The Hands-on Summer Guide to Making Jam and Jelly

Much of my jam making knowledge was passed down to me from my maternal grandmother, who preserved her jams the old way, with a layer of paraffin wax over the top of the jam to keep it fresh.  Opening jam and splitting the wax cap with a butter knife to get at the jam underneath still is a moment of pleasant reminiscence for me, but for my own endeavours, I prefer to work with sterilized mason jars.  Mason jar jam lasts longer, and I often make more jam than I can give away in one season.  I am gradually building up a stockpile of jams and jellies that I can use for holiday gift giving and house warming parties ad infinitum.   

Jam making is a universe unto itself, but for people looking to get into it, I have a few ideas and hints to act as preliminary stepping-stones for their own preserving adventures.  To begin with, I make three kinds of jam:

jam and jelly - foam and cold plate

1: Jam is a preserve made with some kind of fruit, pectin, and sugar. The jam has chunks of fruit in it, and has a loose, but not watery, consistency.  Pectin is a substance found naturally in the cell walls of fruits that, when boiled enough, acts as a congealing agent that allows jams to set.  There are commercial pectin packs available on the market that offer a concentrated hit of pectin, but often just adding apple peels and lemon peels to the jam and boiling it down will be enough.  Some amount of experimentation (and lachrymose brooding over pots of too solid or too loose end product) is going to be required.  Strawberry or raspberry jam, for example, may set with very little pectin required, but peach jam may require more.  When I make cranberry sauce (which I consider to be a jam), I use no extra pectin because a looser consistency is better.

jam and jelly - raspberry etc


This is a raspberry, apple, loomi, and ginger jam.  The loomi, as you will recall from my article on spices (here) is a sundried black lime.  It gives this jam a slight hint in the aftertaste of Mediterranean citrus.  I wanted to make something that would be delicious but also a little puzzling; something that a person would think about for a few minutes after they tasted it.

2: Jelly is a translucent and slightly solid preserve made from the liquid of the fruit (or whatever you choose to jelly).  Whereas jam is made simply from boiling everything in a pot, with jelly the solids are strained away and the juice is kept.  To make good jelly, a lot more pectin is required because pure liquid needs more incentive to solidify.  The amount of pectin must be just right, though.  As I see it, a jam can be removed from the jar with a knife, but a jelly always comes out with a spoon. Jelly’s elegance derives from the way the spoon breaks a small portion of the skin without disturbing the rest of the contents.  Jelly also has a broader application than jam.  Jam is strictly an on-toast affair, but jellies—particularly pepper jellies and mint jellies—can be served with meats or cheeses.

jam and jelly - the sun shineth through my jelly

Image: This is a jalapeño, lime, and cilantro jelly set in Viognier wine.  This one turned out rather nicely.  The first taste is the lime and cilantro, very sweetly on the tongue.  After about ten seconds (I timed it) the peppers start to sink in and the spice takes over.  I wanted it to be a delicious time bomb for the mouth.  The Mexican theme might suggest that this jelly should be eaten with meat, but I believe it could also compliment a plate of cheese and crackers set out for guests.

3: Marmalade is a jelly that contains the peels of citrus fruit.  The most famous kind is made with Seville oranges, but any kind of citrus can do the job.  Marmalade is bitter in flavour and also requires the most boiling and attention.  Last year I made a gargantuan batch of lime marmalade, but this year I haven’t gotten around to it.  There are also a number of other sweet preserves, of course, that I haven’t yet explored; chutney, for example, but we will have to leave those for another time.

jam and jelly - spicy jelly stuff

Some short tips:


1: A good way to clean berries and fruits is to soak them for 15-20 minutes in a bath of one part white vinegar to four parts water.  This applies for cooking as well as preserving.  This method is very effective at removing mould, dirt, wax, and pesticide.  It will make your fruits and veggies last longer and taste better.  Rinse them in water after, obviously, or they will taste like vinegar.

2: Skim.  While you are making jam and jelly, skim the foam that appears on the top of the boiling pot.  This will make the jams clearer in appearance.  This is especially important for jelly, as it gives it that translucent glow.

3: Keep a small plate in the freezer while you make the jam.  To test if the jam is setting, scoop a little from the pot and put it on the frozen plate.  If it sets on the plate then it is ready.

4: Clean the rims of your jars with a damp rag after you put the jam in, but before you put on the lid.  This will ensure that there is a proper seal when the jars come of out the canning bath.  If you hear that telltale pop as the jar closes, then you know you’ve done a good job!

Written By:

Born and raised in the mysterious East (by which I mean Ontario and Quebec, not Asia), Adam migrated out to British Columbia in search of adventure and fortune. He had been at different times a scholar, a musician, a poet and a ...

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