Making Jam and Jelly


Making jam and jelly provides an opportunity to be creative. You can try new combinations of fruit, nuts, coconut or raisins to meet your family’s taste preferences, or provide a product with known ingredients for allergy sufferers. Jam and jelly can be made with low or no sugar so diabetics or others who want to lower their sugar intake can enjoy them.

Making jam and jelly is also a great way to use fruits and berries which can’t be used for other types of preserving. Too small, large fruits, fruits with bruises or soft spots removed, or over ripe or under ripe fruit can be used for jam and jelly making.

Understanding the Terms

Jam, jelly, preserves, conserves and marmalades describe fruit products, which are jelled or thickened. They rely on fruit, pectin, acid and sugar in correct proportions for the gelling action. They differ only in consistency.

Jelly is made by cooking fruit juice with sugar. It should be clear and firm enough to hold its shape, yet tender enough to quiver when turned out on a plate.

Jam is made from whole, cut or crushed fruit boiled with sugar to make a thick spread. It holds its shape but is less firm than jelly.

Freezer jam is made from uncooked fruit that is sweetened and mixed with commercial pectin. It must be stored in the freezer or in the refrigerator if used within three weeks.

Sugarless jam and jelly are made from fruit sweetened with an artificial sweetener along with a gelling agent such as gelatin or pectin. These jams and jellies are made in small quantities, stored in the refrigerator and must be used within 4 to 6 weeks.

Four ingredients are required in making jam or jelly & fruit, acid, pectin and sugar. They must be present in the correct ratio for a successful product.

Key Ingredients


Fruit provides the characteristic flavour of jams and jellies. A combination of 75 percent ripe and 25 percent under ripe fruit is the recommended ratio. Under ripe fruit provides part of the pectin and acid required for gelling.

You don’t have to make jam and jelly all at once. Fruit and berries can be frozen for later use in jam and jelly or prepared juice or pulp can be frozen in measured amounts with quantities marked on the container.

The recipe will indicate whether fruit should be chopped, crushed or left whole. Fruits must be washed thoroughly and drained. Caps, stems blossom ends and any damaged spots must be removed. Depending on the type of fruit it may also need to be pitted, cored or peeled. Follow the recipe.


Acid is required to enable the pectin to set the jam or jelly and convert some of the sugar into invert sugar to prevent the jam or jelly from crystallizing. If there is not enough acid, a gel will not form. If there is too much, the jelly will weep or lose liquid.

Blueberries, elderberries, peaches, pears and most overripe fruits are low in acid.

Fruits low in acid can be combined with those high in acid or lemon juice or citric acid can be added to recipes to raise the acid level. Add 15 mL (1 tbsp) to 250 mL (1 cup) of prepared juice.


Pectin is a natural carbohydrate found in fruits, which in combination with sugar and acid, causes jam or jelly to set. It forms in the fruit during ripening. Pectin content is highest in under ripe fruit and decreases as the fruit becomes fully ripe.

Pectin is concentrated just under the skin and around the core of fruits. That is why recipes use skins and cores in preparing fruit for juicing and pulping. Fruits high in pectin and acid are sour apples, sour cherries, crabapples, cranberries, red and black currants, gooseberries, grapes, lemons and damson plums.

Fruits that always need added pectin and acid are apricots, peaches, raspberries, pears, strawberries, sweet cherries, rhubarb, blueberries and prune plums.

Quick cooking activates the natural pectin in fruit. Boiling too long or too slowly can reduce the gelling property of natural pectin found in fruit. This can occur while extracting juice or pulp or when the juice or pulp is boiled with sugar.

Pectin can be made from sour apples, crabapples, red currants or gooseberries at home.

Commercial pectin is extracted from citrus fruits and sold as a fine powder or liquid. The concentration of liquid and powdered pectin is different so they cannot be interchanged in a recipe. Follow directions and proportions exactly for each specific type of pectin.

Many prefer to use commercial pectin because fully ripe fruit can be used, cooking time is shorter, the length of cooking time is set, and the jelly obtained from a batch of fruit is larger. However because the amount of sugar is increased when commercial pectin is used the jams and jellies produced do not often have the intense rich flavour that traditional recipes do.

