Jams, Jellies, & Other Fruit Spreads

Jams, jellies, preserves, conserves, marmalades, and butters are all gelled or thickened fruit products. Most are cooked and preserved with sugar. Their individual characteristics depend on the kind of fruit used and the way it is prepared, the ingredients and their proportions in the mixture, and the method of preparation.

Jams are thick, sweet spreads made by cooking crushed or chopped fruits with sugar. Jams tend to hold their shape but are generally less firm than jelly. (Recipes are also available for uncooked jams.)

Jellies are usually made by cooking fruit juice with sugar. (Some are made without cooking using special uncooked jelly recipes.) A good product is clear and firm enough to hold its shape when turned out of the container, yet quivers when moved.

Preserves are spreads containing small, whole fruit or uniform-size pieces in a clear, slightly gelled syrup. The fruit should be tender and plump.

Conserves are jam-like products that may be made from a mixture of fruits. They may also contain nuts, raisins, or coconut.

Marmalades are soft fruit jellies containing small pieces of fruit or peel. They often contain citrus fruit.

Fruit butters are sweet spreads made by cooking fruit pulp with sugar to a thick consistency. Spices are often added. Butters are not gelled.

Essential Ingredients

For successful jams, jellies, and other fruit products, a proper ratio of fruit, pectin, acid, and sugar is needed.


For best color, flavor, and consistency, choose ripe fruit (shape is irrelevant). Unsweetened, canned, or frozen fruit or fruit juice can also be used. If you preserve your own fruit or fruit juice, use slightly underripe fruit (usually 1/4 slightly underripe and 3/4 fully ripe is recommended.) Fruit is best if canned in its own juice. If adding sugar, note on each jar how much sugar it contains. This will be needed to adjust recipes later.


Pectin is the natural substance found in fruit that causes the fruit juice to gel. Some kinds of fruits have enough natural pectin to gel firmly; others require added pectin. The best type of pectin is found in just-ripe fruit. Pectin from underripe or overripe fruit will not gel. Fruits containing enough natural pectin to form a gel include crab apples, tart apples, sour blackberries, sour boysenberries, most plums, cranberries, lemons, and wild grapes (Eastern Concord variety). Fruits usually low in pectin are sweet cherries, quince, ripe blackberries, sour cherries, grapefruit, grape juice, grapes, melons, and oranges. With these latter fruits, you will usually need to add pectin. Fruits always requiring added pectin are peaches, pears, figs, apricots, elderberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes (Western Concord variety), guava, and pomegranates.

Commercial pectins are made from apples or citrus fruit and are available in both powdered and liquid forms. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions when using commercial pectin. The powdered and liquid forms are not interchangeable in recipes.

Commercial pectins may be used with any fruit. Many consumers prefer the added pectin method for making fruit products for a number of reasons: 1) fully ripe fruit can be used instead of a mixture of ripe and unripe fruit; 2)cooking time is shorter and set, so there is no question when the product is done; and 3) the yield from a given amount of fruit is greater. However, the additional sugar required when using commercial pectin may mask the natural fruit flavor.

Commercial fruit pectin should be stored in a cool, dry place and used by the date indicated on its package. Do not hold commercial fruit pectin over from one year to the next.


Acid is needed both for gel formation and flavor. The acid content varies among fruits and is higher in underripe fruits. When fruits are low in acid, lemon juice or citric acid may be added. Added acid is always required with certain types of commercial pectins.


Sugar must be present in the proper proportions with pectin and acid to make a good gel. Sugar also prevents the growth of microorganisms in the product and contributes to the taste. Never change the amount of sugar in a recipe.

Granulated white sugar (pure cane or beet) is usually used in homemade fruit products. Sweeteners such as brown sugar, sorghum, and molasses are not recommended because their flavors overpower the fruit and their sweetnesses vary. Extra fine sugar or sugar blends with dextrose, fructose, or other sweetener added should not be used.

You can replace part but not all of the sugar with light corn syrup or light, mild honey. For best results, use tested recipes that specify honey or corn syrup.

Artificial sweeteners cannot be substituted for sugar in regular recipes because gel formation specifically requires sugar. Jellied fruit products without added sugar must be made using special recipes or special jelling products.

Equipment and Containers

An 8- or 10-quart saucepan is best for jelly making because it allows even heat distribution and volume control.

A jelly bag or suitable cloth is needed when extracting juice for jelly. Firm unbleached muslin or cotton flannel with the napped side turned in or four thicknesses of closely woven cheesecloth may be used. Jelly bags or cloths should be damp when extracting juice.

A jelly, candy, or deep-fat thermometer should be used to determine doneness in jellied fruit products without added pectin.

A boiling water bath canner is necessary for processing all unrefrigerated or unfrozen fruit spreads.

