How to Make Jam That Will Make Your Friends Jelly

Olivia deGregory

Written by Olivia deGregory | Edited by Carol Coutinho

March 3, 2021

Whether we are craving some breakfast toast or an old-fashioned pb&j sandwich, fruit spreads like jam, jelly, and marmalade are there to fulfill our craving for a sweet fruity spread. Unfortunately, these spreads can often be packed with added sugar or other unnecessary ingredients. That’s why you should try to make your own! Making these spreads only takes a few simple ingredients – half of which you probably already have in your kitchen! Bring out those mason jars and let’s get cooking!

Jam, Jelly and Marmalade, oh my!

Honestly, there are no rules saying you can’t put jam on a pb&j (that “j” could stand for jam, right?), or jelly on toast. Seeing as how these spreads are just variations of one another, you can mix and match them however you please. Let’s take a look at the actual differences between these fruit spreads.

Jam is thick and made with either whole fruits or chunks of fruits. The end result is gooey, thick, and has soft pieces of fruit in it – it can be smooth or chunky depending on how you break up the pieces of fruit. Most people prefer to use jam on toast. 

Jelly is gelatinous, smooth, and translucent. Jelly is made using only fruit juices! It results in a firm but wobbly substance with no fruit pieces within it. Due to its smooth texture, most people are adamant that jelly deserves to be on a standard pb&j (but rules are made to be broken)!

Marmalade is just a fancy word for jam made with citrus. Most marmalade does not call for added acid or pectin, but it does require a bit of work to peel and zest the citrus of your choice.

Pot with peaches in it for peach jam


Making a delicious fruit spread requires only a few ingredients! Trying out a few recipes won’t break your budget at the store, so you can experiment with all three versions to see what you like best. And even better, all three spreads require the same ingredients – the ratios and cooking process are what make them differ. 

Fruit: you can make a spread out of almost any fruit, so it is totally up to you! Ideally, try to get fruit that is not over-ripe. While it may be tempting to use fruit that is starting to go bad, that is when most fruits lose their natural pectin (which is a key ingredient in making spreads). Therefore, your spread will be best if you use fresh flavor-packed fruit in its peak season. In the end, if you do decide to use fruit that is less than ideal, bump up the ratio of added pectin to compensate for what the fruit has lost naturally.

Pectin: this is a naturally occurring starch found in vegetables and fruits. This soluble fiber is used to thicken the spreads to the right consistency. For fruits naturally high in pectin, you do not need to add more to your recipe, but it is best to add some to recipes using fruits naturally low in pectin. However, if you don’t want to add it, or simply do not have any, these spreads can be made without it, the consistency will just be looser. 

Fruits Naturally High in Pectin: (do not need to add pectin)

  • Crabapples 
  • Tart apples 
  • Lemons
  • Grapefruits 
  • Oranges
  • Blackberries

Fruits Naturally Low in Pectin: (recommended to add pectin)

  • Blueberries
  • Apricot
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries 
  • Cherries
  • Guava
  • Pears
  • Pineapple

Acid: adding in an acid is crucial to the formation of a good gel-consistency. Some fruits, such as citrus, are naturally high in acidity and do not need more added. Contrarily, other fruits that have low acidity will need juice added (typically lemon juice) to ensure the proper setting. 

Sugar: adding sugar is not entirely a personal choice when it comes to making spreads, but a necessity. In fact, granulated sugar plays a vital role in the gelling process, adds flavor, and helps preserve your spread by reducing mold growth and fermentation. It is possible to make spreads using alternative sugars such as honey or agave, but this can make recipes more tricky if you are new at making spreads. Additionally, honey and other strong flavored sweeteners may mask the strength of fruit flavor. 

opened jar of red cranberry jam on a cutting board

How to Make Jam

Most jam recipes follow the same sequence of steps and can be done in about 30 minutes! Read below for a general idea of how to make jam. 

