sugar – No Gel or not completely. You may get enough sugar from the juice itself to make something the consistency of pancake syrup. And it would do great for just that or maybe mixing into yogurt or drizzling over ice cream.

Another option would be to look for pectin that works in low/no sugar recipes. Pomona’s Universal Pectin is a brand that comes to mind. I am sure there are others out there.

Jelly, jam, preserves, marmalade, and compotes are a great way to use up the fruits (and other non-fruits) from your harvest. Whats more, they taste great for breakfast with a fresh slice of homemade bread, or on your perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch. What makes it taste even better is the fact that you made it with your own hands. Jams, jellies and preserves are the taste of satisfaction in a job well-done.

Eric C

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