Fruit jellies are semisolid, preserved mixtures of fruit juice and sugar. Jelly making is a good way to preserve fruit flavors for enjoyment throughout the year. Fruit jelly is a fairly easy-to-prepare product for the beginning canner and may be made at home without much special equipment.
Substances essential for fruit jelly making are fruit flavor, pectin, sugar, acid and water. A pectin gel or jelly forms when a suitable concentration of pectin, sugar, acid, and water is achieved.
The fruit flavor is provided by the fruit juice. For some fruit jelly, a mixture of different fruit juices is used. The fruit juice may also supply some or all of the pectin and acid. Fruit juice is the source of water in jelly.
Fruits and their extracts obtain their jelly forming ability from a group of substances called pectins. Pectin provides the three dimensional structure which results in a jellied product, which is why it is used in jellies and jams.
Pectin is formed from a parent compound, protopectin, during the ripening of fruit and during the cooking of underripe fruit to extract juice. Fully ripe fruits contain less pectin than partially ripe fruits. For this reason, some jelly recipes specify the use of a portion of underripe fruit.
All fruits contain some pectin. Apples, crabapples, gooseberries, some plums, and highbush cranberries usually contain enough pectin to form a pectin gel. Other fruits, such as strawberries, cherries, or blueberries, contain little pectin and can be used for jelly only if:
- Combined with fruit rich in pectin.
- Or combined with commercial pectin products (these methods are described under short boil jelly).
Test for pectin: If jelly is to be made without added pectin, it is a good idea to test the pectin content of the fruit juice with this easy method. Measure 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol into a small glass. Add 1 teaspoon of extracted fruit juice and let stand 2 minutes.
If a good solid mass forms, enough pectin is naturally present in the fruit juice to form a pectin gel. If only a small weak mass forms, there is not enough pectin to form a gel and a commercial pectin should be used in the jelly making. Do not taste this mixture.
A certain level of acidity (below pH 3.5) must be present for a jelly to form. If the fruit juice is not sufficiently acidic, a gel will not form. If too much acid is present, the jelly will lose liquid or weep.
Test of acid: A rough index of the acidity of fruit juice is the juice's tartness. To form a gel, fruit juice should be as tart as a mixture of 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water. If the fruit juice is not this tart, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for each cup of fruit juice.
Commercial pectin products contain organic acids, like fumaric acid, which assure gel formation.
Sugar helps in gel formation, contributes flavor to the jelly, and at the concentration of 55 percent by weight, serves as a preservative. Cane sugar or beet sugar (both sucrose) is the usual source of sugar in jelly or jam. If using special recipes and gelling agents, be sure to follow these methods for best results. See the National Center for Home Food Preservation for reduced sugar spread recipes.
Making the jelly
The following equipment may be needed depending on the method of jelly preparation:
- Large, flat-bottom kettles (6 to 8 quart size)
- Jelly bag and stand
- Jelly or candy thermometer
- Canning jars with two-piece lids
A research study conducted at the University of Minnesota demonstrated that heat processing jelly for five to 15 minutes had no harmful effect on the products. Those tested included ones made with liquid and powdered pectin, as well as traditional no-pectin-added ones. In addition, the heat processing gives a better seal and destroys mold that may be present on the top surface of the product.
Use standard half-pint or pint jars with two-piece lids. Have jars clean and hot. Pack product to within ¼-inch of top and seal. See chart for processing times.
Processing time in a boiling-water canner for jams and jellies
|Jar size||Elevation||Processing time|
|Half or quarter pints||0-1000 feet||5 minutes|
|Half or quarter pints||1001-2000 feet||6 minutes|
|Half or quarter pints||2001-3000 feet||7 minutes|
|Pints||0-1000 feet||10 minutes|
|Pints||1001-2000 feet||11 minutes|
|Pints||2001-3000 feet||12 minutes|
Note: Paraffin is no longer recommended. An incomplete seal with paraffin and the absence of a heat treatment may result in mold growth and toxin production in the jelly. Persons continuing to use the paraffin/no water bath method should be aware of the potential health risk.
The two methods of making jelly follow:
Standard or long boil method: Extracted juice and sugar are boiled long enough to form a gel. This method should be used only for fruits that contain an adequate amount of pectin. It isn't possible to use commercially canned juices because they don't contain sufficient pectin. This type of jelly has a richer flavor than pectin-added jelly. The most difficult part of this method is knowing when the jelly is done.
