Jelly time again

It’s that time of year again. I love the sound of canned jar lids popping through the night as their vacuum seal takes effect after their hot canning bath.

This year I’ve already canned a delicious apple-orange jelly. Apples tend to have so much pectin in them that only a little acidic fruit is needed to make them congeal. Of course, that tends to make the jelly juice a little bitter. A generous 2.25 cups of sugar for each 2.33 cups of juice makes the jelly sweet and preserves the jelly for up to two years after canning. (The sugar acts as an anti-bacterial agent. It’s yeast that likes sugar, not bacteria.)

Making jelly involves a two-step cooking process. The first step is cooking raw fruit to draw out their juices. The juices are then strained into a pot. The second step involves adding sugar and sometimes pectin to the juice then cooking it for an additional period to set the jelly. After this comes the canning stage.

The following form is used to calculate the number of cups of juice within a cylindrical container based on the inner dimensions of that container. This is helpful for jelly making when juice has been strained into a pot for the second stage. If you know the ratio of sugar to juice, it can calculate the number of cups of sugar to add, too.

Open the Popup Jelly Making Sugar Calculator

Next time I’m going to use an industrial juicer to draw out that delicious golden liquid from the apples. I figure it will take less time initially, but I’ll need to heat it up a little longer in the second stage to kill the enzymes that are usually killed in the first stage.

Enzymes are a primary cause for the break-down of fruit after it’s dead. If you don’t kill those proteins before canning the jelly, your product would only last a few weeks at best.

Oh – and that apple-orange jelly recipe?


  • 3 lb cooking apples
  • 3 medium or 2 large oranges
  • 5 cups of water
  • approximately 5 1/2 cups of sugar


  • Juice Bag or a Stainless-Steel Chinois Set or a 2′ Square of Clean, Never-dyed, Prewashed, Coarse Cotton Muslin with Butchers Twine
  • Cheesecloth and Butchers Twine (optional)
  • 4 qt Stainless-Steel Pot or Larger To heat The Fruit And Jelly
  • 2 qt Glass bowl or 2 qt Measuring Cup or 2+ qt Pot/Pan To Capture Juice
  • 8 16-oz Canning Jars With Lids and Rims To Keep The Jelly
  • Canner with Jar Rack To Preserve The Jelly
  • Canning Kit With Thongs To Keep From Burning Your Fingers
  • Wooden Spoon To Stir The Juice Since Wood Doesn’t Change The Jelly’s Temperature
  • Slotted Stainless-Steel Spoon To Scoop Off The Tart Scum
  • Paring Knife To Cut The Fruit
  • A Refrigerated Saucer To Test The Jelly
  • Clean Towels And a Very Clean Counter

You want a large wooden spoon since it doesn’t change the temperature of your jelly mixture. Making jelly is akin to making candy. Sudden drops in temperature can cause nasty results. If you’re making this at high altitudes, like I do, make sure you boil your jars an extra 6 minutes and watch your jelly very carefully. It will burn and make a nasty mess if you’re not careful. Watch your barometric pressure, too. I’m not joking. If there’s a storm coming in, do your jelly making another day. At sea level, watching the weather and adding time to sterilizing your jars and making the jelly isn’t necessary.

Peeling and coring the apples helps them break down faster, but keep the peels and the cores, as they add to the pectin. Chop, but don’t peel, the oranges. If you want to have an easier time straining the fruit, tie up the the peels and seeds in a cheesecloth before you toss it in the pot with the rest of the fruit. After all the fruit is chopped up and prepared, put all the chunks in a large pot and add the water. Bring this up to a rapid boil then turn it down to a heavy simmer for about an hour. If the pot is uncovered, you might want to add an additional 1/4 cup of water to offset the evaporation.

While the fruit is boiling, prepare your straining method. Pour boiling hot water over the jelly straining bag, chinois, or Muslin. If you’re using the muslin cloth, get some twine ready to tie the pulp into a ball and find some place to hang it where juice will drip into your juice-holding vessel.

After about an hour the apples should be practically disintegrated. If not, squish them with your slotted or wooden spoon. (Temperature is more important in the next phase, so it doesn’t matter if the liquid in the pot cools a few degrees while you’re squishing the fruit.) Take out the cheesecloth if you did that and carefully pour the juicy pulp into the bag/chinois/muslin while the device is over your 2-quart bowl/pan. Set it up so that the dripping can occur overnight. Now get some sleep and dream of warm home-made buttermilk biscuits coated with dripping butter and delicious apple-orange jelly.