  • Start by washing your fruit under cold water. Then peel and cut the fruit as needed. 
  • Next, combine fruit and sugar in a wide-bottom pot, then cook them on the stove at a high temperature for about 20 minutes. This is important for water to evaporate from the mixture. 
  • Also, it is important to stir frequently, in order to prevent your mixture from burning at the bottom. This also helps break up the fruit into smaller pieces. With that in mind, feel free to use a potato masher or a fork to help with breaking up the fruit.
  •  Afterwards, add the acid (lemon or lime juice) and pectin if your recipe calls for it. Some recipes add all the ingredients at once, while others suggest you combine them at different times.
  • Continue to simmer the jam until it thickens to your desired consistency.
  • Finally, the best way to tell if your jam is ready is by using the spoon trick. Put a spoon in the freezer while your jam cooks. Then once you think the jam is thick enough, drip some onto the cold spoon, wait a few seconds, and then run your finger through the jam. Generally, if the jam is ready, it will leave a clean trail where you swiped it. In contrast, if the jam runs back together on the spoon, allow it to simmer for a few more minutes.


Yummy jam recipes to check out:

Above view of opened jar of strawberry jam with strawberries around the jar

How to Make Jelly

  • Jelly making begins by combining your prepared fruit in a pot along with water. 
  • Allow the mixture to reach a boil as you break up the fruit within the pot, and then reduce it to a simmer. 
  • Afterwards, strain the mixture using a sieve or a double layer of cheesecloth over a heat-proof bowl.
  • Next comes the hardest part: wait. Do not press or squeeze the fruit mixture to extract the juice. Allow the juices to drip out naturally. This step, while time consuming, is key to achieving a clear translucent jelly. If you force the juices out it creates a cloudy effect in the jelly. This process may take a few hours – a good time to catch up on meditation or cleaning!
  • Once you have your juice, it is time to make jelly! Combine your juice, sugar, and optional acid and pectin into a pot and bring it to a boil. Frequently stir to prevent scorching. 
  • Continue until your mixture thickens, then conduct a doneness test.  
  • Lastly, one of the best ways to tell if your jelly is ready is to check the temperature. Use a candy thermometer to see when your jelly reached 220 degrees fahrenheit.


Yummy jelly recipes to check out:

opened jar of orange marmalade surrounded by orange slices

How to Make Marmalade

Making marmalade is similar to making jam, with a few different steps. 

  • First, peel your citrus fruits. Remove as much of the pith (the white fleshy layer beneath the peel) as possible – it will make your product bitter. 
  • In the meantime, put aside your seeds and fruit membranes (all that fussy clear skin in between your orange slices), you can use them later!
  • Next, cut up the fruit and peels to your desired size. Ultimately, you can choose if you want a chunky or fine marmalade. 
  • Then add your peels and fruit into a pot with water and sugar. Bring to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer for about 30 minutes. 
  • At this point, you can either add your own pectin, or you can create a “pectin bag” using the seeds and membranes you saved earlier. These parts of the fruit contain the starch you need to thicken the marmalade. Wrap them tightly in a double layer of cheesecloth and tie it closed. Add the bag into your pot of already cooking marmalade. In the end, throw it away when you are done cooking. 
  • Cook your marmalade until it thickens and reaches 220 degree fahrenheit. 
  • In the end, allow the marmalade to rest and conduct a doneness test. 


Yummy marmalade recipes to check out:

cooked fruit in a pot for making jam

Helpful Tips That Apply To All Three Spreads:

  • Using a wide-bottomed pot non-reactive pot works best for making jams, jellies, and marmalades. This is because the large surface area allows the water to evaporate easily and cooks the spread evenly, using a pot with a narrower bottom will increase your cooking time, which then alters the quality of your product.  
  • While your spread is cooking, a frothy foam typically appears along the surface. As a result it can change the taste and texture of your spread so it is important to skim this foam off the top using a spoon. 
  • Wash fruits under cold water only. Moreover, only wash them right before you use them. Washing them early on can cause them to absorb extra moisture – which you will then need to boil out. 
  • Immediately package your spread while it is warm. The jars you use must also be warmed to ensure that the glass does not shatter from the temperature difference. Resting your jars in a pot of simmering water while your spread cooks in the meantime guarantees they are a good temperature when you are ready to package them. Also, make sure you place a wire rack in the bottom of your pot, and allow the jars to rest on the rack, not directly on the bottom of the pot.
  • When ladling your spreads into a jar, always leave some space at the top of the jam to allow the spread to expand. About ¼ inch of headspace is fine. 

Share With Your Friends!

We challenge you to go buy some in-season fruit and to try out one of these three spreads this week! Have some fun making a sticky – but delicious – mess. Share this article with your friends to help spread the love with these delicious spreads. 

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