For the longest time, I never knew what the difference was between jam and jelly. I thought the two were exactly the same thing, and jam just seemed like a more sophisticated way to say “fruity spread for my toast”. Once I decided that jam would be my “J”, I hit the books to find the true definition of each.
Turns out jam and jelly really are pretty different. They’re both made from fruit and put on toast, but the similarities end there. Jam is made from the whole fruit (seeds, skin, the whole shebang), but jelly is made from just the fruit juices. This means that jam has a thicker, coarser texture due to the skins and seeds, and these skins and seeds can contribute a tarter taste as well. Making jam requires nothing more than some sugar and water to thicken it since the fruit contains its own natural “thickeners” (aka pectin, for you science geeks out there) that are released when cooked. Jelly, on the other hand, has a smoother texture since it’s made solely from juice, so it requires additional “thickeners” (pectin) because the juice contains none.
Basically, it comes down to personal preference. Jam is like orange juice with pulp, jelly is like orange juice without pulp. (Although I can’t stand pulp in my OJ, I still prefer jam. I’m just strange like that.)
I chose cranberries for my first jam, mainly because Thanksgiving already came and the holidays are just around the corner, and cranberries seemed to fit the spirit of the season. Plus I haven’t seen very many cranberry jams in the grocery stores, primarily strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and apricot, and I wanted to be different.
A few quick tips…
- Wash and dry your jars before starting! I decided against sterilizing mine since I knew I’d be eating my jam before it went bad, so I simply washed my jars extra well with soap and hot water. If you want to sterilize your jam jars so they’ll keep on a shelf, I don’t know any good tips just yet…
- Clean everything else off your countertops. Making jam turns into a rather messy endeavor and everything it touches turns sticky, so the less clutter that’s out, the better.
- Wear an apron or old clothes you don’t care about. Especially with cranberry jam. It’s bright red. Enough said.
- Use a spoon you don’t care about too. Like I said, it’s bright red. It stains the spoon, especially wooden ones.
- Clean up right after finishing. It’s easier to clean the pots and food processor before the sugar sets and requires vigorous scrubbing or soaking to remove.
- Make a piece of toast to test your jam. Even though licking your fingers is necessary during the process, there’s nothing like a taste of fresh jam on a good piece of toast!
taken from this Homemade Cranberry Jam Recipe
makes 48 oz
2 (12 oz) bags fresh cranberries, rinsed
3 c. sugar
1 c. cranberry juice
1 c. water
jelly jars (whatever combination you’d prefer that adds up to 48 oz)
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine cranberries through water. Stir occasionally until boiling, then turn down heat to between medium-low and medium, or until mixture is simmering.
- Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20-25 minutes while it thickens. Remove from heat. Jam will continue to thicken and set as it cools.
- Puree in a food processor until mostly smooth with occasional chunks of cranberries, or until it reaches your desired consistency.
- Fill each jar up to within ¼ inch of the rim. Screw lids on top and turn the jars upside down. Once jam cools, place in the refrigerator, leaving the jars upside down until the lids “pop” down and jars seal. Keep refrigerated! (Jam will go bad quickly on a pantry shelf at room temperature.)