I make a lot of jams & jellies in the summer, and you often see the results pictured here on the blog. I've realized recently that a lot of folks a) don't know what the difference is between "jam" and "jelly", and b) think making either is a mysterious and complicated process. So at the risk of destroying my image as some kind of domesitic canning goddess, I thought I'd show you all the process this time, instead of just the results. Here goes!
The Mapes' are traveling, so we picked their delicious green grapes. Anyone lucky enough to have access to home-grown grapes, they make the most delicious jelly. Any kind or color of grape will do.
After rinsing the grapes, pull the berries off the stems and drop them into a big pot. Sort out any brown or damaged ones as you go. It's OK to leave the small stems on each grape, just get the big woody stems out. Add a little water, cover and put the pot on medium heat.
In about 20 minutes the grapes should be cooked. You want them to burst and let their juice out. A little mashing with a potato masher might help too. Turn off the heat, uncover, and let them cool somewhat, you don't want to get a steam burn at the next step.
Once the grape mash has cooled, you'll need to rig up a juice strainer. I use a clean pillowcase (I have two which are designated for jam), a length of foam-covered wire which is sold for tying up garden plants, a big bowl, and the knob of a cupboard. You can also use cheesecloth in a colander, a store-bought "jelly bag", or whatever works for you. It just needs to be something the juice can get out of while keeping the solid bits - skin, stems, seeds - contained. And then you let it sit and do it's work, until all the juice is drained out.
Incidentally, THIS is what makes Jelly different from Jam. Jelly is made from the strained juice of the fruit, whereas Jam is made from the unstrained pulp, including seeds. The choice of which to make depends on two main factors: how hard is it to prep the fruit for Jam (removing all those little grape stems would have been a real tedious process), and would the Jam be too seedy or have other textural problems if the fruit wasn't strained. If there's no issue with texture or prepping the whole fruit for jam, usually jam is what gets made. It's a slightly easier process, because you don't have to wait for the juice to drain. In fact, while I wait for the juice on a batch of jelly, I often put up a batch of jam...
These are Organic Dapple Dandy Pluots from Goosetail Farms, and they are amazingly delicous. (One of the perks of working for an organic produce company!) Pluots are a cross between apricots and plums, and when they are this ripe they are very soft and juicy. To prep them for jam, I halved, pitted, and peeled them. One quart of fruit is all you need, usually, for a batch of jam.
The fruit goes into a large saucepan and is heated to just boiling. I did a little mashing to break up the pulp. Once the fruit reaches boiling, add the pectin and sweetener (I used honey) according to the directions on the pectin package. My favorite pectin is Pomona's, but the co-op is out of stock and says they wont have more until January! So I'm trying out Ball's sugar-optional pectin.
Once the pectin & sweetener are added, bring the jam back to a boil for a minute or two to cook it, then remove it from the heat. Let it cool for a couple minutes while you get the rest of the stuff you'll need ready - clean, hot jars (I just run them throught the dishwasher right before using, or you can soak them in hot water in the sink), a small bowl & spoon, funnel, ladel, tongs, jar-lifter, lids & rings.
Once the jam has cooled a little, you'll see a frothy foam form on the surface. Use the spoon to skim this off and put it into the little bowl. It seems fussy, but this stuff will not go away, it will form a wierd-looking layer with a strange texture in your jam jars which will detract from enjoying the jam later. It's pretty easy to skim off at this point, so just do it.
Once the jam is skimmed, use the funnel & the ladel to fill each jar to within 1/4 inch of the top, about halfway up the threads.
I use all different shapes and sizes of jars. It doesn't matter if all your jars are the same size & brand or if you have a mis-match like these. They're still beautiful when they are all filled with jam! After they are filled, wipe the rims of the jars clean with a clean cloth moistened with hot water.
I boil the lids in a small saucepan and then keep them in the hot water until ready to use. The tongs are for getting them out of the water without burning your fingers. Once the lids are on, screw on the rings. Note that the lids must be new out of the box, but the rings can be reused over and over.
The final step is to process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. That's 10 minutes counting from when the water comes to a full boil. Once the 10 minutes is up, turn off the heat and leave the jars in the hot water for 5 minutes before removing them to cool on a towel. As the jars cool, the seals will set and go "ping"! Don't mess with the jars while they are cooling, or you might mess up the seal. I usually wait overnight before labeling the jars or checking the set of the jam for this reason. Then you can remove the bands and check the seals (the center of the lid should go down and the lid should be stuck on really tight) before you put the jars away for storage. Any jars that didn't seal (rarely happens) just need to go straight into the fridge and get used up, treat them like any other jar you just opened.
By the time you've finished processing the Jam, the jelly juice should be pretty well drained from the pillow case, it should no longer be actively dripping. I've alwasy been told not to squeeze the bag (supposedly it makes the jelly cloudy) but it's pretty hard to resist. You can also pour a little hot water over the bag to flush the last little bit of juice out. In any case, once you are satisfied that you have all the juice you are going to get, take down the bag (set it aside to clean later) and measure the juice. 1 quart is generally a batch. With these grapes I got just a smidge under 2 quarts of juice, so I added just enough water to bring it up to a full two quarts in order to make a double batch of jelly.
Bring the juice to a boil in a big pot. I always find that jelly foams up more than jam does, so make sure there's a lot of extra room in your pot - when jelly boils over onto the stovetop it makes an unholy sticky mess. Once you've got a boil going, add your pectin and sweetener, according to the directions. If you're making a double batch, remember to double the pectin (it sucks when you forget, trust me).
See what I mean about foaming up? Compare the rivet in the pot between this picture and the last one. Pectin directions usually say something like "cook until the jelly reaches a rolling boil which cannot be stirred down" - well, that's what this is. Turn off the heat and get ready to fill your jars!
Filling the jars is the same for Jelly as for Jam, although skimming off the foam is even more important with jelly. In fact, you may find that you need to skim the foam a second time after the jars have been filled.
Wipe the rims, apply the lids & bands, and the jars are ready to process in the boiling water bath. The timing and procedure is the same for Jelly as for Jam, in both the water bath and for cooling and setting the seal afterwards.
One more note - the only specialized canning tool you need (well, besides the jars & lids) is the jar lifter. This handy little gizmo (pictured above) makes it possible to securely raise and lower jars into and out of hot water without burning your hands. I think it cost about $4. Every other peice of equipment I use is just regular kitchen stuff that you probably already have. Anybody can make Jam or Jelly! All you need is fruit, pectin, and a little time in the kitchen. Give it a try... who knows, maybe next time I see you we'll be able to swap a few jars. :)