General Directions

Amount to Prepare

To enjoy jams, jellies, and other fruit products at their best, make only a quantity that you can use within a year. Jellies lose flavor, and color during storage. For best results, make only one recipe at a time, using no more than 6 to 8 cups juice. Double batches do not always gel properly.

Preparing the Containers

Prepare the canning jars before you start to make the fruit product. Half-pint jars work best, unless a recipe specifies another size. Using larger jars can result in a weak gel. Pint jars should be the largest used.

Wash the containers in hot, soapy water and rinse. Sterilize the jars by boiling them for 10 minutes. Keep the jars in the hot water until they are used to prevent the jars from breaking when filled with the hot product. If you are at an altitude of 1,000 feet or more, add one minute to the sterilizing time.

Wash and rinse all canning lids and bands. Prepare the lids as directed by the manufacturer.

Sealing the Containers

All jams, jellies, and other fruit spreads must be processed in a boiling water bath to prevent mold growth. Paraffin is no longer recommended as a method for sealing jams and jellies. Air can seep in around the edges and cause spoilage and mold. To process jams and jellies in a boiling water bath, pour the boiling product into a hot, sterilized canning jar, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the jar rim and close with a prepared canning lid and screw band. Place on a rack in a canner filled with boiling water. The water should cover the jars by at least one inch. Cover the canner. Bring the water back to a boil and boil gently for 5 minutes. If unsterilized jars are used, the product should be processed for 10 minutes. However, the additional 5 minutes can result in a weakened gel, so it's best to use sterilized jars. Remove the jars to a protected surface and cool away from drafts.

Altitude adjustment--The processing times given for most fruit products are for processing at altitudes of 0-1,000 feet. Add 1 minute to the processing time for each additional 1,000 feet of altitude.


Do not move products, especially jellies, for at least 12 hours. Moving them could break the gel. Some pectins may take 1-2 days to produce age, especially the no-sugar or reduced sugar products. After the products have cooled for 12 hours, check the seal, remove the screw band, wash the outsides of jars, label, and store in a cool, dry, dark place. Uncooked jams must be stored in the refrigerator (up to 4 weeks) or freezer (up to one year).

Making Jams and Jellies

There are basically two types of jams and jellies: those made with added pectin and those without. The use of commercial pectin simplifies the procedure and yields more jelly per volume of juice or fruit. Jam and jellies can be made more quickly using added pectin, and their doneness is easier to determine. Follow the directions included with the commercial pectin.

If making jam or jelly without added pectin, follow these steps:

  1. Measure juice or fruit and sugar. If not following a recipe, allow 3/4 cup sugar for each cup of juice or fruit. If unsure of the pectin or acid content, test before beginning.

    To test for pectin, measure 1/3 cup fruit or juice and 1/4 cup sugar into a small saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring constantly until all the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil rapidly until mixture sheets from a spoon. Pour into a clean, hot glass or bowl and cool. If cooled mixture is jelly-like, your product will gel.

    To test for acidity, combine 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 3 Tablespoons water, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Compare by tasting. If fruit isn't as tart, add 1 Tablespoon lemon juice to each cup of fruit (juice).

  2. Heat fruit or juice to boiling. Add sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Boil rapidly until temperature is 220 degrees F (or 8 degrees F above the boiling point of water). Mixture should sheet from a metal spoon or a spoonful placed on a plate in the freezer of the refrigerator should gel in a few minutes.

  3. Remove jam or jelly from heat. Skim off foam.

  4. Pour into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.

  5. Wipe rims, add lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

Uncooked Jellied Products

Uncooked jams and jellies must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Store them in the freezer only after the gel has formed, which may take up to 24 hours. Placing them in the freezer too soon will inhibit the jam or jelly from "setting."

Uncooked jams and jellies can be kept up to 4 weeks in a refrigerator or up to one year in a freezer. Freezer storage is best for maintaining natural color and flavor. If kept at room temperature, uncooked jams and jellies will mold or ferment in a short time.

See HYG-5348-97 Uncooked Jams and Jellies for more information.

Jellied Products without Added Sugar

Jellied products without sugar or with reduced sugar cannot be made by leaving the sugar out of regular jelly recipes. However, they can be made by the following methods:

  1. Special modified pectins--These pectins are not the same as regular pectin. They will say "light," "less sugar," or "no sugar" on the label. Follow the directions on the package. Some products are made with less sugar and some with artificial sweeteners.

  2. Regular pectin with special recipes--These special recipes have been formulated so that no added sugar is needed. However, each package of regular pectin does contain some sugar. Artificial sweetener is often added.

  3. Recipes using gelatin--Some recipes use unflavored gelatin as the thickener for the jam or jelly. Artificial sweetener is often added.

