The difference between jams, marmalades and jellies lies not in the ingredients so much as the techniques used to prepare and cook the fruit and the texture of the resulting preserve.
Jams and marmalades have intense flavor but arrive at it in opposite ways:
Jams are cooked as quickly as possible and with as little sugar as possible to capture the essence of the raw fruit e.g. strawberries and apricots.
Marmalades and jellies achieve their strength through concentration, cooked slowly for a long time in order to draw out the very last drop of flavor and pectin. They taste intensely of fruit, but not raw fruit. E.g. Citrus fruits are most commonly in marmalades.
Jam – a “jam” is a softly gelled spread consisting of pieces of fruit cooked with sugar until they thicken and partially breakdown.
Preserve – a “preserve” contains whole small fruits or large pieces of larger fruits in a thick syrup that may or may not be gelled
Conserve – a “conserve” usually contains nuts and/or dried fruit
Fruit Butter – a fruit “butter” is smooth-textured and thick, often without sugar added.
Fruit paste / cheese – a fruit paste or cheese has a firm texture that can be sliced. It is fruit and sugar that has been cooked until almost of the moisture has evaporated. E.g. Quince paste and Damson plum cheese
Marmalade – a “marmalade’ is a jelly with clearly defined pieces of fruit/s suspended in it, it usually contains citrus zest or rind and pulp.
Jelly – A fruit “jelly” is clear and firmly gelled. Strained and clear fruit juice is combined with sugar and lemon juice (or another acidic juice) and sometimes pectin and then boiled until setting point is reached.
There are Four Ingredients that are Essential to Delicious Jam
Fruit, Sugar, Acid & Pectin. These ingredients are balanced according to the inherent characteristics of the fruits being used.
- Flavour, sweetness and perfume
- Bitterness and sourness
- Texture, some fruits breakdown more than others, also think of graininess, fibrousness and seed size, toughness of skin
- Balancing these qualities by combining fruits, longer cooking, shorter cooking, additional acid e.g. lemon juice and additional pectin.
- Perfect ripeness for best flavour. You can use slightly overripe fruit but match with under-ripe fruit or extra pectin.
- Food preserved with sugar is often the first thing that comes to mind when you mention the word preserving. Preserves with sugar are sweet tasty treats using (mostly) fruit. Sugar is the vital ingredient that preserves the fruit in jams, jellies and marmalade.
- Sugar adds sweetness, but is also the primary thickener.
- Sugar is the vital ingredient that actually preserves the fruit and keeps it from spoiling. The proportion of sugar required in the preserve has to be a minimum of 60% of the mass/volume of fruit mixture.
- White cane sugar is best because it has fewest impurities, gives great texture and lets the flavour of the fruit shine through without adding its own flavour.
- Brown and / or raw sugar work best in marmalades and preserves that have a vinegar base.
- Some recipes use honey instead of sugar. Be aware though, that honey burns more easily and imparts its own strong flavour.
- Sweetness and sugariness are not the same thing so add the minimum amount of sugar to achieve the setting point.
- Jams generally need and use less sugar than marmalades and jellies
- The amount of sugar used depends on the desired texture, consistency and the sweetness of the fruit. Adding pureed fruit can help thicken your jam or preserve if you wish to use less sugar.
- Naturally found in fruit.
- Acid draws pectin out of fruit and enables setting point to be reached quickly, ensuring freshness of flavour.
- Acid helps prevent crystallization of sugar.
- As with pectin, acid content varies in fruit and more may need to be added to your jam.
- The acid needs to be added before the sugar so that it can draw out the pectin. Lemon juice is often used for this.
- Is a naturally occurring substance found in all fruit in varying quantities and when combined with sugar and acid, it thickens to a gummy substance.
- Pectin is concentrated in the peel, pith, pips and cores of fruit.
- Some fruits have more pectin than others. Riper fruit has less pectin than just under-ripe fruit and when fruit has been frozen, it also reduces the pectin content.
- To achieve the best consistency for your preserve, mix high and low pectin fruits, add some home-made pectin or jam sugar.
Essential Tools for Making Jam
Use a wide heavy based pan and only fill a ¼ to a 1/3 of the way up the side of the pot. The key is to evaporate the water off as quickly as possible to achieve setting point and sugar concentration. Traditional pans in France were made of copper and have sloping sides to increase surface area and accommodate the rising frothing mixture.
Testing for setting point
Put a teaspoon or a saucer in the freezer to chill it. When the preserve has cooked for the time set out in the recipe, or if you think it is getting close to setting point, drop a small amount onto the plate and let it cool. When you push your finger through the jam it should crinkle. If it doesn’t, the jam is not set and needs to be cooked for a little longer. Another method is to use a teaspoon, cool the jam on the spoon in the freezer (don’t freeze it!). If the jam is set, it will ‘sheet’ off the spoon rather than drip.
If the preserve has cooked for longer than the suggested time and is still not set it probably means there isn’t enough pectin in it to achieve a set. But don’t be concerned, the jam can still be saved; Cool the contents of the pan completely, add some homemade pectin stock or jam sugar and bring it back to the boil. Continue to boil it for about 10 minutes and it should set.
Sterilizing & Potting.
Put into clean and sterilised jars whilst still hot above 85° C.
Our top tips for Jam & Marmalade
- Choose the freshest fruit at the peak of ripeness to capture the best flavour. If the fruit is a bit overripe mix and match other fruits or add more pectin.
- Making small batches of jam means that it will take less time for your fruit to be cooked to softness and will avoid overcooking.
- Soak overnight or simmer the fruit with the added acid before adding the sugar to release the pectin and soften skins. The fruit will not soften after sugar is added. This can be an advantage if you like using whole pieces of fruit.
- Fully dissolve the sugar before boiling so the sugar doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan. Boil rapidly so the setting point is reached quickly.
- To stir or not to stir? With delicate fruits it may be required so fruit doesn’t burn on the bottom but it will lower the temperature and make setting point longer to reach. If the jam starts to catch, lower the temperature of the stove slightly.
- Let the jam sit in the preserving pan for around 3-5 minutes, so it has time to thicken and so all the fruit won’t rise to the top of your jars.
- When making marmalade, soak the fruit overnight in additional water for softer fruit and fuller flavor, then cook down for a long time. (You just need to cover the fruit – it shouldn’t be floating!)