Pectin Test

To determine if a fruit juice has enough pectin for jelly, do a pectin test. Stir together 5 mL (1 tsp) fruit juice with 15 mL (1 tbsp) of non-methyl alcohol. (This is a poisonous mixture, so do not taste it and destroy it immediately after the test.)

If the juice forms one big clot, which can be picked up with a fork without breaking, it has sufficient pectin. If the juice is low in pectin, several small clots will form.

If juice is low in pectin:

  • Mix the fruit juice with another fruit juice high in pectin(i.e.crabapple/chokecherry).
  • Boil the juice to concentrate the pectin. This is tricky because the pectin can break down with a loss of gelling power as well as flavour. Test for pectin every minute. Once the clot forms, add only 175 mL (3/4 cup) sugar for every 250 mL (1 cup) juice.
  • Use commercial pectin.
  • Make homemade pectin.
    Combine 1 kg (2 lbs) sliced unpeeled crabapples and 750 mL (3 cups) water. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes, adding water as needed. Drain and press through moistened cheesecloth. To clear, heat the juice and pour through a moistened jelly bag. If a good pectin clot is obtained, bring the juice to a boil and can or freeze the pectin for later use. If a clot doesn’t form, simmer gently to reduce the water content of the juice. 1000 mL (4 cups) homemade pectin replaces 85 mL (3 ounces) of commercial liquid pectin.


Sugar is the other necessary ingredient. It works with the pectin to form a gel and adds flavour. It is also necessary as a preservative. It keeps the fruit mixture from spoiling as long as the sugar concentration is 55 percent of the total weight.

Sugar is the most common sweetener used, although honey, syrup and artificial sweeteners are also used. Brown sugar and molasses are not used as their flavour overpowers the fruit flavour. If fruit juice contains enough pectin, use 175 mL (3/4 cup) to 250 mL (I cup) sugar to 250 mL (I cup) of juice.

Jelly Procedure

  • Select a mixture of slightly under ripe and ripe fruit. Avoid fruits low in pectin and acid because so many ingredients have to be added for a gel to form that the fruit flavour is lost – pears, peaches and blueberries are examples.
  • Clean the fruit by removing caps, stems and blossoms. Do not remove peel, cores or pits since they will be discarded with the pulp. Usually the fruit is almost covered with water. Berries are mashed one layer at a time and heated quickly so the juice is released. 500 grams (I pound) of fruit will make 250 mL (I cup) juice.
  • To extract juice, strain the cooked fruit through a jelly bag. Squeezing the bag results in more juice but it is cloudy. If you don’t squeeze the bag there is less juice, but it is clear. Refrigerate or freeze the juice if you plan to use it later.
  • Wash the jelly bag thoroughly as pulp and diluted juice in the fabric will spoil. If not washed thoroughly a musty, bag will give an off flavour to the next lot of jelly juice.
  • Make your own jelly bag by using an old, clean pillow slip or sew one from a piece of unbleached muslin or flannel. The simplest method is to place 4 layers of damp cheesecloth inside a colander set in a bowl. The bag should be moistened so the juice flows through freely.
  • Work with the exact amounts of fruit juice called for in the recipe. Measure the juice into a large flat-bottomed preserving kettle. Cook only 1.5 -2 L(6-8 cups) of juice at a time. Use a large deep pot to avoid boil over because the fruit juice and sugar mixture bubble quite high during cooking. A wide pot speeds evaporation of the water and speeds the gelling process. The pot should be aluminum, stainless steel or enamel as copper, iron or tin kettles may discolor the fruit.
  • Add the required amount of sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Place pot over high heat and heat mixture. Boil rapidly for 3 -15 minutes or until jelly tests done. When gel point is reached, remove from heat and skim to remove foam. If the recipe calls for warmed sugar, warm by placing it in a shallow pan in a 150° C (250° F) oven for 10 minutes.

Jelly Tests

Temperature Test

Before cooking the jelly, take the temperature of boiling water with a jelly, candy or deep-fat thermometer. Using the same thermometer, cook the jelly mixture to a temperature of 6°C (8°F) higher than the boiling point of water. Be sure to check the boiling point of water each time jelly is made.

