Canning & Preserving: Jellies and Jams
Jelly and jams are not difficult to make. In order to ensure success, however, you must follow the instructions exactly, measure very carefully, and never adjust a recipe. In order for the pectin to do its job and get things gelling, everything must be in just the right proportions. Most basic recipes will call for 3 to 4 cups of juice – but you will be allowed to add up to 1/2 cup of water to bring your juice level up to par, if needed. The other main ingredient is sugar, and lots of it. Many recipes actually call for more sugar than fruit juice. Some recipes will call for a few spoonfuls of lemon juice. Finally, there is the pectin, which will cause the gelling action.Every box of pectin you purchase will contain an instruction sheet that will walk you through making the jam or jelly of your choice. You should always follow them, as they are geared for that particular manufacturer’s pectin.
- Hot water bath canner, with rack. This will be used to process your filled jars. I know many recipes will not require you to process your jars, and old-timers will tell you it’s not necessary, but I recommend that you process them for 10 minutes in boiling water anyway, for safety’s sake and for a good seal.
- Jelly jars. You’ll need 6 to 8 regular size jars per batch. These come in many varieties, shapes and sizes. There is no advantage of one over another, so choose jars that suit your liking. You may want fancy jars for gift-giving, or tiny jars if you don’t eat your jelly quickly. If you use tiny jars, you may need at least a dozen of them. Scrub your jars clean in lots of soap and hot water, and set aside to dry.
- Jar rings and lids. These can be purchased by the boxful. Be sure you choose them to match your jars, either small mouth or wide mouth. (Most common will be small mouth jars for jelly). Wash the rings, and set aside with the jars. The lids will be simmered in hot water when you are ready to start your canning.
- Large saucepan for cooking your jelly. I use a double handled sauce pan that is about 12 inches across, and 8 inches deep. Mine is teflon lined, but that is my choice and it is not essential.
- Small saucepan. This is used to gently simmer your jar lids in water. This helps the rubber seal become flexible and ready to seal to your jars after they are filled. Any everyday saucepan will do, and it will not be stained or harmed during this process.
- Stirring Spoon. You’ll be stirring your jelly almost constantly, so choose a large, sturdy spoon.
- Ladle. Once the jelly has finished cooking, you’ll need this to transfer it into your jars.
- Funnel. Get one that has an opening the same size as your jars, which will make it easy to ladle in the jelly.
- Old kitchen towel. Use one that you don’t mind getting berry stains on. This will be used to set your jars on to cool.
- Hot pads. These are to set your saucepans on once you have cooked your jelly, as it is much easier to use them from your countertop than to try to ladle your jelly and grab your lids from the stove.
- Timer. You’ll be asked to boil your jelly for an exact amount of time. Be sure to do this precisely.
Make sure all your equipment is clean, ready and handy. Now you are ready to make your jelly or jam using the instructions provided in your pectin packet!
Anxious to make some jelly, but don’t have any fruit yet? Make some grape jelly, using grape juice concentrate. Just mix up a frozen container of concentrate per the instructions, and use it as your juice. I’ve done this for years, since grape jelly is a favorite in our house.
Finally – don’t be afraid to try. If for some reason (and this happens occasionally even to the best of us) your jelly does not set up firmly, just smile at your family and say “I have made homemade pancake syrup!” As long as the jar has sealed, it’s safe to eat, and does indeed make a good syrup or ice cream topping. I recently made a batch of dandelion jelly and it did not set well, since this particular jelly is difficult to bring to a boil without it foaming all over the stove. We call it our ‘runny honey’, since it tastes like it, and we use it as a honey substitute.