So you decided to plant all kinds of fruit trees and berry bushes on your property, and maybe you got a tad bit carried away. An acre of blueberry bushes is great if you plan on selling them. What isn’t great is when 3 people are supposed to consume 5 tons of it in 1 month. You will come to hate the flavor, you will despise the color, and you will start to wear tinted shades so even the blue sky doesn’t make you gag.
What you can do in the event that your harvest is plentiful and you are running out of ways to add blueberry to everything and anything you cook, is to turn that problem into preserves. Turn those quarts and quarts into something you can enjoy spread out over time and toasted bread.
What’s the difference between Jelly and Jam?
I personally didn’t know there was a difference- I thought that their meanings were synonymous and that by using the different names it pinpointed whether you came from say England or the US-like the difference between our cookies and what the Brits like to refer to as biscuits. But there IS a big difference. Jam is just a fruit that’s been cooked down and thickened with adding additional sugar to it and the pectin either in the fruit or added, makes it jell up. There is no straining of juice, its all fruit. Jam recipes have a 2:1 ratio of sugar to fruit in most cases. You can also make it 1:1 if you are trying to cook with less sugar. Jelly on the other hand is a 1:1 ratio, of sugar to fruit, but it is completely dependent on the levels of pectin, acid, fruit and sugar to make the process complete. Jelly is also clear in color because the juice has been strained away from the fruits pulp. This juice is what is then thickened. Making jelly is more than just cooking some fruit down- it is a chemical process.
This is the secret weapon in making jellies. Pectin is created naturally in some varieties of fruits’, especially the tart flavored under-ripe ones. When it is heated, it starts to jell up from the combination of the acid with the sugar of the fruit. For fruits that do not contain enough pectin naturally (i.e. peaches, strawberries, cherries, pears, apricots, raspberries, etc) or have become overripe causing the pectin levels to diminish, you can purchase commercial pectin at your local supermarket, at specialty food stores, or online. Another option is to make your jelly’s jell by adding a natural source of pectin. Apples when added to different complimentary fruits, is a clever way to get around a pectin deficiency.
Homemade Natural Pectin
Apples are usually naturally rich in pectin- the more sour the apple the better, but ripe apples have adequate amounts too. You can make your own pectin at home by using the skins, cores, whole apples, or just its pulp.
Natural Pectin Recipe
1. Boil 2 lb. of apples with 4 c. water for approximately 45 minutes
2. Take the resulting mash of apples and drain through a cheesecloth, don’t add pressure
3. Boil this juice that you retrieved for 15 minutes-Can it, to store it properly, if you aren’t using it readily
Note on Use in Jellies: Use a cup of the apple pectin you brewed per 1 cup of pectin-weak fruit juice. When making jellies, the portions should be the combination of pectin plus fruit juice ratio mentioned above, plus adding ¾ cup sugar per 1 c. liquid.
A Fool-Proof Test For Pectin
If you are nervous about trying to make a jelly with a new type of fruit, and that it won’t thicken up properly, you can use this old time favorite method to know if there is enough pectin in this kind of fruit beforehand.
Put 1 T. Fruit Juice in a glass container. Add to this 1 T. alcohol. Mix evenly together. If there is enough pectin present, the juice will start to glob up in a jelly-like consistency that you can scrape up easily with a spoon. If nothing happens, you will need to add additional pectin to this particular type of fruit jelly.
Other Sources of Pectin
If you are short on pectin in a recipe, you can add sour apples, currants, cranberries, lemons, crabapples, sour plums, green gooseberries, and loganberries to thicken things up. These are all high in pectin naturally.
Ripe apples, oranges, sour cherries, grapes, blackberries and grapefruit have about an average level of pectin, and can also be added.
Check the taste of the fruit juice for tartness to see if there is enough acid present. If not, it won’t jell up properly. You can add a little lemon juice to kick it up a notch.
Note On Altitude and Jelly Making
Depending on where you are above sea level will change the length of time you will need to cook your jelly down. When you are above 6,000 feet the rule of thumb is that you will need to cook your jellies as much as 3-4 times the length of time that the recipe calls for. *See further below for the times, altitudes, and temps to cook your jelly*
USDA Instructions or Jelly Making Without Adding Commercial Pectin
Combine a mixture of ¾ ripe fruit with ¾ under-ripe fruit. When trying to determine what your fruit will yield in juice, 1 lb. of fruit makes 1 c. of clear juice. A trick to add natural pectin to your batch is to add the skins and cores when cooking the fruit down.