Sheet Test

Dip a cold metal spoon into the boiling fruit mixture. Raise the spoon above the steam and turn it so the mixture runs off the side of the spoon into the kettle. When 2 drops run together and drip into the kettle at the same time, the jelly stage has been reached.

As soon as the jelly stage has been reached, take the jelly off the heat and skim.

  • Skim the jelly to remove the foam which traps air during cooking. If left in the jelly, it will add to the headspace in the jar and jeopardize the keeping ability of the jelly. Foam left on the jelly also spoils the texture and appearance of the finished product.
  • Ladle jelly into sterilized jelly jars to within 0.5 cm (1/4 in) of the top. Wipe the rim to remove excess jelly and cap with a metal lid on which the sealing compound has been activated. Jelly jars may be sterilized by placing them in a large pot of water and boiling them for 15 minutes. Lids are prepared for capping by following the manufacturer’s directions – usually heating in hot water for three to five minutes.
  • Jelly jars or 250 mL (1/2 pint) jars are recommended as they allow the ingredients to be brought up to a high temperature during processing which ensures a good seal.
  • Paraffin wax is no longer considered a safe method of sealing jam and jelly. All jams and jellies should be processed in a boiling water bath. Jelly jars are processed for 5 minutes. The water should come up over the jars by 5 cm (2 inches). When the processing time is complete, the jars should be removed with a jar lifter. Processing in a boiling water bath drives all the air out of the headspace and destroys microorganisms that could be on the rim or cap. Because the internal temperature of the ingredients is raised, a vacuum is created as the jar cools.

What to do if Your Jelly Doesn’t Set

Anyone who has made jelly has probably had a failure & the jelly doesn’t set. Before you give up hope, give it time. It can take up to 48 hours or longer for jelly to gel. You can use runny jelly on pancakes, waffles or ice cream, or you can remake the jelly following the instructions below exactly.

Jam and Jelly Remakes

Pectin manufacturers and food preservation experts have developed these “fix its” for problem jams and jellies. With any remake project, follow the directions and recook a 250 mL (1 cup) trial portion. If it sets, then proceed to redo the entire batch, keeping in mind the guideline of cooking no more than 2 L (8 cups) at any one time. REMEMBER powdered pectin and liquid pectin are not interchangeable. You must use the same type of pectin that you used in the initial recipe.

    • To remake cooked jam or jelly using powdered pectin measure 15 mL (1 tbsp) water and 7 mL (11/2 tsp) powdered pectin for each 250 mL (1 cup) product into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in jam or jelly. Add 25 mL (2 tbsp) sugar per 250 mL (1 cup) of jam or jelly being recooked. Return to the heat and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil rapidly for 30 seconds. Remove from heat, skim off foam, fill hot sterilized jars, seal and process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.
    • To remake cooked jelly or jam using liquid pectin for each 250 mL (1 cup) jelly or jam, measure and combine 45 mL (3 tbsp) sugar, 7 mL (11 /2 tsp) bottled lemon juice and 7 mL ( 11/2 tsp) liquid pectin. Bring jam or jelly to a boil stirring constantly. Add the sugar, lemon juice and pectin combination. Return to full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil rapidly one minute. Remove from heat, fill jars and process as per original recipe instructions.
    • To remake freezer jam and jelly with liquid pectin, measure jam or jelly in a bowl. Add 45 mL (3 tbsp) sugar and 7 mL (11/2 tsp) lemon juice for each measured 250 mL (1 cup) product. Stir approximately three minutes until sugar is dissolved. Add 7 mL (11/2 tsp) liquid pectin per each 250 mL (1 cup) product. Stir three more minutes until well blended. Pour into freezer containers and cover with tight lids. Let stand in refrigerator until set, then transfer to freezer.
    • To remake uncooked jelly or jam with powdered pectin measure jam or jelly to be remade. Work with 2 L (8 cups) at a time. Mix jam or jelly with 25 mL (2 tbsp) sugar for each 250 mL (1 cup) of jam or jelly. Stir well until dissolved about 3 minutes. Measure 15 mL (1 tbsp) water and 7 mL (1/1/2 tsp) powdered pectin for each 250 mL (1 cup) of jelly or jam. Place in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until powdered pectin is dissolved. Add to the sugar and fruit mixture and stir until blended (about 2 to 3 minutes) pour into clean, sterilized containers. Cover with tight lids. Let stand in the refrigerator until set. Store in the freezer.
  • To remake cooked jam or jelly without added pectin, for each 1 L (4 cups) jam or jelly add 25 mL (2 tbsp) bottled lemon juice. Heat to boiling and boil jam or jelly hard 3 to 4 minutes, then test for signs of gelling. Try the sheet test from a cold spoon or remove the kettle from the heat and chill a little in the freezer. If it shows signs of gelling, boil until it tests done. Remove from heat, skim, pour into sterilized jars, seal and process in a boiling water bath the recommended length of time.

