Basic Canning: Jams, Jellies and Preserves

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Submitted by derMoerder

This should serve as a starting point for making your own preserves, or just show you that there isn't much to it and there isn't much money to spend to get started. Any Ball brand pectin product comes with a leaflet containing recipes for commonly preserved fruits, so just grab a recipe from there. The ingredients are usually the fruit, lemon juice, sugar and the pectin so there's nothing you haven't seen before. Pick up a box of either liquid(easier)or powdered pectin and just follow the easy step-by-step.

Types of Preserves[edit]

Jams are a preserve of unfiltered fruit cooked with sugar to a gel state. Jellies are a preserve of filtered fruit juice cooked with sugar to a gel state. Juice is extracted from fruits by boiling briefly with some water and leaving suspended in cheesecloth to drain via gravity. Preserves are a type of preserve containing whole pieces of fruit cooked with sugar cooked to a gel state.

Selecting Fruit[edit]

Not much to say here, just use good fruit, absolutely ripe with no blemishes. Stay away from the supermarkets here; stop by a farmers market or a Pick-Your-Own farm, whatever you have to do reduce the time the fruit spends between nature and your kitchen.


I'll try to include here a list of the most basic equipment needed to process jams, jellies and preserves.

  • Mason Jars with two-piece ring and dome lid. These come in regular and wide mouth varieties, and sizes from 4oz to 64oz.
  • Large pot, tall enough to hold your jars with two extra inches of water to cover. I use a super-cheap 6qt stockpot.
  • Canning tongs, or those stupid ones with the square metal clips on the end that you never used. The ones in the bottom of your kitchen drawer. Everyone seems to have them. They'll grab jars pretty well.
  • Ladle.
  • Something to keep the jars off the bottom of your pot. I use the rack from my pressure cooker, but in a pinch you could even use a folded thin tea towel. Just keep the jars off of the very bottom of the pot where they can rattle violently enough to shatter if your luck is bad.
  • Cheesecloth for straining the juice from fruit for jellies.

Making Jams, Jellies and Preserves[edit]

To make the actual jam, look in the box with your pectin or in a book. Most packages of pectin will include a cut and paste recipe for jams or preserves, you just need to look in their table for amounts of fruit, sugar and acid and follow the standard procedure.

Jelling Agents[edit]

There are a few options for what kind of pectin to use to set your preserve; Liquid pectin, powdered pectin, freezer pectin, no-sugar needed pectin or no pectin at all.

  • Liquid Pectin is stirred into the hot preserve and briefly simmered to dissolve the pectin.
  • Powdered Pectin is stirred into the hot preserve but the sugar is reserved until after the pectin has been dissolved.
  • Freezer Pectin requires no cooking at all, and as such does not get processed in a water bath. The powder is stirred into fresh fruit and is simply kept in the freezer for up to 6 months.
  • No Sugar Needed Pectin is cooked like regular powdered pectin but without the step of adding sugar. Normal powdered pectin would need sugar to function properly and set a preserve, but this product uses xantham and guar gum which require only to be dissolved.
  • No Pectin is the old-school option. You can just gently simmer some fruit with sugar for an hour or two like great-grandma used to until it sets on its own. You could help this process along by throwing in a couple of unripe apple cores or lemon peels (A cheesecloth sachet would help here) as there is large amounts of natural pectin present in these fruits.


  • Before even cooking your preserve, boil the jars and the rings. This not only disinfects them, but gets them nice and hot so the glass isn't very surprised by the sudden temperature change from hot jam. That could shatter the jar.
  • Hold the dome lids very hot but not boiling water. This is to soften the rubber compound on the underside of the lid, and if the water is too hot the compound could degrade and be left unable to properly seal your preserves.
  • Cook your preserve, and carefully ladle it into your jars leaving as much room at the top of the jar as your recipe calls for. Misjudging this headspace could affect sealing, so pay attention. Make sure to wipe the threads with a clean, damp cloth.
  • Apply dome lids to your full jars, followed by screw rings.
  • Place jars carefully into very hot water, and process for the time specified in your recipe at the temperature specified by your recipe. Usually this is between 200°F and 212°F and will be around 10 minutes for an 8oz jar.
  • Carefully remove your jars to a towel or warm surface(again avoiding rapid temperature change so as not to shatter any glass) and just leave them there until cool. You will probably hear the dome lids pop closed within minutes, and this is a good sign but it doesn't mean anything is wrong if you don't. Just check all of your jars after cooling, making sure the lid is stuck very firmly down and does not pop like a snapple cap.
  • Store in a cool, dry dark place for up to a year. It will still be edible after that if stored properly, it just won't taste as good.