It’s jellin’ time

The best way to produce a jelled fruit product is to follow a standardized recipe.

The fresh fruits of summer are coming into season. What a better way to preserve the fresh flavor for the future than to turn that fruit into a jam or jelly!

There are a variety of jellied products you can make from fruit. These products include: jellies, jams, preserves, conserves, marmalades and fruit butters. In most cases sugar acts as a preserving agent. Each of the products are distinguished by the kind of fruit used, the way it is prepared, the method of cooking and the proportions of the various ingredients used to make the fruit product.

  • Jellies are made from fruit juice. The fruit product should be clear with no pulp, sediment, or crystals. If turned out of its container, the jelly should hold its shape and be tender enough to be cut. A jelly may be made with fruit juice and sugar or with fruit juice, sugar, and a commercial pectin product.
  • Jams are made from cooked crushed or chopped fruit and sugar, or cooked crushed fruit, sugar, and commercial pectin. Jams are less firm than jellies, but should be thick enough to be spread easily.
  • Preserves are characterized by small, whole fruits or uniformly cut pieces in a thick jellied sugar syrup. The fruit should not be mushy.
  • Conserves contain a variety of fruits plus either nuts, raisins, citrus fruits, or coconut. It is still spreadable like jam.
  • Marmalades are usually soft jellied products containing small citrus fruit pieces or citrus peel.
  • Fruit butters are made from fruit pulp and sugar. The mixture is allowed to cook down to a very thick consistency. The distinguishing characteristic of fruit butter is that it can be heaped on a spoon and not lose it shape. Spices are often added to give very distinctive flavors.

Essential ingredients include: fruit, pectin, acid, and sugar. This is chemistry 101! To be successful in making a jellied fruit product, there is a specific ratio of fruit, pectin, acid, and sugar. Do not experiment with your amounts; follow a standardized recipe or an undesirable product may result. Standardized recipes cannot be doubled or tripled because doing so will throw the specific ratio of fruit acid to pectin to sugar off, making a less than desirable product.

Fruit gives the distinctive color and flavor to the jellied fruit product. It produces part of the acid and pectin needed for the gel. Pectin is the substance that makes the gel form from the fruit. Some fruits are naturally high in pectin. Others do not have enough pectin; therefore, commercial pectin is added to achieve the desired jellied product. Commercial pectin comes from apples or citrus fruits. The commercial pectin is available in either a powdered form or a liquid form. Acid is needed for the formation of the gel and the flavor. The acid content varies from fruit to fruit. In some cases it is necessary to add lemon juice or citric acid to the mixture.

Sugar is very important in the gel formation, and it needs to be in exact proportion with the pectin and the acid. Sugar acts as a preservative by absorbing the water molecules and preventing the growth of microorganisms. White granulated sugar is usually used to make a homemade jellied fruit product.

Sweeteners such as brown sugar, molasses, and sorghum tend to overpower the flavor of the fruits. Artificial sweeteners cannot be substituted for sugar in regular jellied fruit recipes because sugar is needed for the gel formation. There are specific recipes designed for reduced or no sugar jams and jellies. Contact the local county Michigan State University Extension office for the information.

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