Canning 101: The worlds easiest jelly

Welcome back!  I hope everyone had an AWESOME weekend, and I hope even more so that you’re ready to start canning!  Today, we are going to start the adventure with the worlds easiest jelly recipe.

First, lets cover a few more basic things relating to jelly and jam making.

Jelly and jam are comprised of essentially three basic components: 1) fruit, 2) sugar, 3) pectin.  Both jelly and jam are canned using the water bath canning method, and therefor some recipes may also call for lemon juice to raise the acidity up just a bit to make them safe for water bath canning.  The differance between jelly and jam is simple: jam has mushed up bits of fruit in it, jelly doesn’t contain mushed up bits of fruit – it is in fact made using the juice from the mushed up (and usually cooked) bits of fruit.  Marmalade is technically a specialized subset of jams as it contains fruit, but it focuses mostly on citrus zests rather than mushed up stuff.  I hope we are all clear on that.

Now, lets talk pectin.  Pectin is an all natural (or should be) substance that is actually found in fruits, in fact there are many jam recipes where you don’t have to add pectin because the fruit you are using already contains enough natural pectin it’s unnecessary to add more.  Pectin comes in several different varieties…

Namely: Instant pectin (used in freezer jam), liquid pectin, original pectin, and no-sugar (or low-sugar) needed pectin.  They are made by at least three brands I know of (pictured here is Ball brand, but Sure-Jell and Kerr also make them).  I have experience with the original pectin, and the no-sugar pectin.

And I have come to find that I prefer the no-sugar needed pectin for the simple fact that I don’t have to put so much into my jelly and jam.  A standard batch of jelly or jam using original fruit pectin will call for somewhere between 6 and 8 cups of sugar usually, and the recipe usually makes that many half-pint (or 8oz) jars of jelly or jam, that means each jar has a whole cup of sugar in it!  The No-sugar needed pectin you can use no sugar or up to 3 cups of sugar (I usually add one or two depending on what I’m making) which drastically cuts down on how much sugar is in your jelly or jam.

When you open your box of pectin it should have two things inside it 1) the packet of pectin and 2) a double sided instruction sheet.

On the front side of the instruction sheet are the basic guidelines for prepping your jars, and then for filling and processing them.

Including an altitude chart (if you’re unsure of what your altitude is where you live, simply google altitude and your zip code – it’s important and can impact your processing times) which is a handy reference.

The back side includes several different recipes.

In this case, there are jelly, jam, and freezer jam recipes and since this is a box of no-sugar needed pectin there is a chart in the corner that shows all the different sugar and sugar substitutes (including splenda, honey, and others) that could be used and in what ranges for the recipes as a basic guideline.

Now, onto the Jelly…

As I said above, jelly is a semi-transparent mixture made from the strained juice of the fruit and doesn’t contain any bits of mashed up fruits.  Traditionally, you would mash, cook, then strain the fruit to get the desired amount of juice to make jelly with.  This is somewhat tedious, requires specialized equipment, and is time consuming since you have to let the fruit strain for several hours to get all the juice since if you squeeze the juice out you end up with cloudy jelly.  At some point, I will show you how to do this, today though, I’m going to show you the best shortcut ever – using pre-made store bought juice to make jelly!

First, let’s talk about the juice.  Any pure 100% juice will work, even a juice blend (say cranberry grape, or pomegranate cherry) as long as it’s 100% juice with no added ingredients.  The pomegranate juice I used this time was 100% juice from concentrate and it’d worked just fine, so that’s an option too.

Any of they juices would work, even the less expensive Welch’s.  It’s up to you and your preferences if you want to spend the money on organic juice or not.  For this recipe you only nee 32 fl oz of juice, so the three smaller bottles in this picture are perfect, the Welch’s you’d just have to measure out your 32 fl oz then you could drink the rest, or do whatever you’d like with it.

How picky you get on the ingredients is up to you, just like I said about the organic juice, it’s up to you weather you want to pick the 100% pure juice like this apple juice:

or if you want to go with the less expensive Mott’s which says it’s 100% juice  but if you read the ingredients it actually has added (artificial) vitamin c. 

Once you select your juice, you’ll also need the pectin (I used no-sugar needed here) and the sugar or other sweetener you chose to use, as well as your tools, jars, pots and canner.

In your work area, lay down at least one or two small hand sized towels (remember, don’t use your nice towels, use ones you don’t mind if they get grape juice or something spilled on them that might stain).  I also put down a hot pad because I remove my pot from the stove to my work area during the jar filling process (I’ll talk about that further down, just expanding the hot pads presence in this picture for now).

