How to Make Jam: Refrigerator Jam or Water-Bath Canning

Make Quick Fridge Jam or Canned Jam

September 9, 2020
Homemade Jams (Canned) in Pantry

Homemade jams in the pantry.

Zigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock

Learn how to make jam—capturing the taste of fruit at the peak of season! In our Beginner’s Guide to Making Jam, we’ll show you how to make both quick refrigerator jam as well as try out boiling water-bath canning to store jars for up to 18 months. Plus, find 10 delicious jam recipes—with berries, peachs, pears, apples, tomatoes, and even rose hips!

Making fruit jam is the easiest way to break into preserving.

Why is homemade jam more delicious? Lots of reasons! You’re picking the fruit yourself at the peak of flavor, and you have control over what is in the jam and preserves. Plus, you’ll enjoy delicious results—free from additives and chemicals! Warning: Once you taste homemade jam, it’s hard to go back to those commercial jars or packets.

Difference Between Jams, Preserves, Jellies, and Marmalades

In this guide, we’ll focus on jams but you may be interested in understanding the differences.

  • Jam is made with mashed-up fruit but the end result is firm enough to spread on a piece of toast. Preserves use whole or large pieces of fruit; marmalade is a preserve, too, but with citrus fruit.
  • Jelly is made from the juices of fruit that don’t break down well, such as fruit with seeds (grapes and apples are most common). Its texture is firm.
  • Jam and preserves are easier and more economical to make than jelly, since they are made of entire fruits instead of just the juice, and can be good either thick or slightly runny. 

Preparing Fruit for Jam

Here are some basic tips that you can follow to make your own jams and preserves.

  1. Pick or purchase high-quality raw fruit when it is at its peak. Jam is NOT for your overripe and mushy fruits. Your end product is as good as the fruit you start with.
  2. Always wash your fruit (and veggies) under cold, running water rather than soaking them. This is especially important for berries because they bruise easily. Also, wait to wash your fruit until you are ready to preserve to keep fruit from spoiling.
  3. Remove the stems, pits or cores, if any. Peel, if necessary, however, cherries and berries do not require peeling while fruit like pears and peaches do.
  4. For jams, cut up or mash the fruit and for preserves, use fruit whole or cut them into large chunks. Cut, crush, or juice for jelly the fruit exactly as stated in the recipe.

Tips on Cooking Jam 

  1. Make jam or preserves in small batches. This way, the fruit will cook quickly and the color and flavor will be better preserved.  Also, prepare only a single batch at a time. Doubling the recipe may cause your spread not to gel or have a soft set.
  2.  For the perfect gel to your jam, use 3-parts fruit that is fully ripe to one-part fruit that is slightly under-ripe. If all your fruit is fully ripe or for peaches and apricots – all examples of fruit with less pectin - add 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. The acid from the lemon juice will help the jam or preserve thicken. 
  3. Jam is essentially fruit and sugar. In general, for every cup of fruit you use, add ¾ cup of sugar. For example, four cups of fruit makes a very manageable batch, so you would need 3 cups of sugar per batch—unless otherwise specified by the recipe. Measure the full amount of sugar listed in the recipe. Too little and the jam will not adequately gel nor preserve the fruit.
  4. To prevent a lot of foam from forming while cooking the jam, add an optional ½-teaspoon butter or margarine as soon as it starts. Otherwise, skim of the foam with a spoon before adding jam to jars.
  5. Scorching is more likely to happen to jams and preserves with longer cook times. To prevent scorching, stir your mixture often to constantly for 15 to 40 minutes depending on the fruit’s cook time. Scorching can ruin an otherwise delicious jam or preserve, but is very easy to prevent. 
  6. To test your jam to see if it’s done, dip a cold metal spoon into the boiling jam. Over a plate, turn the spoon on its side so the liquid runs off the side. The jam is done when it forms two drops that flow together and sheet or hang off the edge of the spoon.

For help translating a pound of fruit to the number of cups needed, see our Measuring Fruits chart.