Wash the fruits thoroughly to remove dirt, bugs, pesticides, etc from them. Cut the fruit up into smaller pieces and if you are cooking berries, crush them. Add water as needed. Put the water and fruit in a large thick-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Let this mixture cook for the length of time listed on your recipe or until the fruit has become very soft. Remove the fruit and press it lightly through a strainer. Then as the juice strains out, let it drip through a double layer of cheesecloth so that you will have a nice clear juice that isn’t cloudy. Once you have extracted all the juice you need for your jelly recipe, combine it with the appropriate amounts of sugar, and lemon juice if needed. Stir until the sugar has fully dissolved and let it continue to boil until the jelling starts.
Jelly Temperature Test
Using either a candy thermometer or a special jelly thermometer, boil the jelly at the following temperatures in correlation with your designated sea level.
220 degrees F – Sea Level
218 degrees F – 1,000 Ft.
216 degrees F – 2,000 Ft.
214 degrees F – 3,000 Ft.
212 degrees F – 4,000 Ft.
211 degrees F – 5,000 Ft.
209 degrees F – 6,000 Ft.
207 degrees F – 7,000 Ft.
205 degrees F – 8,000 Ft.
The Spoon Test
To know whether your jelly is ready to be canned, take a cold metal spoon and dip it into your mixture. Raise the spoon up away from the steam of the saucepan and turn it so that the liquid runs off the side. When the syrup forms 2 drops that flow together and either sheet or hang off the edge of the spoon, your jelly is done.
If for some reason this test shows that your mixture is too thin, the best way to remedy the situation is to add some gelatin to it. Re-boil your non-jelling jelly and add 1 package of plain gelatin and stir in to fully dissolve. Note: 1 package of gelatin solidifies 4 cups of watery jelly.
Remove and drain the jars and fill with the jelly. Fill your canner pot half way again with water and preheat it to 180 degrees F. Load all of your sealed jars into the rack inside your canner and add water to them until it is 1” above their tops. Once water comes to a rolling boil, lower the heat so it is still boiling but more gently. Process all your jellies and jams in half-pint or pint jars for the following times according to your altitude.
5 minutes- 1-1,000 ft.
10 minutes- 1,001-6,000 ft.
15 minutes- above 6,000 ft.
Once the processing time is over, remove the jars with a jar lifter so as to not get burned, and carefully place the jars on a kitchen towel or a cooling rack. Let them air cool for 12-24 hours. Remove the top screw lids, and check the lid seals underneath to make sure they are fully sealed. Jelly and Jam are best if consumed within a years’ time.
NOTE ON JELLY/JAM MAKING: Don’t use a quart jar to make more jelly- it won’t jell up. Also on the same note, don’t double up a recipe. Paraffin wax sealing is not recommended anymore by the USDA. It is not always reliable as a seal and often times the jelly starts to mold. But people still use it to this day for jelly making, so if you do, it is at your own risk.
Paraffin Wax Seals
The benefit of using paraffin wax is that you can use any glass jar to make jelly. It makes your operation more cost effective, and when you are done using the paraffin tops, you can collect them, wash them off, and keep them to be re-melted the next time you make jelly. You melt down the paraffin wax and add a ¼-1/2” layer to your already cooled down and set jelly. Be especially careful of any jellies you are making that have a low sugar content, as they are at more risk to mold. But my mother made wine jelly this way for decades and we never had any issues with molding. So be on the lookout!
How to Make Your Own Jelly Jars
I thought this was a neat trick to save a buck. If you are like me and keep your wine bottles for no apparent real reason, well now you have one. Take your bottles and wash them completely inside and out in hot sudsy water. Let dry. Take some strings and soak it in kerosene. Wrap the strings around the shoulders of the bottles and light them on fire. This will cause the necks of the bottles to crack so you can whack them off easily. Wash the new jars again to make sure there are no bits of glass inside. File down the top edges until smooth. Fill your jars with jelly and let it jell up. Once the jelly has set, top with paraffin wax.
Jelly Recipes Without PectinApple Jelly- Add 1 c. of water per 1 lb. of fruit. Let this simmer for 25 minutes before extracting any juice. For every 1 c. of juice add ¾ c. sugar. (Optional: Add 1 ½ tsp. lemon juice. For every 4 c. of juice, your jelly should yield about 4-5 half pints.
Crab-Apple Jelly- Add 1 c. of water per 1 lb. of fruit. Simmer 20-25 minutes before extracting any juice. For every 1 c. of strained juice add 1 c. of sugar. For every 4 c. of juice, your jelly should yield about 4-5 half pints.
Blackberry Jelly- Add 0- ¼ c. water per 1 lb. of fruit. Simmer 5-10 minutes before extracting any juice. To each 1 c. of strained juice add ¾ - 1 c. sugar. For every 4 c. of juice, your jelly should yield about 7-8 half pints.
