Advertisement
Kitchen Tips

8 Tricks To Making The Perfect Jar Of Jam Or Jelly

Homemade preserves extend the life of produce—and make great gifts. Here are our best tips, tricks and product picks for making jams and jellies at home.
By Kristen Eppich
8 Tricks To Making The Perfect Jar Of Jam Or Jelly

Mixing fruit and sugar and setting it to boil over high heat to make your own jams and jellies is a true treat. There's no denying that ripe fruit and little jars make a wonderful partnership, allowing you to preserve your favourite fruit and cut down on food waste. Oh, and those little jars make great gifts to boot. Before you get started, here are eight key tips for how to make a perfect jar of jam or jelly.

What's the difference between jam and jelly?

Jam

Jam contains pieces of fruit, cooked with sugar and partially broken down. Meant to taste very fresh, jam is cooked just long enough for the fruit to begin to break down and release flavour. Overcooked jams will have a stewed flavour (you do not what this!).

Jelly

Jellies are produced by extracting the juice from fruits and then adding sugar and lemon juice (or another acid), while pectin is added to help it solidify. Unlike jams, jellies are known for their heightened sweetness, which is achieved by cooking the fruit over low heat for an extended period.

It is important not to cut corners when it comes to cooking the fruit, as it may result in a jelly that lacks flavour. For even more complex flavour, cook the entire fruit with its skin, seeds and core intact. The final product is always passed through a sieve and strained to remove any solids during the later stages of the process.

Italian plum and coronation grape jam in a bowl on a pink table, in a post on how to make a perfect jar of jam or jelly. (Photo: Carmen Cheung; Food styling by Lindsay Guscott; Prop styling by Rayna Marlee Schwartz)

How to make a perfect jar of jelly or jam

1. Select in-season fruit that is perfectly ripe.

Ripe fruit has the best flavour and the highest pectin fruit content. Preserving is intended to lock in the flavours of the season—so take advantage of them while they're at their peak.

2. Clean the fruit properly.

It is essential to wash fruit before cooking (and adequately scrub citrus peel).

3. Cook fruit in stainless steel or copper pots only.

Other metals can react with the acid in the fruit and leave a lingering metallic taste.

4. Blanch fruits that are overly sour or bitter.

Sometimes sugar alone is not enough to balance the sour to sweet ratio. Blanching fruit before the cooking process will leach out some of the bitterness.

5. Combat overly sweet fruits by adding a second fruit.

Although lemon juice is often recommended to balance sweetness, it doesn’t always do the trick. Try adding in a less sweet fruit (hence the enduring popularity of the strawberry-rhubarb combo).

6. Have paper towel on hand.

No matter how clean your kitchen is, dish towels are sponges for germs and bacteria. Always use a funnel to pour your mixture into the jar. (And wipe up any spills on jar rims with a clean paper towel.)

7. Leave adequate head space for proper sealing.

Leaving an insufficient gap at the top of filled jars is a primary cause for inadequate sealing. Maintain a space of 1/4 to 1/2 inches on filled jars, depending on the specific recipe. If the lids have not made a popping sound, it is unsafe to store them at room temperature.

(In this case, jars can be stored in the refrigerator for a duration of two to three weeks completely covered and still be enjoyed.)

8. Have the right canning tools on hand.

Although canning is intrinsically satisfying, having a few key tools will make the process much easier, and safer! You may also consider a candy thermometer and metal spoon.

Five Essential Jam-Making Tools

Tebery Canning Funnel Set, $16

Two stainless steel funnels with a wide lip and handle, in a post on how to make a perfect jar of jam or jelly. A wide-mouth funnel allows the jam or jelly to be poured into jars cleanly—ensuring a proper seal. A stainless steel funnel with a wide handle to avoid the hot jam is ideal; it's non-reactive, lasts longer than plastic and cleans up quickly. A good set is also relatively inexpensive.

Victorio Canning Jar Lifter, $16

A wide-handled can lifter with an x-shaped construction to lift jars out of a pot of boiling water, in a post on how to make a perfect jar of jam or jelly.. Canning tongs are important to have on hand, especially if you're sanitizing the jars beforehand by boiling them in water. These ones are long, with rubber-coated grips that make it easy to grasp jars. Be sure to regularly check the hinge for residue buildup or rust.

Norpro Small Canning Rack, $18

A circular canning rack made of stainless steel wire, in a post on how to make a perfect jar of jam or jelly.

Canning racks are also a must, no mater how many jars you make at a time. They allow you to submerge and remove your jars from boiling water in a safe manner; putting jars directly on the bottom of a pot of boiling water risks breaking the glass. An ideal canning rack should feature long handles that extend out of the pot, allowing you to submerge and retrieve the entire rack if necessary.

Lee Valley Jelly and Syrup Strainer, $20

A pyramid-shaped mesh bag propped up on four legs. in a post on how to make a perfect jar of jam or jelly.

Jelly bags are a great alternative to making your own with cheesecloth if you prefer jelly over jam; they're much easier to pour the cooked fruit into and also to hang. Bonus: they can also be used as strainers for making nut milks and fruit juices. Use these for making clarified versions of butter or margarine as well.

Cuisinart Nesting Liquid Measuring Cup Set, $18

Three plastic measuring cups, in three different sizes, in a post on how to make a perfect jar of jam or jelly.

Over-sized liquid measuring cups with a pourable spout ensures your amounts are precise and they are handy in every way, from storing macerating fruit to measuring liquid amounts, and are indispensable in other types of cooking as well.

8 homemade summer jam and jelly recipes

Quick peach jam

Get the recipe.

Quick peach jam Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Raspberry freezer jam

Get the recipe.

This classic recipe bursts with berry freshness. It's so delicious, you'll want to eat it right out of the jar.
Advertisement

Jumbleberry jam

Get the recipe.

Jumbleberry jam recipe Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Cherry tomato jam

Get the recipe.

8 Tricks To Making The Perfect Jar Of Jam Or Jelly Photo, Sian Richards.

Easy plum jam

Get the recipe.

8 Tricks To Making The Perfect Jar Of Jam Or Jelly Photo, Roberto Caruso.
Advertisement

Spicy strawberry jelly

Get out spicy strawberry jelly recipe.

A jar of spicy strawberry jelly topped with red pepper flakes with a spoon resting in it next to toast topped with the jelly next to a white colander full of fresh strawberries Spicy strawberry jelly. (Photo: Roberto Caruso)

Concord grape jelly

Get the recipe.

8 Tricks To Making The Perfect Jar Of Jam Or Jelly

Jalapeno pepper jelly

Get the recipe.

8 Tricks To Making The Perfect Jar Of Jam Or Jelly Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Originally published July, 2014, Updated December 2023.

This article contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

GET CHATELAINE IN YOUR INBOX!

Subscribe to our newsletters for our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers.

By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Advertisement
Advertisement