Put a smile on your face with the goodness of homemade jams and jellies

Making jelly and jam from fresh produce is an easy food preservation method which requires only fruit, sugar, pectin, and a few basic kitchen tools to get started. Read Extension's Guide to Making Jams and Jellies.

How to process jams and jellies

Use a boiling-water canner process:

  • Sterilize canning jars in boiling water.
  • Pour hot jelly immediately into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace
  • Wipe rims of jars with dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids
  • Process the filled, lidded jars in a boiling water canner
  • Carefully remove jars from boiling water; let cool
  • Remove screw bands after about 12 to 24 hours
  • Label and date product
  • Store product in a dark, dry, cool location.

Diagnose your sticky problem

Formation of crystals: The cause is likely excess sugar, undissolved sugar sticking to sides of the saucepot, tartrate crystals in grape juice, or the mixture was cooked too slowly or too long. To prevent:

  • Use a tested recipe and measure ingredients precisely.
  • Dissolve all sugar as jelly cooks (If necessary, wipe side of pan free of crystals with damp cloth before filling jars).
  • Extract grape juice and allow tartrate crystals to settle out by refrigerating the juice overnight. Strain juice before making jelly.

Bubbles: The cause is likely that air became trapped in the hot jelly or it could be spoilage. If the bubbles are moving, do not use. To prevent:

  • Remove foam from jelly or jam before filling jars. Ladle or pour jelly quickly into jar. Do not allow jelly or jam to start gelling before jars are filled.
  • Follow recommended methods for applying lids and processing. (See mold or fermentation below)

Too soft: The cause may be overcooking the fruit to extract juice, using too much water to extract the juice, undercooking (causing an insufficient concentration of sugar), making too large of a batch at one time, moving product too soon, or insufficient time before using. To prevent:

  • Avoid overcooking. This lowers the jellying capacity of pectin.
  • Use only the amount of water suggested in the instructions.
  • Follow recommended proportions.
  • Cook rapidly to jellying point.
  • Lemon juice is sometimes added if the fruit is acid deficient.
  • Use only 4 to 6 cups of juice in each batch of jelly.
  • Do not move jellied products for at least 12 hours. Some fruits take up to 2 weeks to set-up completely; plum jelly and jellies or jams made from bottled juices may take the longer time.

Syneresis or weeping: This is likely caused by excess acid in the juice that makes pectin unstable or the storage place is too warm/the temperature fluctuated. To prevent:

  • Maintain proper acidity of juice.
  • Store processed jars in a cool, dark, and dry place. Refrigerate after opening.

Darker than normal color: This is likely caused by overcooking the sugar and juice, storing too long, or storing at too high of a temperature. To prevent:

  • Avoid long boiling. Make smaller batches and cook rapidly.
  • Store processed jars in a cool, dark, and dry place; use within one year. Refrigerate after opening.

Cloudy: This is likely the result of green fruit (starch), imperfect straining of homemade juice, allowing the jelly or jam to stand before it was poured into jars, or pouring too slowly. To prevent:

  • Use firm, ripe fruit or slightly under-ripe fruit.
  • Do not squeeze juice; let it drip through jelly bag.
  • Pour into jars immediately upon reaching gelling point. Work quickly.

Mold or fermentation (spoilage): The likely cause is yeast and mold growing on jelly, imperfect sealing (common also with paraffin-covered jellies), or improper storage. To prevent:

  • Process in a boiling water canner. Test seal before storing. Pre-sterilize when processed less than 10 minutes in boiling water.
  • Use new flat lids for each jar; make sure there are no flaws. Pre-treat lids per manufacturer’s directions. Use ring bands in good condition: no rust, no dents, no bends. Wipe sealing surface of jar clean after filling, before applying lid.
  • Store processed jars in a dark, dry, cool place. Refrigerate after opening.

Stiff or tough: The cause is likely from overcooking, too much pectin in fruit, or too little sugar (which requires excessive cooking). To prevent:

  • Cook jelly mixture to a temperature 8°F higher than the boiling point of water or until it “sheets” from a spoon.
  • Use ripe fruit. Decrease amount if using commercial pectin.
  • When pectin is not added, use ¾ cup sugar to 1 cup juice for most fruits.

APPLE JELLY (PECTIN-FREE)

Yields about 4 or 5 half-pint jars.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups apple juice (about 3 pounds apples and 3 cups water)
  • 2 tablespoons strained lemon juice, if desired
  • 3 cups sugar

To prepare juice

  • Select about one-fourth under-ripe and three-fourths fully ripe tart apples.
  • Sort, wash, and remove stem and blossom ends; do not pare or core.
  • Cut apples into small pieces. Add water, cover, and bring to a boil on high heat.
  • Reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until apples are soft.
  • Extract juice.

To make jelly

  • Measure apple juice into a kettle.
  • Add lemon juice and sugar and stir well.
  • Boil over high heat to 8°F above the boiling point of water, or until jelly mixture sheets from a spoon.
  • Remove from heat; skim off foam quickly.
  • Follow standard canning and processing directions.

BLUEBERRY SPICE JAM

Yield: about 4 or 5 half-pint jars.

Ingredients

  • 2-½ pints fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg or cinnamon
  • 5-½ cups sugar
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 box pectin

To make jam

  • Wash and thoroughly crush blueberries, one layer at a time, in a saucepan.
  • Add lemon juice, spice, and water.
  • Stir in the pectin and bring mixture to a full, rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently.
  • Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, quickly skim off foam, and fill sterile jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace.
  • Follow standard canning and processing directions

GRAPE JELLY

Yields about 8 or 9 half-pint jars.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups grape juice (3-⅓ pounds concord grapes and 1 cup water)
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 7 cups sugar

To prepare juice

  • Sort, wash, and remove stem from fully ripe grapes.
  • Crush grapes. Add water, cover, and bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Extract juice. Prevent formation of tartrate crystals in the jelly by letting juice stand in a cool place overnight; strain through two thicknesses of damp cheesecloth to remove crystals that have formed.

To make jelly

  • Measure juice into a kettle.
  • Add pectin and stir well.
  • Place on high heat, stirring constantly. Bring quickly to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.
  • Add sugar, continue stirring, and heat again to a full rolling boil.
  • Boil hard for 1 minute; remove from heat; skim off foam quickly.
  • Follow standard canning and processing directions.

Source: National Center for Home Food Preservation. University of Georgia Extension.
Recipes adapted from: How to Make Jellies, Jams and Preserves at Home. Home and Garden Bulletin No. 56. Extension Service, United States Department of Agriculture. 1982 reprint. National Center for Home Food Preservation, June 2005.

STRAWBERRY JAM

Yields about 9 or 10 half-pint jars.
Watch how to can strawberry jam with Mary Liz Wright

 Ingredients

  • 5-½ cups crushed strawberries (about three 1-quart boxes)
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 8 cups sugar

Prepare berries

  • Select fully ripe berries (not overly ripe) for best flavor.
  • Sort, wash, and rinse thoroughly before cooking. Do not soak and drain-off excess water.
  • Remove stems and blossoms before crushing. To make jam:
  • Measure crushed strawberries and place into kettle.
  • Add pectin and stir well. Place on high heat.
  • Stirring constantly, bring quickly to a full boil with bubbles over the entire surface.
  • Add sugar, continue stirring, and heat again to a full bubbling boil. Optional: to decrease the amount of foam that is formed during the cooking process, add ¼ teaspoon butter or margarine.
  • Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  • Remove from heat, and skim off foam.
  • Follow canning and processing directions .

References