Jelly is a traditional English way to preserve extra fruit at a time of abundance, and tastes wonderful. It’s not difficult to make, but is very satisfying indeed!
“Jelly” here is used in the English meaning of the word, not the American sense, so it’s not jam, with the fruit left in, but a clear, see-through preserve which can be either sweet or savoury.
Individual jelly recipes will usually assume you know how to make jelly in general – how to strain the juice, how to test for setting, and so forth.
This article tells you what equipment you need, what you can do perfectly well without, and how to make the perfect, home-made jelly.
To make any jelly or jam, some equipment is essential, some useful but not necessary, and some (in my view) a waste of money and storage space. A lot of it is probably in your kitchen, anyway.
- At least one large (really quite big) saucepan
- Something to strain the juice – such as fine muslin, and a sieve to go with it
- A wooden spoon
- A large metal spoon
- A ladle
- A couple of saucers
- wax disks
- lids or cellophane covers
Useful, but not essential
- A preserving pan (they are very big, and have thick bases)
- A jelly bag
- A jam funnel (metal)
- A jam spoon
- A jam thermometer
Why the above are necessary or useful
You certainly need a nice big saucepan. I’ve made jelly and jam in just a normal pan, but if you are going to make much jam or jelly in the future, it’s definitely worth having a preserving pan.
The very thick base spreads the heat, and means you are much less likely to burn or scorch your fruit and juice. The handle, which locks into place, is useful, and preserving pans are big, and hold a decent amount at a time – mine has a 9 litre capacity, for example.
You can strain your juice for making jelly with a fine muslin cloth doubled over and placed in a sieve. A jelly bag isn’t necessary, but it’s handy. They aren’t expensive, but you can get them with their own stands, and your fruit is much less likely to fall into the juice, meaning you have to start all over again.
A long wooden spoon is useful for stirring the jelly – those sold specifically as “jam spoons” tend to be big, with long handles. You’ll also need a large metal spoon for skimming off sugar scum before potting the jelly.
You don’t need to buy jam jars. You can quite easily save them from stuff you buy and eat, and ask your friends and family to save them for you as well. If you are going to make lots of jelly or jam, you may need to buy some.
Wax disks go on top of the jelly, and help stop mould growing. They are very cheap, and you ought to use them.
If you are re-using jars, I suggest you don’t use the lids of jars which had tomato, olive, or other strong flavours in them. Instead, use cellophane covers on top of your wax disks – again, these are very cheap, and stop any vague tomato or vinegar flavours creeping uninvited in to your jelly.
You don’t absolutely need a jam funnel, but getting the stuff into the jars is very messy and sticky without one!
I’ve never found any use for a jam thermometer. You need to test the jam or jelly for set anyway, even if you do know exactly what the temperature of your mixture is.
Pectin content and making sure your jelly will set
For any jam or jelly making, you need to have an idea of the pectin content of the fruit you are using. Pectin is the natural chemical in the fruit which makes the jelly set, or become solid, once you’ve made it. Some fruits are high in pectin, others lower.
With all fruits, very ripe ones are lower in pectin than less ripe ones.
If you are making jelly with fruit that is low in pectin, you either need to add fruit which is high in pectin, or add pectin artificially. Otherwise, you’ll have sadly liquid results.
Fruits which are high in pectin
- Citrus skins (the skins are high in pectin, but the fruit itself is not)
- Crab apples
Fruits which have a medium pectin content
Low pectin fruits
You can do this with specific pectin mixtures, available to buy, or by using “preserving sugar” which has pectin already included.
How to make jelly
The specific recipe for the type of jelly you are making will tell you how much water to use. The normal rule is to chop the fruit roughly, and cover with water. You bring the pan to the boil, and simmer until the fruit is thoroughly pulpy, which is usually about 90 minutes to 2 hours.
Once you have your fruit pulp, you must strain it thoroughly. It’s easiest to use a jelly bag, which comes with a stand and is easily assembled and designed for the job. But it’s by no means an essential bit of kit.
Spoon your fruity mixture into the jelly bag or muslin-covered sieve, and leave overnight, or for several hours. Don’t squeeze it at all, as this will turn the juice (and the jelly, later) cloudy.
Once you have the clear juice, and put it back in a big pan, with 1lb of sugar for every pint of juice. Heat gently, until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Bring the juice to the boil, and let it boil enthusiastically for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, but be careful – the mixture is very hot indeed, and it tends to bubble up a lot when stirred.
Then ladle a small amount of the mixture onto a cold saucer from the fridge. If it wrinkles as it cools, then the jelly is ready to set. If it doesn’t, give it another couple of minutes and test the set again.
Skim the top of the mixture with a large spoon to get rid of any scum.
I put my jars in the oven to heat while the jelly is boiling. This sterilises them, and also means they don’t crack when you add the hot jelly.
Ladle the juice into the jars, up to the top, and cover the surface immediately with a wax disk.
Once cool, either put the lids on top, or put dampened cellophane circles on top and secure with a band. The cellophane will shrink a little as it dries, and become air-tight.