Jams, Jellies, and Preserves

For seventy-five years, I have been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In my early years it was, by far, the best food item my dear mother made.  The prime reason for the quality was the jelly part—it was made by my grandmother.  Every year we drove to the farm to get our annual allotment of jams, jellies and preserves made from berries and fruit collected by me and my cousins in late June and July.  The jelly was my favorite for the PBJ and toast.  But the jams were the best on biscuits and waffles.  How about you—do you pick jam, jelly, or preserves? Did you ever wonder what sets these wondrous delicacies apart?


Jams begin with fresh fruit (ours was usually picked in the morning and made in the afternoon or next morning) that is cooked until it breaks down into the consistency of a sauce.  It is a much thicker spread than jelly, and is made from chopped, crushed, or puréed fruit, and sugar. Pectin—a water-soluble fiber that occurs naturally in most fruits, with the highest concentration in the peel or skin—is also added to reach a thicker consistency,

Jam typically contains fruit pulp. High-pectin fruit such as citrus fruit, apples, cranberries, and blackberries will set well once the fruit and sugar have been boiled and the pectin is activated. My grandmother used lemon juice as an ingredient for low pectin fruit such as strawberries, cherries, blueberries, and apricots.


Jelly is a fruit spread made from fruit juice and pectin. In the presence of heat, acid, and sugar, the pectin helps the mixture thicken and gives jelly (as well as jam and preserves) their spreading potential. After the initial cooking, jelly is strained through a piece of muslin or a ‘jelly bag’ (grandma) to remove bits of fruit pulp, which explains why jelly looks more transparent than its spreadable relatives. Jelly is the smoothest of all three spreads, and its flavor is sometimes overpowered by the gelatin.


Preserves are a thick spread made from fruit cooked with sugar. Preserves require large pieces of the fruit, or the whole fruit, unlike jams and jellies. That’s what lends preserves their differentiating, course texture. Preserves use most of the fruit and have smaller pieces of chopped fruit mixed with sugar to retain the freshness. They can be mixed with a syrup or jam to hold them to hold the fruit together.


Jams, jellies, and preserves all contain the same ingredients, with the difference being the processing of the fruit. While jelly has the smoothest texture of them all, jams are a bit thicker, and preserves boast the most body, thanks to their chunky fruit pieces. Preserves use the least amount of pectin since you are working with the larger pieces of the fruit. Marmalade is the same as a preserve, but is a term only used for citruses. I am not a fan of marmalades, but……….in a pinch……they will do!

I deeply miss my grandmother’s culinary skills, although she failed in not passing them down to her daughters. But she got me into adulthood with her delectables.  I have never tried to make a jelly or a jam or preserves.  Why should I try, when Jamison’s Store is so close by and has a wonderful choice of homemade varieties of the sweet spreadables. My favorites are the blueberry peach jam and the damson plum jam.  WOW__what a delight.