Grape Jelly- Add 0- ¼ cup water per 1 lb. of fruit. Simmer 5-10 minutes before extracting any juice. For every 1 c. of strained juice add ¾ to 1 c. sugar. For every 4 c. of juice, your jelly should yield about 8-9 half pints.
Plum Jelly- Add ½ c. water per 1 lb. of fruit. Simmer 15-20 minutes before extracting juice. For every 1 c. of strained juice add ¾ c. sugar. 4 c. of juice should yield you 8-9 half pints.
Making Jams Without Adding PectinPick only fruits that have ripened fully. Clean them completely under cool water, do not soak! Remove any stems, skins, and pits if any. Cut them up into pieces and crush them. For berries, just remove any stems if still attached and smush them down. The tiny seeds in berries are fine to keep in your jam, but you can strain them out through a sieve if they are too abundant.
Basic Jam Recipe:Take 4 c. berries of fruits cleaned, cut and processed as mentioned above. Add to this 3 c. of sugar. Boil this mixture down for about 10 minutes, or until the resulting product has boiled down by ¼. Remove from heat and test your jam to see if it has jelled enough. Take a couple of drops of the jam and drop it in a shallow saucer filled with cold water. If it appears jelled enough, put in jars. If it is still too watery, you will need to boil your mixture down more. To pack your jam into jars, pour the contents into hot sterilized jam jars. Put on a hot lid and ring and screw it down as tightly as you can. Let the jars air cool and check the next day to see if it has sealed properly.
Berry Jam: Take 4 c. crushed berries, add to this 4 c. of sugar. Boil down and process as mentioned in the Basic Jam recipe above. You should get 3-4 half pints.
Apricot Jam: Take 4-4 ½ c. crushed apricots. Add to the fruit, 4 c. sugar and 2 T. lemon juice. Process this as mentioned in the Basic Jam recipe above. You should get 5-6 half pints.
Peach Jam: Take 5½ -6 c. of crushed, pitted, peaches. Add to this 4-5 c. sugar and 2 T. of lemon juice. You should get 6-7 half pints.
Blueberry Peach Jam: Take 4 lb. of ripe peaches, and wash, pit, and then chop them up. Wash and sort out 1 qt of blueberries. Mix the fruit together in a heavy bottomed pot with 2 T. lemon juice, and ½ cup of water. Let this all simmer until the fruit becomes nice and soft- about 10 min. Tie 1 stick of cinnamon, ½ T. cloves, and ¼ T. allspice in a cheesecloth bag. Drop the bag into the pot. Next add to the jam mixture 5½ c. sugar and ½ tsp. salt. Boil this rapidly. Using a candy thermometer, bring the mixture to 8-10 degrees above the boiling point of water. Remove the pan from the heat and skim the foam off the top, and remove the spice bag. Pour the jam into hot, sterile canning jars and screw on hot lids. For long-term storage process in a water bath for 10 minutes. This makes 6 half-pint jars.
Recipes For Pectin added to Jellies and Jams
The following recipes are for commercially packaged pectin to be added to make them jell up. A lot of times, there are recipes included on the box of pectin that you buy.
Take 1 ½ lb. stalks of rhubarb (red), wash and then cut into 1” pieces. Grind or use a blender to fully chop up the rhubarb. Take 1 ½ qt. ripe strawberries, wash them, remove any stems and crush them. Take the rhubarb and the strawberries and add it to a saucepan. Simmer this for 10 minutes. Next, strain off the juice from this pulp through a double layer of cheesecloth or through a jelly bag. Now when you get 3½ c. of juice from this, add 6 c. of sugar. Add ½ tsp. of butter or margarine (this step is optional, it helps reduce the amount of foam). Bring all of this to a boil and stir it constantly. Add in 6 oz. of liquid pectin. Bring this mixture to a rolling boil and let it continue to boil for about 1 minute while stirring. Remove the pan from the heat, and skim off the foam on top. Pour into your sterilized half-pint jars while leaving ¼” of space at the top. Process the jelly as mentioned before in the Jelly making instructions.
Take 2 c. ripe pears that have been peeled, cored, cut up, and finally crushed. Take this 2 c. worth of pears and add it to a pan. Next get 1 c. of peeled, cored, chopped up and crushed apple. Add the apples to the pears in the pan. Now add to this ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon. Add next 6½ c. sugar, and 1/3 c. lemon juice. Bring all of this to a boil over a high flame while stirring constantly. Bring to a hard rolling boil for 1 minute and make sure you are still stirring. Remove from heat, skim off the foam as quick as you can, and pour into sterilized half-pint jars with a ¼”. Process the jars as mentioned above in Basic Jam recipe.