Jam. Jelly. Preserve. Conserve. Marmalade.
These five words are often times confusing and misused by many. They all refer to preserving fruit with sugar, but what exactly are the differences?
A few years ago, while making a blueberry preserve, I questioned what I should call it and read about fruit preservation and the difference between a lot of the words we use. Although there are many grey areas concerning how each one is defined, I have come up with a few conclusions. These differences make sense to me and may insightfully aid how you define them as well:
1. Jellies MUST be clear. Not colorless, but clear. They are strained and essentially are only the Juice and Sugar with natural or added Pectin.
2. Jams utilize MOST of the whole fruit including the flesh and juice of the fruit.
3. Jams and Preserves are really in essence the SAME thing.
4. Marmalades are most often (if not always) CITRUS, and utilize the WHOLE fruit, including the rind.
5. Conserves are Jams with the ADDITION of dried fruits or nuts.
I have been reading a new book by Harold McGee On Food and Cooking. He is an expert on chemistry and cooking, which is extremely interesting. Recently, I have been reading about preserves and learning a lot about the process it takes to make a preserve, specifically about the actions of pectin.
Pectin is a Polysaccharide naturally found in the cell walls of plants. By adding heat, Pectin is extracted from the cell wall and dissolved into water which creates a negative charge on the pectin. Obviously, when the pectin are negatively charged, they aren’t able to work together to give us a nice gel in our final product. SO, we add sugar, acid and heat so the pectin can be pulled together and achieve the semi-solid consistency we want.
In the mixture, the sugar draws the water away from the pectin, giving the pectin more of an opportunity to bond to itself and the acid neutralizes the negative charge on the pectin so that the pectin isn’t repelled by itself any longer. Heat is also added to the mixture so water is evaporated and the pectin molecules are forced to be in a closer proximity, again forcing them to work to create a network of molecules. After all of that, the pectin creates matrix with the water and sugar resulting in a beautiful gel.
For the Red Currant Jelly I made, there was certainly enough Pectin in the berries, so I didn’t have to add any additional pectin or acid (such as lemon juice). I just had to add sugar, lots of sugar.
To make the jelly, I first placed my picked currants (stems and all) into a very large stockpot and slowly cooked the mixture until the berries had broken down. I then strained the mixture and discarded all of the seeds and stems.
I had a purée and weighed that on a food scale to see how much sugar to add. For every Pound of the purée mixture, I added 0.75 pounds of sugar. I know it’s a lot, but these are tart berries.
After adding the sugar, return the mixture to a stockpot and boil the mixture until it reaches 220 degrees F. Skim off any foam that is created after the mixture is removed from the heat source.
Place the mixture into prepped sterilized jars, and seal.
This Jelly is sweet, yet bright and has a variety of uses. I have used a diluted version of this jelly to top on Ice Cream and even a different version to glaze a Roasted Duck for a Christmas Dinner… Jelly?