Preserve Your Garden in Jelly

Making jelly is one of my favorite activities and making jelly from my own harvest is about as good as it gets. I use the term broadly to encompass jam as well. I’ve made jam or jelly from my garden’s grapes, apples, apricots, elderberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, rhubarb, and even red bell peppers. It’s easy and something every gardener should consider trying.

A beautiful batch of jelly

While growing your own produce is nice, farmer’s markets abound during the summer and you don’t need to rely on your own fruit production to enjoy the sweet flavors that jelly offers. We tend to buy with the intent to eat, and we often buy more than we need. A bushel of fresh peaches is hard to pass up when you grab a single fuzzy orb and smell the rich, ripe aromas bursting from it. Before you know it a few days have gone by and you’re stuffed from the peaches you put in pie, on your ice cream, and in your oatmeal. There are always too many peaches left in the box that are bruised, squishy, or getting too ripe. The compost pile is usually their final resting place, but the jelly jar may be a better solution.

While fruit that you make into jam and jelly shouldn’t be rotten, it can be bruised and squishy. Even overripe is okay. In a home garden it may be tough harvesting enough fruit for preserving in a single day, but over the course of a few days you can collect enough. While the physical quality may not be supreme for older fruit, it can be made into wonderful jellies.

Part of the process of making jelly is to cut and cook the fruit. By the time it has simmered in a pot, all of it is reduced to a slurry that reveals no bruising or unsightly dents, just fruity goodness.

Peaches in the pot

The main difference between jelly and jam is whether it has fruit in it or not. After you simmer the fruit it can take two courses:  to be put into a strainer or jelly bag that separates the juice from solid pulp so the juice can be made into jelly; or to remain in the pot and become jam. Jelly is made from just the fruit juice and jam is made with juice and pieces of fruit.

I do both and have favorites. I prefer grape jelly to grape jam, but I like strawberry jam more than strawberry jelly. Rhubarb jelly and elderberry jelly are better than the jams they make while blackberry and raspberry jams are better than their jellies. A lot of it comes down to texture and appearance, but at its core it’s all about personal preference and each individual can decide what they prefer.

Peach jelly, jam, and marmalade

I encourage gardeners to make jellies because it’s easy, cost-effective, and gives them an opportunity to enjoy their garden (or the farmer’s market) at any time of year. In about an hour you can have six or seven jars of jelly that are less expensive than what you buy in the store and taste far superior.

The process is very basic. Take fruit, add packaged pectin, sugar, and maybe a little lemon juice, heat it in a pot, ladle it into jars, heat the jars, put a lid on the jars, and then store them in the pantry until you’re ready to enjoy the delicious results.

Recipes for making jelly should always be used; don’t wing it. The Ball company (maker of pectin, jars, and lids) produces the “Ball Blue Book”, a great resource that shows you every step in the process and includes many great recipes. It should be a part of every gardener’s library.

The reason that approved recipes (approved by the USDA, Extension service, or major manufacturer) should be used is all about food safety. Your grandmother’s recipe may taste good, but it may not have enough sugar or acid to keep harmful bacteria out. We’ve learned a lot about food preservation in recent years and you don’t need to worry about harming your family or yourself as long as you follow prescribed methods and formulas.

It helps to see someone else make jelly before you try it for the first time so I’ve made a video to help. It’s a little intimidating the first time you do it but before long you’ll become a pro. Making jam as a beginner is a little easier because you don’t have the extra step of collecting the juice from the fruit, but both products are easy to make.

If you haven’t made jelly before you should try it. If you have, you should keep doing it. While I love my compost pile, I’d rather see delicious fruit in a jelly jar than decomposing on the pile.

Take a look at my video:

Scott’s jelly video

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Yum, I love jams and jellies, my grandmother made them all the time. I’m glad for the advice about not following unapproved recipes. She left a cookbook behind that had all of her recipes for canning in it. I wonder if there is a way to find out of these recipes could be safe?

    Reply

    • You might be able to cross-reference the recipes. You’ll find that approved recipes follow the same basic ingredients and ratios regardless of the source. If you find one of her recipes you like, see if you can find a similar one in one of Ball’s canning books, from a state Extension publication, or a USDA source. The addition of spices won’t affect the jelly so if she had a “secret” ingredient you can still add that to a new recipe. Another more costly option is to make jelly from one of her recipes and send a sample to a lab that specializes in jelly; they can tell you if the pH, sugar content, and gel factor are safe.

      Reply

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