Short boil or pectin-added jelly: Powdered or liquid pectin, sugar and extracted juice are combined and quickly cooked to make a gel. Use extracted fruit juice from fresh fruit or commercially canned fruit juice. The order of combining ingredients depends on the type of pectin used. When making pectin-added jelly, it is most important to carefully follow the pectin product directions. Pectin-added jelly uses more sugar and gives greater yield than jelly made by the standard method and avoids the need to test for doneness.
Here are the directions for making a jelly by each method. Many recipes for jelly products appear in cookbooks or the leaflets in pectin products. Check any recipe to determine which type it is before starting to prepare the jelly. When making jelly, work in small cooking lots. Don't try to double or triple the recipe. This often results in a very poor quality product.
Standard or long boil
Yield: 1 pound of fruit should give at least 1 cup of good jelly juice.
Prepare fruit and extract juice.
Use ¾ ripe and ¼ underripe fruit.
Wash all fruits thoroughly before cooking.
Crush small fruits or berries; this will start the flow of juice before cooking. Cut larger fruits into small pieces. Be sure to use the peels and cores as they will give pectin when cooked.
Some fruits require added water during the cooking period (chart 1).
Cook the fruit in a broad kettle. Stir to prevent scorching. Cook fruit until soft. Chart 1 gives approximate times.
When the fruit is tender, strain through a double cheesecloth or jelly bag.* Do not squeeze. Allow this juice to drip through. Use a stand or colander to hold the cheesecloth or jelly bag.
* Made from a square of flannel with two sides French seamed. Add loops to top so the bag can be hung.
Test for pectin and acid (described earlier).
Prepare jars as directed in processing method chosen. Put 6 to 8 cups of extracted fruit juice in a large 8-quart kettle.
Heat the juice and sugar to boiling. Determine the amount of sugar to use from chart two.
Stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved.
Boil rapidly to the jellying point of 220-222 F. Determine with a jelly thermometer.
Chart 1. Water to fruit proportions to obtain juice
|Fruit and preparation||Amount of water to use for each pound of fruit||Minutes to cook fruit to extract juice*|
|Apples — cut in pieces||1 cup||20 to 25|
|Crabapples — cut in pieces||1 cup||20 to 25|
|Blackberries — crushed||None or 1/4 cup||5 to 10|
|Gooseberries — crushed||1/4 cup||5 to 10|
|Grapes — crushed or halved||None or 1/4 cup||5 to 10|
|Plums — cut in pieces||1/2 cup||15 to 20|
* Bring to a boil, then simmer.
Chart 2. Amount of sugar and juice to use in making jelly (long boil method)
|Apple||1 cup||¾ cup|
|Crabapple||1 cup||1 cup|
|Blackberries||1 cup||¾ to 1 cup|
|Gooseberries||1 cup||1 cup|
|Grapes, Concord||1 cup||¾ to 1 cup|
|Grapes, wild||1 cup||1 cup|
|Plums, wild||1 cup||¾ cup|
Testing for doneness
The less dependable spoon or sheet test can be used to determine doneness.
Dip a cool metal spoon into the boiling jelly mixture.
Lift the spoon 12 inches above the kettle.
Let the liquid run off the side of the metal spoon.
The jelly is done when 2 big drops slide together and form a sheet that hangs from the edge of the spoon. (Beginning jelly makers should use both a thermometer and the sheet test to determine doneness.)
Remove from heat, skim off foam quickly.
Pour jelly immediately into hot containers.
Pack and process following the recommended procedure (above).
Test 2-piece lids for seal after 12 hours.
Short boil or pectin-added jelly
If the extracted juice is lacking pectin, use a pectin-added product for making jelly. These products are available in either a liquid or a powder form. Follow the directions carefully because the order of combining ingredients depends on the type of pectin used.
Successful preparation of pectin-added jellies depends on accurate timing. Time should be counted when the mixture reaches a full rolling boil — one that cannot be stirred down.
Information sheets with commercial pectin products contain a great variety of jelly recipes. Check them for the quantities of sugar and fruit juice needed in each recipe. Don't double the recipes.
Because of its high sugar content, jelly is mainly a source of calories and should be used sparingly by persons on weight control diets. One tablespoon of most jellies contains 50 calories.
A new product for making jelly and jam with a lower sugar content is available in supermarkets. It contains vegetable gums as thickening agents, preservatives to prevent yeast and mold growth, and organic acids for acidity control. The calorie-reduced jams and jellies made with this product must be stored in the refrigerator after opening.
Reviewed in 2021