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Making jams, marmalades, preserves and conserves
Jams, marmalades, preserves and conserves are fruit products preserved by sugar. These products differ in gel consistency, ingredients and how the fruit is prepared. They are easy to make at home.
- Jams are made from crushed or ground fruit and usually have a thick consistency due to high pectin content.
- Marmalade is a jelly with pieces of fruit suspended in it. Citrus peel and juice are frequently the basis of marmalade.
- Preserves contain whole fruit or small pieces of fruit in a thick sugar syrup.
- Conserves are jams made from a mixture of fruits. They usually contain citrus fruit, nuts and raisins.
Ingredients and their roles
Fruit gives the product its special flavor and provides pectin for thickening.
Pectin provides thickening or gel formation.
- All fruits contain some pectin.
- Apples, crabapples, gooseberries, some plums, highbush cranberries and citrus peel contain large amounts of pectin.
- Fruits like blueberries, strawberries, cherries or huckleberries contain little pectin. You can make thicker products with these fruits by combining them with fruit rich in pectin or with powdered or liquid pectin.
Acid must be present to form gel in marmalades and thickening in jams, preserves and conserves.
- For fruits lacking in natural acid, like strawberries, recipes call for lemon juice or other citrus fruit.
- Commercial pectin products contain organic acids that increase the acid content of fruits.
Sugar aids in gel formation, develops flavor by adding sweetness, and acts as a preservative.
- Corn syrup or honey can replace half of the sugar in a recipe.
- Use light colored, mild-flavored honey; too much honey can overpower the fruit flavor.
Watch our 5-minute presentation on jam and jelly basics
Because of high sugar content, jams, marmalades, preserves and conserves are mainly a source of calories. One level tablespoon of these products contains 55 to 70 calories and should be used sparingly by people concerned about controlling their weight or sugar intake.
Canning jams, marmalades, preserves and conserves
Equipment needed for canning
- Large, flat bottom kettles (6-8 quart size).
- Wooden spoons and metal spoons.
- Jelly or candy thermometer.
- Standard canning jars with two-piece lids.
- Boiling water bath canner.
Filling jars and heat processing
Proper heat processing seals in food quality and destroys bacteria, yeast and molds that can cause food to spoil. See our home canning basics for more information on canning.
Note: Paraffin wax is no longer recommended for sealing jars. Paraffin does not form a complete seal and does not protect against mold growth and toxin production in jelly. The process is a potential health risk.
- Use standard jars with 2-piece lids.
- Clean the jars and keep them hot.
- Pack product to within ¼ inch of top and seal.
- Heat process in boiling water bath canner according to the chart below.
- Count time from when water returns to boil after putting the jars in the water.
Processing time in a boiling water canner for jams and jellies
Jar size: Half or quarter pints
- Elevation: 0-1000 feet | Processing time: 5 minutes.
- Elevation: 1001-2000 feet | Processing time: 6 minutes.
- Elevation: 2001-3000 feet | Processing time: 7 minutes.
Jar size: Pints
- Elevation: 0-1000 feet | Processing time: 10 minutes.
- Elevation: 1001-2000 feet | Processing time: 11 minutes.
- Elevation: 2001-3000 feet | Processing time: 12 minutes.
Preparing with or without added pectin
The two main methods for preparing jams, marmalades, preserves and conserves are by cooking fruit and sugar either:
- With no added pectin.
- With added pectin.
No added pectin
Jams, preserves, conserves and marmalades made without added pectin:
- Require longer cooking.
- Have a slightly different flavor from those with added pectin.
- They also yield a less finished product.
- The product is done when the temperature reaches 220–222 degrees F.
When using powdered or liquid pectin, be sure to follow the directions that come with the pectin product. The order of combining ingredients depends on the type of pectin used.
Successful preparation of pectin-added jams, marmalades, preserves and conserves depends on accurate timing. Begin counting time when the mixture reaches a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.
Freezer or refrigerator jam does not require cooking the fruit.
The jam is done when 2 big drops slide together and form a sheet that hangs from the edge of the spoon.
Making Freezer Jam
Raspberries, strawberries and blackberries work well in uncooked freezer jam recipes. Uncooked jams must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. They'll last for several weeks in the refrigerator and up to a year in the freezer. Once you open the container, keep refrigerated and use the jam within 2-3 weeks. If you keep them at room temperature, they will mold or ferment in a short time.
Prepare your fruit
- Sort and wash fully ripe fruit. Drain.
- Remove caps and stems from berries and crush.
- If you use frozen fruit, these first steps have already been done.
- If you froze the fruit yourself with sugar added: You should have labeled the container with how much fruit and sugar you added before freezing. Subtract that amount of sugar from what is called for in the freezer jam recipe.
Follow the instructions on the powdered pectin package or use this basic recipe.
Uncooked jam with powdered pectin recipe
- 2 cups crushed berries (about 1-1/2 quarts of berries).
- 4 cups sugar.
- 1 package powdered pectin.
- 1 cup cold water.
To make the jam:
- Add 2 cups of prepared fruit to a large mixing bowl.
- Add the sugar and mix well.
- Let the mixture stand for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Dissolve powdered pectin in 1 cup cold water in a saucepan.
- Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute.
- Add pectin solution to the fruit and sugar mixture.
- Stir vigorously for 2-3 minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved and no longer grainy.
Put the jam into containers and freeze:
- Pour the jam into clean freezer containers or canning jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. (Plastic freezer containers with tight-fitting lids work well for storing freezer jams and jellies.)
- Cover the containers and let stand for 24 hours, or until the jam has set and become firm.
- Freeze containers.
- This quantity makes about 5 or 6 half-pint jars or freezer containers.
Freezer jam is less firm than cooked jam but has more of a fresh-fruit taste.
To use jam:
- When jam comes out of the freezer, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
- If the jam is too firm, you can soften it by stirring. If it tends to separate, stirring will blend it again.
- If freezer jam is too soft, bring the jam to a boil in a saucepan for 1 minute and it will thicken as it cools.
Low-sugar jam: If you want to reduce the amount of sugar, use a modified low- or no-sugar pectin that allows you to do so. Follow the pectin package directions carefully.
Follow these tips to create successful jams and jellies from frozen fruit or juice:
- The best frozen fruits for jams or jellies are blueberries, red and black currants, gooseberries and rhubarb.
- Before freezing fruit, measure the fruit and label the container. Many fruits collapse as they thaw and may create an inaccurate measure.
- Jams and jellies from frozen fruit and juice are better if no sugar is added to the fruit and juice before freezing.
- When freezing fruit for jelly or jams, use 1/4 under-ripe and 3/4 ripe fruit.
- Thaw frozen fruit in the refrigerator until only a few ice crystals remain. Follow directions for the type of jam you are making and follow the recommended proportions of fruit (measured before freezing), pectin and sugar.
When making jelly from frozen juice, thaw frozen juice in the refrigerator overnight. Measure juice and use it immediately in recommended proportions with sugar and pectin.
Reviewed in 2018