Easy Holiday Jams, Jellies and Preserves—Perfect Self-Made Holiday Gifts - North 40 Life

Easy Holiday Jams, Jellies and Preserves—Perfect Self-Made Holiday Gifts

A steam juicer is an invaluable tool for jelly making. A steam juicer is an invaluable tool for jelly making.

Homemade jams, jellies, or preserves is a heartfelt and delicious gift at Christmas—whether given to yourself, friends, or family. Making these when the weather is cold is equally satisfying as the house fills with a warm, sweet summer fragrance.

What’s the difference between jams, jellies and preserves?

While these sweet condiments have similar beginnings, the difference is in the final texture. Whether you only use juice or all of the fruit, depends on personal preference.

Jellies are the refined version, using fruit juice as the base, which results in a smooth spread. Instead of just using the juice, jams also use the fruit in a mashed capacity. Jams have a chunkier consistency and a heartier texture. Preserves use whole or large pieces of fruit, making it ideal for topping heavier breads or even using on meats and other foods.

Cranberries make a festive preserve. Cranberries make a festive preserve.

 

Making the juice for jelly

The most difficult aspect of jelly making is extracting the juice. While it can be done by cooking down the fruit and straining it for hours (or overnight) through cheesecloth, it’s more efficient to use a steam juicer.

Made up of a bottom section that sits on a burner and holds boiling water, a middle pan that collects the juice, and a colander that holds the fruit, a stream juicer allows you to extract clear, pure juice without pitting or peeling. You can toss in whole fruit, whether fresh or frozen, and give the pulp to the chickens or put it in the compost when you’re finished.

Boiling lids and making Nanking cherry jelly. Boiling lids and making Nanking cherry jelly.

Preparing the canning equipment

Before you begin with jellies or jams, have all of your jars cleaned and sterilized, keeping them hot in the oven until you are ready. Count out the necessary lids and rings. Bring them to a boil in a large pan of water. Keep them at a simmer until needed. Fill your water bath canner with enough water to cover the tallest jar. Bring to a boil, then return to a simmer until the jars are placed inside.

Use a ladle to pour the jellies or jams into jars—a funnel is very handy when filling jars as it keeps the fruit mixture from spilling on the outside of the jar. Also have either a magnetic grabber or a pair of tongs handy so you can pick up lids in hot water. Also keep a jar lifter near so you can handle hot jars in the water bath canner.

Making Holiday Jam: Nanking cherry (or sour cherry) jelly

Nanking cherries are a hardy shrub that blooms in April and produces small cherries in July. They are small, but perfect suited for jelly. If Nanking cherries aren’t available, pie cherries are just as delicious and easy to find. Start with roughly 4-5 pounds of cherries to make juice in the steam juicer.

  • 3 1/2 cups juice
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 2 pouches of liquid fruit pectin
  • Add the measured juice and sugar in an 8 quart pot or saucepan.
  • Bring the juice and sugar to a rolling boil.
  • Immediately add liquid pectin and return to a full boil, stirring continuously for one minute.
  • Remove from heat and skim off any foam with a spoon.
  • Ladle into clean, sterilized jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe any jelly off of the rim before placing lid and securing with a ring.
  • Using the jar lifters, place jar in the water bath canner.

Once all of the jars are in the canner, make sure there is approximately 1 inch of water over the top of the jars. Replace the lid and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to medium and gently boil for 15 minutes for pints. After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and leave the lid on for another 5 minutes before taking jars out of the canner and allowing them to cool completely.

Use a funnel to fill the jar. Use a funnel to fill the jar.

Making apricot jam

  • 8 cups apricots peeled, pitted and chopped
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin
  1. Add apricots, lemon juice, and sugar in an 8 quart cook pot.
  2. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves, then reduce heat and cook until mixture thickens. This might take 25 minutes.
  3. Return to a boil, add pectin, and boil one minute, once the mixture returns to a full rolling boiling, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from heat and skim foam on top.
  5. Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe jar tops and seal with lids and rings.
  6. Place in the water bath canner with enough water to cover jars with 1 inch. Process for 15 minutes, leaving the lid in place for 5 minutes after the time is up before removing the jars.
  7. Once processed, place on a towel and allow to cool completely. Keep in mind that apricot jam may take up to 2 weeks to completely set, so don’t be alarmed if it initially appears thinner than it should.

Making spiced cranberry preserves

  • 12 cups fresh cranberries
  • 2 1/2 cups apple juice
  • 1 lemon zest
  • 1 orange zest
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  1. Combine cranberries, apple juice, lemon zest and juice, orange zest and juice, sugars, and cinnamon in an 8 quart cook pot.
  2. Bring to a boil and cook for 10-15 minutes. Skim off any foam that comes to the top—expect a challenge working around cranberries.
  3. Bring mix to a rolling boil, then add the liquid pectin. Stir. Return to roiling boil, stirring constantly for a minute.
  4. Ladle into jars, allowing 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims, set the lids, tighten with the rings, and place in the water bath canner.
  5. Process 15 minutes, leave the lid on for 5 more afterwards, then remove the jars. Place them on a towel and cool completely.
A simple bow and tag dress up these heartfelt gifts. A simple bow and tag dress up these heartfelt gifts.

Finalizing the perfect self-made holiday gift

Gifts like these don’t need fancy wrapping. Personalize by tying on a Christmas ribbon or tag, or add a jar to a basket, along with a loaf of fresh bread. Homemade jellies, jams, and preserves are gifts friends and family will look forward to every year.

 

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Amy Grisak is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in gardening, cooking, and sustainable lifestyle topics, as well as a particular interest in anything to do with the beautiful Montana outdoors. Her articles appear in the New Pioneer, Rodale's Organic Life, Camp Cabela's, Hobby Farms, The Farmers' Almanac, Horticulture, the Great Falls Tribune, and many more.

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