Supplies for Making Jam

  • We prefer to make jam in a saucepan with a flat, heavy bottom and high sides. This prevents boiling over. For best results, find a saucepan with a wide-diameter. This extra surface area is needed for evaporation which helps improve the gelling and end result. 
  • Glass jars with straight sides work best for jams and preserves, especially, if you are freezing as they allow for food expansion that occurs during the freezing process. Ball Brand makes both Jelly Jars (8 oz) and Half Pint Jars (8 oz). For freezing, jams, jellies, and preserves, Ball® now makes a 8 oz plastic jar.
  • For fruits with many seeds such as raspberries and blackberries, you may need a sieve (or food mill) of you want “seedless” jam. In a saucepan, warm the crushed berries over medium heat until softened. Press the crushed berries through the sieve or food mill to remove the seed and then proceed as written in the recipe.

Quick Refrigerator Jam

  • Once your jam or jelly has cooked for the appropriate amount of time, ladle the hot spread into jars that are pre-warmed in a pot of simmering water. Cool filled jars to room temperature. Place lids and bands on jars and label. Refrigerate jam or jelly for up to three weeks or serve immediately to enjoy now.

Preserving Jam With Water-Bath Canning

  • To store your jam in jars for up to 18 months (without refrigeration), you’ll need to process them in boiling water.
  • With water-bath canning, you’ll need to leave ½-inch headspace when filling jars.
  • As berries and fruit are high in acid, there’s no need to “pressure can.” For water-bath processing, you’ll need a large deep stockpot with a flat bottom, a well-fitting lid and a rack that fits at the bottom or a water-bath canner. The canner should be deep enough to submerge your filled jars at least 1 to 2 inches above their tops. Read our page on water-bath canning which includes a supplies list.
  • Fill your pot or canner halfway with water, enough to cover the jars by at least 1-inch.  Place your prepared jars of jams or preserves into the canner, cover with lid, adjust the heat, and bring water to a rolling boil.
  • Process according to your recipe, only counting time after the water is boiling. Turn off heat, remove the lid and wait at least 10 minutes.  Remove the jars and place on a rack or kitchen towel on the counter.
  • Cool jars 12 to 24 hours, then check the seals. Label and store your jars to enjoy all year.
  • Jams can be stored for up to 18 months as long as lids are properly sealed.

Recommended Processing Time

For hot-pack jams in half-pint or pint jars without added pectin in a boiling-water container:

Altitude

0-1,000 feet

1,001-6,000 feet

Above 6,000 feet

Processing Time

5 minutes

10 minutes

15 minutes

Jam Making FAQ

  • Why won’t my jam set? Just cook a few minutes longer as you need to evaporate more of the water in the fruit.
  • What if my jam scorched? Taste the jam and if it still tastes fine, move to a different ot and keep cooking. Stir constantly!
  • What is I ran out of fruit for the recipe? It’s fine to add another fruit but keep it all to the same ratio.
  • What is the seal on my jar broke? You must store the jam in the fridge. If the seal broke in the pantry and you’re not sure when it broke, you need to throw away the jam.
  • What is my jars have some bubbles or mold? Unfortunately, this is a problem and the jars weren’t sealed properly. You need to throw way this jam.

Homemade Jam Recipes

Now that you are a little bit more familiar with the art of making jams and preserves, try your hand at these delicious recipes.

Note: ALWAYS follow the specific directions on the recipe for the right balance between ingredients. For example, if you wish to use less sugar, find a recipe that lets you reduce the sugar amount or use an artificial sweetener without compromising the gelling of the product. If your recipe uses pectin, follow the directions and boil for the exact amount of time specified in the recipe.

Prize-Winning Strawberry Jam

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Credit: Zigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock.

