What is a fruit jelly?
Fruit jellies differ from jams by their lack of fruit pieces and their beautiful clarity. They are easy to make and taste delicious. You don’t need to have a proper jelly bag to make them, you can make your own using cheesecloth or muslin or even a pair of old tights – see Kitchen Kit for more information on jelly bags.
Once you are armed with your choice of jelly bag here is how to make jelly:
Perfect pickins’ – the right fruit for jelly making
A good meal is only as good as its ingredients and this applies to jam as well. Never think of jam as just a way to use up dodgy sell-by-dated fruit. If you use aged and damaged fruit you will get tasteless jam. So pick the choicest fruits for the best results.
Wash’n’dry the fruit
Wash your fruit just before you want to use it as many fruits (particularly berries) will absorb water and become soggy with time. So wash prior to use and pat dry with a clean tea towel or kitchen roll.
Sterilise your jars for homemade jelly
The most important step in the entire jelly making process! Really important step this so please refer to my How To Sterilise Jars page for a full run-down on how to do this.
Prepare the fruit
Pick over the fruit and remove leaves and stalks (called ‘hulling’ in strawberries), you don’t need to peel and core fruit when making jellies as you will be straining the cooked fruit so everything will be caught and removed later.
Cooking the fruit for making jelly
Cook the fruit as per the recipe, it may require a little water depending on the fruit/recipe used. Once the fruit is tender it is ready to be strained.
Straining the cooked fruit
This is a case of time and patience and I often feel the best way to do this is just to set your jelly bag up and leave it overnight so that gravity and nature can do their work while you sleep.
This is a real no-no folks, under no circumstances can you squeeze the jelly bag to extract the last vestiges of juice. You may be desperate to get at all that goodness but if you squeeze the bag you will cause the jelly to go cloudy and lose that gorgeous clarity that jellies are so famed for, so resist the temptation at all costs.
Measuring for sugar in jelly making
Measure the strained juice in a measuring jug and then use the required amount of sugar as stated in your recipe. This is usually in the ratio of 450g/1lb of sugar to 600ml/1 pint of juice.
Boil and bubble
Bring the juice and sugar slowly to the boil at a low temperature as you do not want to burn the sugar. Make sure that all the sugar has dissolved before raising the temperature.
Boil the jelly for about 10-20 minutes stirring occasionally. The setting point will be reached when the jelly gets to a temperature of 104C/219F.
By far the scariest bit of jelly and preserve making and something that often puts people off the whole process entirely. Don’t panic, jelly will set, it is all a matter of timing and checking again and again until you get the hang of it.
Using a thermometer to check that the setting temperature (104C/129F) has been reached isn’t the only way to check your setting point for jelly. My usual way is to use the old chilled saucer technique or wrinkle test.
You can use a standard jam/candy thermometer for this that has the temperatures on one side of the mercury and the type of jam/candy etc on the other.
Digital thermometers are amazing as you just dip the probe into the jelly and it tells you the temperature on the handle.
Just pop a couple of saucers into the freezer before you start your jamming session (I actually keep a few in the freezer al the time) and when you think the jam is ready remove the saucer from the freezer and drop a teaspoonful of jam on to it. Put the saucer in the fridge for a couple of minutes to see how the jam firms up. If it wrinkles up when you press it with your finger then it is ready to pot.
You can also check for setting point by using a spoon. Simply dip your spoon into the jam and let it cool just for a moment before holding it horizontally over the pan. Give the spoon a shake and see how the jam comes off the spoon. If it comes off in one flat flake then it is ready to pot.
Strawberries are particularly prone to foaming, and while this foam (or scum which makes it sound a bit horrid) isn’t poisonous or anything, it just doesn’t look good on the top of your jelly, so is best removed while it is bubbling in the pan. Use a slotted spoon to do this and discard the foam.
No, no, not those nasty chemical additives so popular with manufacturers, I’m just talking about any extras you want to add like alcohol or herbs etc for extra taste and dimension. Add these at the last moment.
Wait before potting the jelly
Let the jelly rest for a few minutes before potting up. This is especially important for jellies with herbs etc added in as you want these to be suspended in the jam and not all float up to the top. Just give the jelly a few minutes to pull itself together before you start ladelling and make sure that you scoop up a bit of everything for each jar.
Fill and seal your jelly jars
Use a ladel to spoon out the jelly and also make use of a jam funnel to get the jelly into the jars. This is where accidents can so easily happen and hot jam is nasty stuff when it comes into contact with skin. A jam funnel makes the whole process much quicker, easier and safer so always use one.
Fill jars to half an inch from the top and cover the surface of the jam with a waxed paper disc with the waxy side facing onto the jam surface. Pop on the lid.
Label your jars
Always label your jars with the contents and date created. I am useless at doing this and frequently dig into nameless jars without a clue as to the contents.
Storing homemade fruit jelly
Store your jelly in a cool dark cupboard and once opened keep it in the fridge.