Culinary Arts

How to Make Easy Homemade Jelly: Basic Jelly Recipe With Tips, Ingredients, and Flavors

Written by MasterClass

Apr 17, 2019 • 5 min read

If you like your condiments jiggly, flavorful, but without the added texture, then jelly might be your fruit preserve of choice. Whether it’s smeared on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, slathered onto breakfast muffins, or paired with cheese, this condiment is made to spread some joy to your next meal.

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What Is Jelly?

Jelly is made by extracting fruit juice and cooking it with sugar and pectin (natural or commercially made) to thicken it to a firm, but spreadable consistency. It’s often used with whole fruits that have seeds in them or skins, like grapes, cranberries, and raspberries. Homemade jelly will have a complex flavor that you may not find in the generic jars at grocery stores.

The 3 Ingredients You Need to Make Jelly

  1. Fruit: If it’s your first time making jelly, use high pectin, high acid type of fruits like tart apples, crabapples, cranberries, blackberries, gooseberries, lemons, concord grapes, and currants. The high pectin content ensures a smooth and proper gel.
  2. Sugar: Sugar works with the pectin and fruit acids to create the gel texture in jelly. Beware that using less sugar can keep your jelly from setting, and adding too much can result in stiff jelly.
  3. Pectin: Pectin is the most crucial ingredient in making fruit jelly, it’s what creates the gelling effect that you’re aiming for. Fruit contains natural pectin but if you’re using low pectin fruit (like fresh strawberries), you can supplement it with commercial pectin (powder or liquid), or you can add a high-pectin ingredient like fresh lemon juice.

What Equipment Do You Need to Make Jelly?

  1. A heavy-bottomed large pot or saucepan: Using a heavy pan keeps the fruit from scorching over heat, while also providing a larger surface for evaporation. The key to making jam is reducing water in the fruit, helping it to thicken with the sugar, so a thick-bottomed pot will let you cook for a longer period without burning the contents.
  2. Jelly jars: Use heat proof sealable glass pint jars (easy to sterilize) for storing jam after cooking. When using the canning method, jam has to be hot when it goes into its sterilized jar and sealed, otherwise it can become moldy. Part of the preserving process is for all the air in the jam to escape and for the lid to then be sucked down into the vacuum, creating a strong seal.
  3. Heatproof spatula or wooden spoon: Heatproof cooking utensils don't quickly heat to high temperatures or chemically react with acidic foods as their metal counterparts do. They don't melt or release chemicals into hot food as plastic does.
  4. Jelly bag: Although not totally necessary, it makes the task of straining your pieces of fruit for juice much easier and neater. If that’s not available feel free to use a cheesecloth.

What Fruits Can You Jelly?

Generally the more tart the fruit, the higher the natural fruit pectin will be. Preferred fruits for making jelly include:

  • Apples
  • Crabapples
  • Grapes
  • Cranberries
  • Berries

What’s the Difference Between Jam and Jelly?

Jam has fruit chunks and a thicker, spoonable texture while the fruit solids are strained out when making jelly, resulting in a smooth, clear, and firm spread.

Can You Make Jelly Without Pectin?

You can make jelly without pectin by using high pectin fruit such as apples, blackberries, and plums. For those new to the jelly making, try using tart granny smith apples. Use a candy thermometer while cooking and make sure to reach a 220°F setting point, otherwise you might end up with runny jelly. To make a low-sugar jelly, you’ll need to increase the amount of pectin used.

3 Tips for Making Perfect Homemade Jelly

Use fresh fruit and skip the frozen fruit juice. Using peak-season fruit will let you enjoy this sweet treat all year round. Look for in-season farmers’ market fruit without damages or dents. Overippened or spoiled fruit can impact the flavor and lifespan of your jelly.
Trying using a jelly bag. Jelly bags are specifically designed to strain the pulp, skin, and seeds from your fruit juice, leaving a clarified liquid perfect for jelly making. When finished using, rinse right away.
Use a non-reactive pot. Cook your fruit in a stainless steel or copper pot; other metals (like aluminum or cast iron) may react with the acid in the fruit and infuse your preserves with a metallic taste.

raspberry jelly with fresh raspberries

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How to Store Homemade Jelly

When jelly is cooled and stored covered in clean, sterilized jars, it can last up to a month in the refrigerator or up to a year in the freezer, depending on the sugar content. Sugar is not only used as a sweetener, but also as a preservative that helps maintain the color of your fruit and prevents mold from developing. If you process by canning in a boiling water bath, you can expect up to two years of shelf life when stored in a cool, dry place. Learn how to can here.

3 Flavor Combinations for Homemade Jelly

  • To make cranberry jelly, combine 4 cups or cranberry juice with 6 cups sugar, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in 4 tablespoons dry pectin, boil for another minute, stirring constantly until thickened.
  • To make raspberry jelly, combine 5 1/2 pounds fresh berries (strained into 3 1/2 cups juice), ½ cup of water, 2 ½ cups sugar and ½ cup lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat and simmer the liquid for 8-12 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly. You can skip the pectin because raspberry has enough natural pectin on its own.
  • To make red pepper jelly, combine 1 ½ pounds red bell peppers (deseeded and finely chopped into 2 ½ cups), 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, 3 ¼ cups sugar, 1 cup white-wine vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes to soften. Stir in 3 tablespoons dry pectin, bring to a boil, stirring for another 1-2 minutes until thickened.

Classic Concord Grape Jelly Recipe

Makes
4 pints
Prep Time
5 min
Total Time
25 min
  • 4 pounds concord grapes
  • 1 (1 ¾ ounce) box of dry pectin
  • 7 cups of sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Clean grapes and remove the stems, discarding any old shriveled grapes.
  2. Mash the grapes with a potato masher (or fork), so the juice begins to flow. Alternatively, pulse in a food processor.
  3. Place grapes in a heavy-bottomed pot, add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower to a simmer and continue cooking for 10 minutes.
  4. Strain juice from whole pieces of pulp using a cheesecloth or jelly strainer, you should be left with 5 cups of juice. If not, you can add some more water.
  5. Transfer juice to a pot and stir in pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat, then add sugar and salt. Return to boil for another minute, stirring constantly.
  6. Remove from heat, skim off foam, and ladle hot jam into sterilized canning jars. Let cool completely to room temperature if storing in the fridge (up to one month), otherwise proceed with a canning recipe for longer storage.

Note: If you are using liquid pectin, add to the boiling mixture closer to the end of the cooking process.