How to Make Sweet Preserves

1 Jan

Most fruit can be preserved using sugar and it is pretty easy to turn a glut of seasonal fruit into all kinds of  jams, jellies, curds, butters, pastes and marmalades. It is a great way to conserve fruits when abundant for use later in the year when there is non. Here are all the basics you need to know plus some of my favourite recipes.

What fruit to use

My favourites are: apricot jammirabelle jam, quince jelly, red currant jellyplum butterfig jamquince cheese (membrillo), raspberry jam, blackcurrant jelly and lemon curd.
There is no point making sweet preserves unless you or your loved ones like eating it. For instance I won’t be making grape or white mulberry jelly again as they were too insipid, or pear jam as it had no flavour, or cherry jam as I didn’t much like the taste, or elderberry jam which really was foul, or rowan which was weird but of course it is all a matter of taste so experiment with what you like.

1. Wash and chop (unless it is already small) the fruit removing peel, cores, stones or pips where necessary.
2. Put fruit in a large pan with a little water, bring to the boil, then simmer until soft.
3. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.
4. Increase the heat and boil until setting point is reached.
5. Pot up into sterilised jars & seal 


Large heavy bottom pan or jam pan.
Long handled wooden spoon, the longer the handle the less likely you are to burn yourself when stirring hot jam.
Jam jars and covers. 
Nice to have

Jam Funnel – A jam funnel is very handy, its like an ordinary funnel but with a wider neck that fits inside a jam jar making it easier to fill.
Jelly Bag- a specially made bag that can be hung up and left to drip separating the juice from the pulp only required for jelly making and even then a piece of muslin can be used.
Cook’s or sugar thermometer 

You can use glass jars of any size, make sure the ones you use don’t have any cracks, chips or flaws.  For sweet preserves I generally use fairly small 250g jars, as we don’t get through jam very quickly this size is ideal for us and they are also an ideal size for presents. If you eat larger amounts of jam use larger 450g/1lb jars or whatever you have to hand. It is possible to buy jam jars in France at agricultural shops and even in supermarkets which is what we do because we don’t have many jars to hand not buying the stuff that normally comes in them, however if you do just wash and save the jars with their lids to use later for your own preserves. Ideally you will have saved the lids with the jars and can use those other wise it is possible to buy wax paper and plastic jam pot covers (personally i don’t find these as successful but worth having a go if you can find them). They come with instructions so just follow 

The most important thing is to make sure that all the equipment you are using is scrupulously clean and that the jars and lids the preserves will be kept in are sterilised. 
  Prepare the jars by washing them well in warm soapy water and then rinsing thoroughly. 
Oven Method

This is my preferred method once the jars are washed put them on an oven tray and place in the oven (160C, 335F, Gas Mark 3) for 10mins. Leave to cool slightly but fill whilst still warm to prevent the jars from cracking when the hot filling is added. This requires timing, put the jars in the oven about 15mins before you think the jam will be ready to pot up. 
Hot Water Method

Place the jars carefully in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Once boiling continue boiling rapidly for 10 minutes, remove the jars carefully, shake off any excess water and set out to dry on a heat proof tray, the heat in the glass will help evaporate the water if you need to speed drying up just pop them in a warm oven until all the moisture has gone. 
 Bring a pan of water to the boil, drop the screw top lids into the water and  boil for 5 minutes, strain, shake off excess water and leave to dry just prior to use. A simpler method is to pour boiling water over the lids and leave to steep for 10 minutes, drain and dry before use.
Rubber seals and corks.
  If you are using kilner jars or jars with cork tops, they need to be sterilised slightly differently. Bring a pan of water to the boil drop the seals or corks into the pan and boil for 1 minute and remove from the heat. After another 5 minutes drain and leave to dry ready for use.

There are 3 methods to test if setting point has been reached. I would generally use at least 2 to be sure. 
1.        Wrinkle test
 – This is the easiest and most reliable test all it requires is a cold saucer (put a saucer in the freezer for 15-30mins). When you think the jam may be ready, remove the pan from the heat. Drop a teaspoonful of jam onto a cold saucer. Allow it to cool for a few minutes then gently push your finger through the jam. If it wrinkles a satisfactory set has been achieved. If it doesn’t, return the saucepan to the heat and continue to boil for a few more minutes then test again. Repeat as necessary. 
2.        Flake test – 
Dip a spoon into the jam, remove it and after a second or two tilt it so that the jam drips. If the drips run together and fall from the spoon in flat sheets or flakes then setting point has been reached. I personally find it hard to decide if the jam drips in flakes or just drips so only use this as a second test. 
3.        Temperature Test
  Jam reaches setting or jelling point at between 104 and 107 degrees Celsius  making sure the jam reaches this temperature requires a cook’s or jam thermometer. Place the thermometer in a jug of hot tap water to warm up the thermometer so that the sudden temperature change dropping it into the jam does not crack it. Place the thermometer into the pan without resting on the bottom, they often have some kind of hook to hang onto the side of the pan so that the thermometer does not reach the bottom of the pan. This is the most accurate method but only really useful if you are making large quantities and you have to buy a thermometer. 

Fill the jars while they are still warm from sterilisation with hot jam (jam should be hot but not still boiling, leave it to cool slightly for a minute or two before filling). With or without a funnel carefully spoon or pour the hot preserve into the jars, filling to just below the top, wipe any stickiness from the rims of the jar with a clean damp cloth and seal.  To seal jam i just screw on the sterilised lid and my jams have lasted well for 3 years so far. However, if you are in any doubt about the keeping ability of the jam (say you have added even less sugar or only barely cooked the fruit in order to retain more of its fresh taste), there are a couple of things you can do to keep air away from jam to stop it spoiling. Before putting the lid on cover the surface of the jam with a disc of grease proof or waxed paper cut out to fit the jar pressing it down so that it has contact with the warm jam or add a thin layer of brandy to form a barrier between jam and air, then screw on the lid.


Label with the contents and date. It is very easy to make your own labels so why not make your jam labels look nice while your at it. We made some particularly nice ones by cutting disks out of brown wrapping paper and hand writing the label then gluing it on with pritt stick. You can also make labels on the computer, which is what i do now, using a basic wordprocessing package. 

Most jams are ready to eat immediately but can be stored for 2-3 years. Store in a cool dark place and, once opened, keep in the fridge.

This article was originally written on in August 2006, I’ve re-written it and re-posted this new updated version.  


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