On an out of the way counter, or the back of your dining room table, put down a folded beach towel or bath towel, again not your nice stuff, but just an old beat up one you don’t care if it doesn’t look the same when you’re done.  Put this down somewhere where you wont mind losing the surface space for the next 12 to 24 hours, but close enough to the stove that you’re not moving hot jars all across the house when your done canning.

Then get all your ingredients and utensils ready.

For this jelly you’ll need: 6 to 8 half pint jars (half pint is my personal preference for jams and jellies, you could batch yours into anything from a dozen 4 oz jars up to one ginormous half gallon jar – whatever your little heart desires), 32 oz of juice, 1 box pectin (again, I chose the no-sugar needed pectin), sugar or whatever sweetener you may chose to use, a damp dish cloth, your canning funnel, jar lifter tongs, magnetic lid wand, a rubber spatula (or the air bubble remover that came with your canning kit) and possibly regular tongs depending on how you prep your jars for canning (I’ll talk about that in a minute).  Also you’ll need (but not pictured) a regular table spoon and a small bowl.

Now, you’ll need to prep your jars.  There are two ways to do this 1) you can run them through a quick cycle on your dishwasher and keep them in there on warm until you need them.  This is a really easy and convenient way to rinse off any dust that may have collected during storage if they aren’t new jars, as well as warm them for use – personally my dishwasher is never not in use, so I chose to do it the old fashioned way as seen below:

remove lids and bands from jars.  Put jars into your canner and fill it up with water to the tops of the jars.  I know I show in this picture that they are upside down, actually you want to turn them over it’ll be easier later.

    

You can put your screw bands in the canner with your jars, or you can put them in the small pot with your lids – this is a total preference thing, and I’ve done it both ways – in fact, since the day I did this I made multiple batches of jelly, I did it different ways for the different batches.  It really doesn’t matter.  Either way, you also want to put your lids in a small pot and cover them with water.  Then, set your canner and small pot with lids on the stove, put your lid pot on low heat just to hardly simmer, and set your canner to medium high heat.

  

Now, we are ready to start working on the jelly.  I prefer, and would highly recommend that you do the same, to have all my ingredients pre-measured, and ready to go before I start cooking – that way I don’t have to take any time out to open a package, find the right measuring cup, or scoop out anything in the middle.  Pectin, being a natural item, is delicate.  If cooked too long, or too hot it will start to break down and your jelly won’t gel.  So I don’t like anything to delay any of the cooking to preserve that natural balance.

In this recipe, I’m making pomegranate jelly, using the no-sugar needed pectin, and i chose to add 2 cups of sugar – the end result was the perfect amount of sweet in my opinion.  A few weeks back I made grape jelly the same way, but I used 3 cups of sugar and thought it was too sweet.  This same day I also made apple jelly using only 1 cup of sugar, and black cherry using 2 cups of sugar.  Play with it, see what you think works best for you.  If you’re unsure, just check the handy sweetener table in the pectin packet instructions:

One of the canning books I read recommended keeping a canning journal or notebook.  That way you can document the recipes you’ve tried, the dates you made them, what ingredient levels you used.  If you do that, and you end up thinking that your jelly needed more sugar, or less sugar, you’ll have a place where you can make a note of that so the next time you make it, you’ll remember to add more or less sweetener.

Start by pouring your juice and then your pectin into a sauce pan or small stock pot.  Make sure the pan is big enough not only to hold the liquid, pectin, and later the sugar – but also hold in all the bubbles and juice when it comes to a rapid boil later!

    

Stir them together, then over high heat bring them to a rapid boil stirring constantly.

    

Once your mixture has come to a rapid boil that can’t be stirred down, stir in sugar, then bring back to a rapid boil.

  

This pot may have been just a tad too small. Once your mixture returns to a rapid boil, allow it to boil – still stirring constantly – for one minute then remove from heat. I do this by preforming the great pan swap. I move my jelly off the stove onto the hot pad in my work space, move my canner over onto the burner my jelly was just on (which is the larger burner on my stove, and conveniently already hot which the canner needs). My lid pan, if it wasn’t there already, will also get moved to the burner which is now behind the canner because it’s most convenient to my work area – still keeping it’s water to a very low simmer.

Now is the time to skim off any foam that’s on the surface of your jelly.  Just use a table spoon and gently remove the foam.  This step is optional, but it makes for prettier jelly when you get it in the jar.  You don’t have to be perfect, just do your best.  Set the spoon off to the side in a bowl.  That stuff is really yummy drizzled over some vanilla ice cream, or smeared onto a biscuit.

   

Now starts the actual canning process.  Lift your first clean, hot jar out of the pot of water (or take it out of the dishwasher if you went that route).  Keep in mind it’s HOT!  You can do this one of two ways, you can use your jar lifter like you see in the picture, or if your jars are open mouth side up, you can use a pair of regular kitchen tongs grasp the jar but the lip of the opening and lift it out that way.  Either way, you want to dump any water out of the jar that may have gotten in it while you were warming them.

