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Tips for making jams and jellies

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Bates County, University of Missouri Extension; Adapted by Jessica Kovarik, RD, LD, former Extension Associate


A lot of work goes in to picking and preparing fruit to make jellied products, so you want to be sure that they are going to turn out the way you expected. When you are making jelly, you have a high quality product if the end result is clear and firm enough to hold its shape when spooned out of the container.


Pectin is used to help the fruit gel. There is naturally some pectin in fruit. Interestingly, there is more pectin in fruit that is just under-ripe so the recommendation for making jellied products without added pectin is to use 3/4 fully ripe fruit and 1/4 slightly under-ripe fruit. Some fruits that you can use to make jelly with no added pectin include tart apples, sour plums, concord grapes, gooseberries and crabapples. If you are using pectin in your recipe, follow the recipe exactly. You cannot substitute liquid pectin for dry or vice-versa.


When making jelly, be sure to use a large heavy metal pot as jams and jellies tend to boil over. The heavy metal allows for more even heat distribution.


When making jelly and jam, be sure to follow the recipe. For example, although it may be tempting to double the recipe, this is not recommended. A doubled recipe does not always gel properly and it would then be necessary to boil the jelly longer, which can can cause a loss of flavor, darkening and toughening of the jelly because the pectin in the fruit juice is destroyed.


If you made a batch of jelly and you're unhappy with the consistency, there are some general recommendations for changing the consistency of the end product of the next batch.


  • If your first batch was too firm, try using 1/4 to 1/2 cup more of the fruit or juice in the next batch. If the first batch was too soft, you can decrease the fruit or juice by 1/4 to 1/2 cup.
  • If you are using a recipe with no added pectin and want to make a softer jelly, decrease the cooking time. You could also increase the cooking time to make a firmer product.
  • Sometimes there is not enough acid in the fruit for jellying to occur. Lemon juice can be added to prevent this problem.
  • A darker than normal color of jelly can be caused by overcooking the sugar and juice or by storing jelly too long or at too high a temperature.
  • Jellied products are supposed to sit for 12 hours after they are made. Moving them too soon can cause the end product to be too soft.


Another common problem with jelly is the formation of crystals. This can be caused by excess sugar in the recipe. A tool for testing the amount of sugar needed for jelly is a jelmeter. A jelmeter is a small glass tube that is open at both ends. The rate of flow of the juice through the tube is a measure of the jellying power of the juice. Readings on the tube show how much sugar should be used. Crystals sometimes form when undissolved sugar sticks to the sides of the pot when the jelly is cooking. To prevent these crystals, use a damp cloth to wipe away all crystals from the side of the pan before filling the jars. Crystals form when jelly is cooked too slowly or too long. Cook at a rapid boil and be sure to remove from heat as soon as jellying point is reached. Another type of crystal is a tartrate crystal found in grape juice. To help prevent tartrate crystals in grape jelly, extract the juice from the grapes and refrigerate overnight. Strain the juice to remove the crystals that have settled before making the jelly.


Some people want to make jelly with products other than sugar. To make a lower calorie spread, there are special pectins made just for that purpose. Recipes are usually included in the box.


Corn syrup or honey can be substituted for part of the sugar in recipes but be aware that too much can mask the flavor of the fruit. When using corn syrup or honey, recipes with no added pectin may require longer boiling and those that have pectin added may need to have less liquid. A general rule of thumb is to leave out one to two tablespoons of juice for every 1/4 cup of honey or corn syrup in the recipe.


Up to two cups of honey can replace two cups of sugar in products made with added pectin. Honey can replace half of the sugar in recipes using no added pectin. Corn syrup can replace 1/4 of the sugar in jams and jellies without added pectin and can replace up to 1/2 of the sugar when powdered pectin is used.


One last thing to remember is that putting the lid on the jar does not seal the deal. All jams and jellies need to be processed in sterilized jars in a boiling water bath for five minutes to assure maximum food safety.


Jelly should be stored in a cool place and used within a year.


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Last update: Wednesday, July 22, 2015