As jellies are not the most economical to make with yields per weight of fruit less than jam, it’s important to use a reliable jelly recipe and fruit high in pectin and acid. Common mistakes with jellies include a vague recipe, unsuitable fruit, short cuts with the process and confusion about filling and sealing jars.

The Jelly Recipe

I find the best jelly recipe produces a bright, sparklingly clear jelly with a good flavour. The set is firm enough to cut without it spreading like jam. When a teaspoon of jelly is removed from a jar, it should wobble on the spoon. Savoury jellies, e.g apple or gooseberry and herbs usually have a slightly firmer consistency, as they are made to eat with meat or fish. Sweet jellies have a less firm consistency as they are made to accompany mainly baked goods, although redcurrant jelly is popular with poultry. Avoid the temptation to make a big batch in one go, as the larger the volume, the longer it takes to reach a set and prolonged boiling weakens the fruit flavour and darkens the colour.


My favourite fruits for a jelly recipe are black and red currants, damsons, cooking apples, crab apples, gooseberries and quince. These have the setting properties most suited for jelly and they all gel when set. Cooking apples are especially good mixed with either low, blackberries or elderberries, or high pectin fruit(sloes), producing attractive colours and soft flavours. Plums and greengages do not make attractive jellies and rhubarb or strawberries are poor setters. Vegetables, for example peppers and tomatoes are best used in vinegar preserves. Select slightly under-ripe fruit for jellies and not over-ripe otherwise they might not set.

Making the Jelly

There are five stages to making a jelly: preparing and cooking the fruit, straining it, calculating the sugar, boiling to a set, and potting up.


Rinse the fruit in cold water and remove any large stems or leaves. Apples or quinces will cook quicker if cut up, but no need to peel, core or remove the skins. Simmer the fruit in a covering of water, enough water to be level with the top of the fruit in the pan. Raspberries cooked on their own will not need any water. Crush the fruit as it is simmering to help it become pulped. Gentle simmering and not boiling is essential, to extract the pectin and acid.

Straining the juice

Strain the pulp whilst hot through a scalded jelly bag. Jelly bags and stands are available from cook shops or online. I tend not to like these kits as the bags are often too small, or I’m unhappy with the clarity of the juice passed through the bag. These days I use bags made out of a double layer of thin muslin. Leave the juice to drip through the bag and resist the temptation to squeeze it, otherwise the jelly in the jar will be cloudy. As soon as the dripping has finished, don’t leave it for longer than a day to finish, otherwise it starts to lose its setting properties. The juice should be sticky, not watery. If you are in doubt, do a pectin test ( one teaspoon juice mixed with 3 teaspoons methylated spirit swirled in a small glass). If the pectin is good there should be a large gelled clot in the glass. If not, simmer the juice and test the pectin at 5 minute intervals.


About the same amount of sugar is needed to make jelly as jam; 1.3kg sugar for a yield of 2.25kg. Measure the juice and for each 600ml weigh out 450g sugar. As with jam I use granulated cane sugar for jelly recipe. I’ve tried granulated beet sugar and the results are not as good for colour or flavour. To help the colour, warm the sugar in an oven set at 120C for about twenty minutes. Bring the juice to the boil, add the sugar and dissolve over a low heat.

Boiling the Jelly

It’s easier to work with small volumes of juice and weight of sugar. I only make jellies with 900ml juice: 675g sugar. Small quantities set more quickly, 3-4 minutes and produce 5 x 190ml jars. I test for a set in the same way I do for jam using the flake test. Once setting point is reached, turn off the heat and remove any scum with a metal spoon. Skimming before setting point is wasteful, a distraction from being focussed on the set which frequently comes sooner than you think.

Potting up

Being in a warm kitchen or near to a warm oven is ideal for potting up. Any delay or a chilly room, you might see a jelly starting to set in the pan. This will also happen if the jelly has been over-set. Stand the pan and the jars on a wooden board, to help retain the heat. Small jars, not above 190ml are recommended. The yield is smaller than jam, so a smaller jar spreads the bounty a bit further. Also, jellies can be turned out on to a plate for serving. This is easier to do with a small jar. If you are entering a competition, the schedule may well ask for a small jar. Warm the jars in the oven while the jelly is boiling and remove them as soon as any skimming is finished. Protecting your hands, tilt the jar as the jelly is ladled into it, through a jam funnel. This should prevent any air bubbles getting caught up in the jelly and spoiling the appearance. Avoid panelled or ridged jars as they are often a haven for air bubbles. Fill the jars to the brim before applying new screw top lids. Leave the jars upright and undisturbed to cool and set.


First Preserves recipe books
Bottle Company South

August 8th, 2017|Tags: |