Blueberry Jam

blueberry-jam.jpg
Credit: Margouillat/Shutterstock

Pearadise Pear Jam

pear-jam-shutterstock_1024081090_full_width.jpg
Credit: Rustamank/Shutterstock

Blueberry-Rhubarb Jam

recipe-torok-bognar-renata-shutterstock_rhubarb-jam.jpg
Credit: Torok-Bognar Renata/Shutterstock

Kiwi Jam

kiwi-jam-shutterstock_110002670_full_width.jpg
Credit: Christian Jung/Shutterstock

Peach Jam

peach_jam_0.jpg
Credit: Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

Ginger-Pear Preserves

pear-ginger-shutterstock_163203044_full_width.jpg
Credit: Zigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock

Blackberry Jam

blackberry_jam.jpg
Credit: Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

Tomato Jam

recipe-tomato_jam_0.jpg
Credit: Lyudmila Mikhailovskaya/Shutterstock

Rose Hip Jam

rose-hips-jam.jpg
Credit: Sarah Biesinger/shutterstock

Give a homemade gift from your own kitchen. Cover the top with a circle of fabric that is 2 inches larger than the jar top. Secure it with several turns of a fine gold cord or ribbon. See ideas on how to dress up a gift jar.

This Guide was updated and fact-checked as of August 2020, by Christina Ferroli, PhD, RDNFAND.  If interested in nutrition counseling and education practice to make healthier choices—or, simply stay up-to-date on the latest food, nutrition, and health topics—visit Christina’s Facebook page here.

Source: 

The Forgotten Arts, 1977; Updated in 2020.

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Thin jam

I just made a batch of strawberry jam and it seems a little thin. Will it thicken when it is totally cooled?

Raspberry Jam

May I ask a question instead of commenting? For whatever reason, this year my raspberry crop is gigantic. I have successfully made 3 batches of jam and have at least enough berries for 4 more batches. I would like to freeze the berries and make more jam later, but here’s my issue. In the past when the berries are thawed I end up with almost equal amounts of berries AND juice. Do I stir the juice back into the berries and then measure the combination for the jam? Or just measure the berries and use the separated juice for something else? I do sieve a portion of the berries to cut down on the seeds and then measure. Am I careless in freezing the berries and that’s why I get all the juice/berry separation? When I use freshly picked berries I don’t have this issue, Help!

making jam from frozen berries

The Editors's picture

Here’s what we suggest for making jam from frozen berries: drain most of the juice, use pectin, and cook it after sugar is added for at least 4 minutes.

Jams on the windowsill

I've always found pyramids of colorful jams and preserves beautiful on the windowsill, but most articles advise to keep your homemade jams in a dark place. What's wrong with keeping your homemade jams and preserves on the windowsill, why can't they be exposed to sunlight?

Jams on the Windowsill

The Editors's picture

The heat from sunlight and outside temperatures causes canned goods to spoil more quickly, so instead of lasting years, they may last months or even weeks. Keeping them in a cool, dark place slows down the process and discourages anything unwanted from growing.

Making freezer jams

Does the weather affect making freezer jams, ie: strawberry. Will it set up on a rainy day?

Fresh Lemons; Pounds to Cups

You noted on your website that you have fresh fruit measurements of pounds to cups. However, not so with your lemons listed. You give about of juice p/lemon and amt of zest p/lemon. Would appreciate knowing the pound to cup ratio for fresh lemons. Thank you

They don't have pectin at the stores nearby.

They don't have pectin at the stores nearby. Is it possible to use non-flavored jello mix instead of using pectin in jams and jellies or would that hurt the flavor and shelf life?

pectin substitute

The Editors's picture

Try substituting cornstarch for the pectin.

Cooking info

Is it just me or does this article not have any mention of how that actual cooking/boiling/cooling/sealing etc happens?

how to make jam

The Editors's picture

No, Keith, it’s not just you. This is a general information article, or some would call it a primer. For specific information, click on one of the recipes. Enjoy!

peach jam

my peach tree produced an abundance of very small peaches. Could I wash, remove the pit then cook without peeling, then put them thru a food mill to remove the peeling. I'd like to make jam, but peeling hundreds of little peaches isn't going to be a good thing!!!

how to peel peaches

The Editors's picture

There’s an easy way to peel peaches: Peel a peach by scoring the bottom, placing it in boiling water for 5 seconds, and then plunging it into ice-cold water for 3 to 5 seconds. The skin will peel away easily.