  4. Long-boil methods--Boiling fruit pulp for extended periods of time will cause a product to thicken and resemble a jam, preserve, or fruit butter. Artificial sweetener may be added.

Follow the directions on the modified pectin package or in a no-sugar recipe exactly. Alterations in the recipe could result in product failures. Because these products do not use sugar as a preservative, be sure to process or store them as directed. Some require longer processing in a boiling water bath and some require refrigeration.

Microwave Jams and Jellies

Although jams and jellies can be made in the microwave, it may not save you any time. Use only recipes developed for microwave cooking. Measurements for ingredients vary from traditional recipes because less evaporation takes place during cooking. Microwave jams and jellies boil over easily, so be sure to use a deep bowl for cooking the product. After preparing the jams or jellies in the microwave, process in a boiling water canner. Do not process any foods in the microwave.

Remaking Cooked Jam or Jelly

Measure jam or jelly to be recooked. Work with no more than 4 to 6 cups at a time.

With Powdered Pectin

For each quart of jelly, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, 2 Tablespoons bottled lemon juice, and 4 teaspoons powdered pectin. Bring to a boil while stirring. Add jelly and bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Boil hard 1/2 minute. Remove from heat, quickly skim foam off jelly, and fill sterile jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust new lids and process.

With Liquid Pectin

For each quart of jelly, measure 3/4 cup sugar, 2 Tablespoons bottled lemon juice, and 2 Tablespoons liquid pectin. Bring jelly to boil over high heat while stirring. Remove from heat and quickly add the sugar, lemon juice, and pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard for 1 minute. Quickly skim foam off jelly and fill sterile jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust new lids and process.

Without Added Pectin

For each quart of jelly, add 2 Tablespoons bottled lemon juice. Heat to boiling and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. (Refer back to making jam or jelly without added pectin.) Remove from heat, quickly skim foam off jelly and fill sterile jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust new lids and process.

Remaking Uncooked Jam or Jelly

With Liquid Pectin

Measure jam or jelly to be remade. Do not remake more than 8 cups at once. In a bowl, combine 3 Tablespoons sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice for each cup of jam or jelly. Stir well until sugar is dissolved (about 3 minutes). Add 1 1/2 teaspoons liquid pectin per cup of jam or jelly and stir until well blended (about 3 minutes). Pour into clean containers. Cover with tight lids. Let stand in refrigerator until set, then store in refrigerator or freezer.

With Powdered Pectin

Measure jelly or jam to be remade. Do not remake more than 8 cups at once. In a bowl, combine 2 Tablespoons sugar for each cup of jam or jelly. Stir well until dissolved (about 3 minutes). Measure 1 Tablespoon water and 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered pectin for each cup of jam or jelly. Place in small saucepan over low heat, stirring until the powdered pectin is dissolved. Add to the sugar and fruit mixture and stir until thoroughly blended (about 2-3 minutes). Pour into clean containers. Cover with tight lids. Let stand in refrigerator until set, then store in refrigerator or freezer.

Pepper Jelly

Hot peppers have become a popular garden item. This jelly is a safe and delicious way to preserve them--it's excellent with cream cheese and crackers. However, take caution and wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers. Sweet peppers may be substituted for hot peppers, if desired.

4 or 5 hot peppers, cored and cut in pieces
4 sweet green peppers, cored and cut in pieces
1 cup white vinegar
5 cups sugar
1 pouch (1/2 bottle) liquid pectin
Green food coloring

Yields 5 half-pint jars

Sterilize canning jars. Put half the peppers and half the vinegar into blender container; cover and process at liquify until pepper is liquified. Repeat with remaining peppers and vinegar. Combine liquified peppers, sugar, and vinegar in a large saucepot and boil slowly for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add liquid pectin and boil hard 1 minute. Skim and add a few drops of green food coloring. Pour jelly immediately into hot canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Pear-Apple Jam

2 cups peeled, cored and finely chopped pears (about 2 pounds)
1 cup peeled, cored, and finely chopped apples
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup bottled lemon juice
1 pouch liquid pectin

Yields 7 or 8 half-pint jars

Sterilize canning jars. Crush apples and pears in a large saucepan. Stir in cinnamon. Thoroughly mix sugar and lemon juice with fruits and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Immediately stir in pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; quickly skim off foam. Pour jam immediately into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.


Document number: HYG-5350-97
Complete Guide to Home Canning. United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539.

So Easy to Preserve (Third Ed.). Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, College of Agriculture, Athens.

Preserving Food Safely (Version 3.0). Home Economics Library Program, Cooperative Extension Service, Michigan State University.

Information Compiled by Sharron Coplin, Extension Associate, Food and Nutrition

Revised by Pat Shenberger, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ashland County

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension. TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-1868