Saskatoon and Other Jams

A good deal of work and expense go into making jam and jelly. Success is important!

In the freezer, spoilage organisms, yeast, molds and bacteria are controlled by a lowered temperature. In making jams and jellies the microorganisms are controlled by heat, by adding acid and reducing the amount of water, by boiling the jam itself, and by ensuring that the product and containers are sterile and completely sealed.

Organize Beforehand!

  • Locate a boiling water bath canner. If you purchase one, make sure that it is deep enough to permit 1 – 2 inches of water over the top of quart jars, plus room for the water to boil vigorously. This will permit use of the canner in processing fruit in quart jars.
  • Locate and wash and rinse jam jars. Inspect them carefully and discard any that are cracked or chipped.
  • Make a decision about purchasing jar closures. The two-piece metal lids are recommended because they can be completely sealed before immersion in boiling water. The flat disc is intended for one-time use only, but the screw band may be used repeatedly. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. The metal disk expands during sterilization and in cooling snaps back into a position with an audible pop.

Glass tops with rubber rings and metal bands are not recommended because the seal is not completed until jars are lifted from the final sterilization, permitting possible contamination. Persons wishing to use these are advised to simply fill the jam jars, seal tightly and store the cooled jam in the freezer where the very low temperature will prevent spoilage. This option depends on the availability of freezer space.

For the Novice

  • Organize. Assemble everything you need – potholders, canner, tongs for grasping jars, jar closures.
  • Wash and rinse jars.
  • Make up the jam in a large pot in which it can boil without splattering.
  • Put water in the canner to heat to boiling while preparing the jam.
  • Immerse jars in the canner for sterilization (boiling for 10 minutes).
  • Prepare lid and jar rings as directed.
  • Remove the jars, as needed, one at a time.
  • Ladle jam into jars, leaving a .5 cm (1/4 inch) headspace. Wipe spills from glass tops. &
  • Seal according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If using metal discs and rings, process the hot filled and sealed jars in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Start timing when the water returns to the boil.
  • Remove jars from the canner. Place on a wooden board. Avoid placing on a cold surface to prevent breakage.

The Exception

Jam in jars with rubber rings, glass covers, metal bands may be sealed, cooled immediately and stored in the freezer.

Saskatoon Spread

Have fun with food. Make this spread to use on toast instead of jam. You get the same wonderful flavour but fewer calories. This is a good way to use small saskatoons and over ripe saskatoon berries. Quick and easy!

4 cups diced rhubarb 1000 mL or 1L
1/2 cup water 125 mL
4 cups saskatoons 1 L
2 cups sugar 500 mL
  • Sterilize 4 small jars and lids by boiling them in water for 15 minutes.
  • Measure rhubarb and water into a large heavy saucepan.
  • Bring rhubarb to a boil and let it simmer until soft.
  • Meanwhile, crush the saskatoons with a potato masher in another pot.
  • Stir the crushed saskatoons into the rhubarb, and let the mixture return to boiling.
  • Add sugar slowly to the boiling fruit.
  • Boil the mixture, slowly, uncovered with frequent stirring, until it is thick enough to please you.
  • Test the consistency by dipping out a spoonful and letting it cool.
  • Fill the sterilized jars and seal them. Cool the spread.
  • Store in the freezer. Yield: 5 -250 mL (8 oz) jars.

This spread may be made with rhubarb and blueberries, and either fresh or frozen fruit can be used. As a prairie dweller I prefer saskatoons.

By Betty Burwell