PB&J

Is it possible to make a spreads of peanut butter and strawberry jam in one container?

how to tell if your canning is sucessful

after a hot bath,and the lids pop , do the lids pop out or do the stay in.out of 10 jars i have 4 that pop out and 6 jars that didnt

Remove the jar rings and test

The Editors's picture

Remove the jar rings and test the seals by trying to lift the lids with your finger or a knife. If the lid stays put, it has a good seal. Also, the lids should not flex up and down when pressed in the center.

Grape Vine

I have a grape vine which I have manages to grow in a pot, it's now on it's third year, it looks healthy and has lots of grapes starting to form. How do I manage the size i.e how to prune and where and when to pinch out?

Question two Can you sugest ways of using apart from making wine, as I am the only one that eats them. I can only eat so much before they start to go off. They are I believe a wine grape, I have lost the label, they are plum in colour and lovely and sweet to eat.

Any sugestion would be welcome as I hate to waste food of any kind.

Grape Vine Maintenance and Grape Ideas

The Editors's picture

You can learn how to prune your grape vine at our grape page

As far as using them goes, remember that grapes can be stored for up to 6 weeks in a cellar. This means that you have a long time to get them eaten. You can also follow the advice on this page to make jams or preserves or try out some of our many recipes that incorporate grapes. Also consider giving some fresh grapes to neighbors and friends if others in your household won’t eat them!

The Traditional Piece of Fabric on a Jar of Jam

Hi, I have been looking for the history of the traditional piece of fabric placed on the top of a jar of home canned products. I was told by someone that this tradition was old and the piece of fabric was given on the top of the jar to friends to be used for quilting. Does anyone know where to find an article regarding this tradition?
Thanks,
Melody

Creating your own recipes & pH levels.

Florida Cottage Food Laws allow for the sale of jams made in your home kitchen. I have been making jams based on recipes, but have been adjusting them for taste and texture. My question is how can I be sure I am within safe pH levels when customizing my recipes? Also, is shelf life affected by pH levels? For example could I use my own custom recipes and simply recommend a sooner use by date? Or if the pH levels are too high to begin with, is the shelf life irrelevant?

Chokecherry syrup

Some bottles of syrup crystallized how can I fix the syrup

Hi, Sandra. What kind of

The Editors's picture

Hi, Sandra. What kind of syrup?

Jams and jelly

What kind of jam or jelly is best to make this time of year?

I have always been afraid of

I have always been afraid of canning. It seems so difficult.

jams

Should the marmalade jam or any jam be refrigerated.kept on a shelf .what is the shelf life using just the fruit and sugar when making

Your jam can be kept on the

The Editors's picture

Your jam can be kept on the shelf for up to 1 year. Once opened, they need to be kept in the refrigerator.

Would you have the recipies

Would you have the recipies for hot pepper jelly, blueberry jam, and almond butter?

Hi Frances, We have a large

The Editors's picture

Hi Frances, We have a large recipe archive. Just go to our cooking page and type in what you're looking for.  Here are the jelly recipes you asked about:
www.almanac.com/recipe/blueber...
www.almanac.com/recipe/hot-pep...
For almond butter, you just take 3 cups dry roasted almonds (unsalted) and pulse them in a food processor until it's ground and gets creamy (about 12 minutes). Every once in a while, stop and scrape the almond butter off the sides. If it's not creamy enough for you, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Another option is to finish with a drizzle of honey. The homemade almond butter should keep 3 weeks.
Hope this helps!

I cooked my apricots with

I cooked my apricots with sugar I let it sit in my refrigerator for a week I then placed the mixture in sterile jars and processed them is that ok?

It's better to put the hot

The Editors's picture

It's better to put the hot jam mixture into the jars right away and not keep it in the refrigerator. If using the mixture from the refrigerator make sure there is no mold and heat it up before pouring into the jars and then processing.

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