Set the jar onto your towel covered work station, and put your canning funnel into it.  Then, slowly, ladle out your jelly into the jar.  As you ladle, be aware of the headspace you need to leave in the jar.  Headspace is the amount of open air space from the top of your jar (yes, the very top, don’t measure starting from the bottom of the threaded part – include it) to the top of where your jelly stops.  For most jelly and jam recipes 1/4 inch of headspace is sufficient.  Personally, I usually leave more like 1/2 inch or so just because I like the way it looks in the jar. 😉

   

When your jar is filled, remove the funnel and run your rubber spatula (or air bubble remove wand) along the outer edge of the inside of your jar to loosen and remove any air bubbles.  Then wipe the rim with a damp cloth.

  

Next, use your magnetic wand to get out a lid from your pan and place it onto the jar, then repeat with a screw band.  Gently tighten (finger tighten only, you don’t want to screw the bands on super tight or it will affect the seal of the jar during processing!) the screw band.  REMEMBER IT’S ALL HOT! USE YOUR DAMP CLOTH, OR A POT HOLDER TO HOLD THE JAR AND THE LID/SCREW BAND AS YOU TIGHTEN THEM TO AVOID BURNS!

  

Next, use your jar lifter to gently put your filled jar back into your canner full of hot water.  Repeat until you’ve filled jars full of all your jelly mixture.  Place jars in the canner with at least one inch of open space on all sides to allow for correct water movement during the canning process.  Also, make sure there is 1 to 2 inches at least of water covering the tops of the jars.

    

Inevitably I always seem to end up with about 4oz of jelly that doesn’t fit into the jars I’m filling (maybe it’s because of my extra head room).  If this happens to you, you have two options. 1) fill a smaller jar (or the same size but only half full) and process it just like the others – it won’t hurt anything. Or 2) fill a smaller jar (or the same size but only half full) and don’t process it, let it cool, then stick it in the fridge to enjoy immediately.  It’ll be find as long as you finish it within a couple weeks and keep it refrigerated.

Now comes the actual canning process part.  Put the lid of your canner (if you’re using a pressure canner like I do, put the lid all the way on BUT DO NOT LOCK IT!) and quickly bring the water to a boil.  When the water has reached a rolling boil, process the jars for the time listed in your instructions on your pectin based on your altitude.  For me, that’s 10 minutes.  Then, remove the canner from the heat, take off the lid, and let the jars just sit for 5 minutes.  When you take off the lid, don’t be surprised if the jars have moved around during the canning process, that’s totally normal.  During this 15 minutes is a good time to start doing the dishes and cleaning up the mess you just made in your kitchen.

  

After your processing and cooling time have elapsed, use your jar lifter (THESE JARS ARE CRAZY HOT!) and move the jars from the canner, onto the large towel you put down before.  This is when you’ll start to hear the little metallic PING as the seals all form and pull the lids down.  It’s a great sound.  If you don’t hear it, thats OK – DON’T FORCE A SEAL BY PUSHING ON THE CENTER OF A LID!

Set ’em down, don’t touch ’em.  The jars will need to rest for the next 12 to 24 hours to properly seal and gel.  The jelly will still be liquidy when you pull it from the canner.  Resist the urge to pick the jars up and look to see if it still moves,  I know it’s hard, just do your best. 🙂

The next day your jelly is done.  You can open it up and eat your first jar (if you didn’t get extra), or store it all.  If you’re like me and you have CRAZY hard water that leaves your jars looking like they have leprosy, here’s an easy tip.  Wet a dish towel, and spray it lightly with a vinegar solution (I keep this in a spray bottle 50/50 water/vinegar mix all the time it’s great for the hard water spots that show up on my sink faucets, and to clean glass with). then gently remove the screw bands from the jars and wipe the jars and screw bands clean.

    

Like we talked about before, it’s up to you if you store your jars with the screw bands on or not.  Either way, if you see any obvious rust on the inside or outside of the screw band during the cleaning/inspection process – toss it, it’s not safe to use again.  After your jars are clean, you just have to label and store them, which I’ll talk about in a later post. 🙂

Congratulations – you just made your first batch of homemade jelly, and it’ll look so pretty and taste really yummy!

Let’s talk for a second about the real deal cost wise here before we call it a day:

I looked through the collection of jelly in my grocery store and couldn’t find a single jar of pomegranate jelly, so I googled – 1 10oz jar was $5.59 on amazon (not including shipping).

