"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Making Jellies and Jams
Copyright © by Bill Scifres

Excerpted from Indiana Outdoors: A Guide to Fishing, Hunting, and Wild Crops by Bill Scifres

I like to have an afternoon or morning free of other activities before I start a batch of jelly or jam. That statement may give some men who have never done any cooking a good fright--not to mention some women who have. Making jellies and jams takes a little time, and there is a lot of work involved, but it is easy.

The place to begin in making jelly or jam is at the end. Preparing jars for the finished product is the first chore. I save all kinds of small jars--with and without tops--for this. Baby food jars, peanut butter jars (either the 18-ounce or the smaller size), and other jars, including those which contained store-bought jellies and jams, all make excellent containers. One should remember, however, if planning to mail any jelly or jam to friends as gifts, those jars should have tight screw-on tops.

Another way to make an excellent gift for a friend is to buy a set of juice glasses and fill them with several kinds of jelly before giving the whole set as a gift. A whole set of orange juice glasses may be filled with less than a pound of jelly and jam, but I can guarantee one thing: nobody will ever eat the contents of the glasses without remembering it every time the glasses are used for juice.

After the glasses and jars are washed thoroughly in hot, soapy water, rinsed well, and dried, I place them upside down on a double thickness of paper towel on the counter where I will be working. I place a large peanut butter jar on the back burner of my stove (a metal container would be safer). In it I place two cakes of paraffin--half a pound. This burner is turned on low, just warm enough to melt the paraffin in an hour or so.

Now I am ready to make the jelly or jam. I prefer to do this in small amounts, nothing more than six cups of berries or juice. I place the juice or berries in a six-quart saucepan and turn the heat on low. I stir in one cup of sugar for each cup of berries, and as the berries and sugar turn into liquid I turn up the heat, stirring the mixture almost constantly with a wooden spoon to make sure it will not burn.

As the berries start to lose their identity (in the case of jam), or before the juice and sugar start to boil (in the case of jelly), I stir in two tablespoons of vinegar. When the berries or juice come to a boil, I stir less, but keep the pot at a slow bubbling boil for at least twenty minutes.

The jelly may be tested from time to time to determine whether or not it is jelling by pouring small amounts of the juice into a saucer of cold water from a spoon. If the juice disappears or spreads in the water, more cooking will be required. When these small amounts of juice cling together, the jelly is done. The pan should be taken off the heat at this time.

Boiling the juice with sugar will create a foam-like substance on the surface of the jelly in the pan. This should be skimmed off as thoroughly and as quickly as possible after the pan is taken off the heat. With the foam dipped off, the jelly or jam is poured into the glasses or jars. If there is fear that the hot liquid will break the glasses, the pouring can be delayed a few minutes or a helper can hold a table knife in each jar as the pouring is done. In the case of jam, parts of berries should be divided as much as possible, putting equal amounts in each glass. Each glass should be filled within about a quarter or three-eighths of an inch of the top.

When the jelly or jam has cooled some--say in twenty to thirty minutes--the paraffin (now completely melted . . .) is poured gently onto the top of the jelly or jam in each jar. This layer of paraffin should be about one-fourth inch thick. When the paraffin hardens, the jelly or jam may be put away in a cool place for later use. Jelly and jam do not require refrigeration, although they may be put in plastic containers and frozen. . . .

One of the jam-making tricks I have learned over the years is concerned with keeping the berries or fruit from cooking up so much that the finished product is more jelly than jam. To do this I keep back a portion of the berries to use separately after the first part has cooked for fifteen minutes or so. Then I stir in the part I kept out--say two cups of a six-cup batch--and do the rest of the operation in the usual way. This is an especially good way to handle wild strawberry jam, but it also will work with the others. When doing this, however, one should remember to put in enough sugar for the entire recipe, even though only a half or two thirds of the berries or fruit will be placed in the pan at the start.

One of the great features of making jellies and jams is that there can be no failures. Even if the finished product doesn't turn out quite so well-jelled as the jellies and jams on the shelves of grocery stores, it will taste just as good--perhaps better. (It also will be less expensive.) The thin "failures" also make excellent ice cream dip or pancake topping.

Jelly- and jam-making skills will improve with experience. But if it is important to have jelly or jam perfectly jelled right from the start, any one of several different commercially sold pectins can be utilized. These are available in the canning sections of most grocery stores. They come in both powders and liquids, the latter being a little easier to use. And they will produce results.

Another possibility is to boil apple peelings in a small amount of water and strain this off for use as part of the juice. Natural pectin is found in the peelings of such fruits as apples and peaches.
 

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