To make 6 8oz jars (I’m not going to count the random 4 oz I had left over) I spent the following:

1 box no-sugar needed pectin $3.97

1 32 oz jar of pomegranate juice $3.99

I buy my sugar in 25 lb bags at costco for $13.35 which breaks down to 58.83 cups per 25 lb bag meaning each cup of sugar costs me .23¢.

So, I made 48 oz of jelly for $8.42.  To buy 48 oz of pomegranate jelly I would end up spending $26.83 (someone may need to check my math on that)

I’d say that’s totally worth it!

extra bonus – my juice (and my jelly) was free of High Fructose Corn Syrup and other artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.  I also made a batch of apple, grape, and black cheery.  All 4 batches were low sugar, two of the 4 were organic, and 3 of the 4 were semi-rare or rare jelly flavors.  And I did it all (or could have done if I hadn’t made the grape a few weeks back) in a morning.

Seriously, it’s not that hard, it’s really cost effective, and you’ll be so proud of yourself!  Extra bonus, since it’s homemade, you can give it as (inexpensive) gifts for all kinds of occasions depending on how you package it!

As always – I love feedback, leave comments as questions as you see fit. 🙂

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20 thoughts on “Canning 101: The worlds easiest jelly

  1. Wow! I’m impressed. Making jelly is hard enough, but taking pictures and formulating instructions and keeping your cool with polished nails and all! 🙂 What a great tutorial. Almost makes me want to do that again…really John was our jelly maker and I kept 3 little boys away from the hot kitchen!!!

  2. great tutorial! i love the step by step photos. almost as good as having your mom or gram in the kitchen with you

    i’m unclear on one thing though – do you need to dry the inside of your jars after taking them from the hot water and before filling them with the jelly mixture or just pour out the water and move on?

    i’ve never made jelly this way before and it looks way to easy not too try. makes me almost wish i still had kids at home and a reason to have a stock of various jelly on hand.

    • drying the inside of the jars isn’t necessary after you take them from the hot water. Just pour out all the water back into the canner and then fill them as normal. The tiny amount of water that may remain doesn’t affect the jelly. 🙂

  3. I agree that using the no/low sugar pectin is the way to go! I use so much LESS sugar in all of my preserving because of it! Awesome tutorial! As a lifelong canner/preserver of foods, I don’t like cooked jam/jellies. I will only do freezer jam or jelly. It has a very fresh taste. I’ll be watching your blog from now on!

  4. Canning must be in the air —- I just processed a batch of watermelon jelly last night! {grin} Yum! It’s a pretty straightforward recipe: 4 cups seeded watermelon blended down to just over 2 cups juice; 1 pouch liquid pectin; 3 cups sugar (yes, I know, a lot — but watermelon is mostly water!); and 1/4 cup lemon juice. I have half of a watermelon left over and plan to try Pomona’s Universal Pectin + the directions in Put ’em Up!, to see if I can cut back on the sugar and still get a gel to form.

  5. Pingback: New and News | Our Ongoing Adventures

  6. Do you have a conversion for your box of low/no sugar pectin for the bottle of the same stuff by Ball? Like how many tablespoons?

    • I haven’t used their new canister pectins yet so I don’t have personal experience. However their website says “3 Tablespoons = 1 box of other pectin brands.” which I would take to mean that 3 TBSP is equivalent to their old box as well.

  7. I just accomplished something I never thought I could do …. all because of your wonderful tutorial on making Pomegranate Jelly! Thank you! Taste test comes tomorrow 🙂

  8. Thank you so much! I have always made my jelly with the regular box of pectin. I never really thought about how much sugar went into each jar until I read your blog. Now I have made 2 batches with your recipe and the taste is wonderful. I also have a pomegranate tree on my new property, so no cost there just a little bit of time. Thank you again!

  9. Appreciating thee time aand energy you put into
    your website and detailed information you present.

    It’s awesome to come across a blog every oncce in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed material.
    Fantastic read! I’ve saved yor site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to myy Google
    account.

  10. Thank you for the tip using the vinegar/water spray to clean the jars! Great tutorial you did an awsome job. I made apple jelly today the full amount of sugar way, but I plan on trying the low sugar version thanks to your tutorial. Wish I had read your blog before canning today lol. I originally was looking to see if you could use bottled grape juice from concentrate as I did use bottled apple juice not from concentrate. You answered my question and enlightened me also. Thank you.
    Happy canning.

  11. Just made this recipe using pomegranate juice from our tree. I also used the no sugar pectin and 2 c. sugar. I only got 4 1/2 half pints. Is this normal? I thought I would get 6-8. Thank you for your reply.

  12. Thank you for posting this & for your clear, detailed instructions, with pics!! I plan to ise this in the next few days to make as Christmas gifts.

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