At this point you should have about 5 cups of juice, but you need to know exactly. Calculate the diameter of your juice-holding vessel. Now calculate how high the juice is in that vessel and type some numbers into the calculator. Also put in 2.25 for the sugar and 2.33 for the juice ratios. The calculator will tell you how much sugar to add. Don’t skimp or you’ll be sorry.

Get out your canner. Fill it with water set it to boiling on the stove-top. Once the water is at a hard boil, carefully insert clean jars for them to sterilize over the course of 12-18 minutes. Sterilize the rims, too, but not the lids until the last 2-5 minutes because they have a wax seal that needs delicate treatment. Set out your sterilized jars, lids and rims on a clean towel drawn over the counter but keep the canner boiling. You’ll need it again in about 15 minutes.

Pour the sugar in the 4-qt pot and put it in the oven at 170 degrees for 15 minutes. Warming the sugar will help it dissolve. Now pour the juice into the pot containing the warmed sugar and place it on the stove-top. Start stirring and turn the burner on high to bring this to a rapid boil. You must dissolve all the sugar and you want to do so as quickly as possible to keep it from burning. This is where you’ll use that long-handled wooden spoon. Now stir like a madman!

Once the sugar is well dissolved, stop stirring and watch. This next step takes about 10 minutes but is vital to the success of your jelly. If it starts to over-boil, turn down the heat only slightly and gently stir the mixture with the wooden spoon, but only if you have to. It’s better not to stir this at all.

You’ll see some foam on the top that looks like a dreamsicle. This foam needs to be scraped off the top of the jelly, but you can save it in a bowl for making tarts later as it makes a fantastic tart filling. Carefully spoon this foam (sometimes called scum) from the top of the pot into a bowl. It’s okay to use a metal spoon at the top of the jelly, just not inside. Keep scooping out that froth until all you see in the pot is a clear amber color.

Now test to see if the jelly has set. Spoon a little of the jelly onto a cold saucer. Wait a few seconds then push with your finger. If it clumps in front of your finger, it’s ready. The harder it clumps or ripples, the harder the jelly will set. For other ways to check if the jelly has set – consult Google.

Ladle out the hot golden jelly into jars, wipe off the rims, gently place the lids over the top
and lightly tighten the rims. Don’t tighten them too hard or the canning process won’t create the vacuum seal.

Place the jelly-filled, gently-lidded jars in the canner for 8-14 minutes. You should see small bubbles come up from the jars. This is normal and good. The air pressure inside the jars is building up as heat causes it to expand. This pressure will counter that of the water in the canner to keep the jars free of seepage.

Once time is up, pull out the jars and set them on the counter. Don’t tighten the rings just yet. In time you’ll hear metal popping. That’s the beautiful sound of vacuum pressure sealing and protecting your jelly for up to two years. If the lid doesn’t do this the jelly must be stored in the fridge and consumed within the next few weeks.

An hour after pulling the jars from the canner, tighten the rims and decorate with labels and ribbon. Hey – I might be a man, but I’ve got to make things pretty for the ladies!

Jelly-making in the Rockies

High altitude is great for crisp dry air, beautiful winter snow and alpine flowers. It is not good for baking, candy making or jelly making. I nearly fumbled the jelly this year by trying to follow the recipe. I don’t see any high-altitude directions, so assumed there weren’t any major differences. How wrong I was!

Trying to get the pectin, fruit juice and sugar to set at 220 Fahrenheit is next to impossible. Why? Water at this altitude boils at 200 degrees, not 212. By the time you reach 220 degrees you’ve well over burned your jelly or candy. That means the jelly-set temperature is closer to 207 degrees, adjusted for percentage – not geometric difference. For those higher in altitude than the mile-high city, I suggest you start testing your jelly around 206 degrees on a frozen saucer(freeze a few saucers for multiple tests).

Barometric pressure also plays a factor. It changes widely and quickly in the mountains and can really mess up your candies and jellies if not watched after.

A candy maker told me that in this area you have to watch the weather for a solid clear sky and check for storm patterns when making your candies or they won’t come out.

Chocolate and fudge is a little more forgiving. Still, I’ve even had some crystallized fudge from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory before so even well seasoned candy makers can have their off-days.

So how did the black raspberry — red currant jelly come out? Much of the water boiled out leaving a very thick, very hard set, very strong jelly. Not burned, thank goodness, but it almost did.

It’s as black and dense as midnight though clear as a jewel and spreads on a deep, rich, royal purple. It would probably do better spooned out and diluted to be served as a syrup because of its intense raspberry flavor, but still goes well with the hearty flavor of hearty-grained or strong buttermilk breads. It probably wouldn’t do well on water crackers.

I had another interesting and fun basic geometric math problem to solve while making the jelly. The recipe calls for 2.25 cups of sugar for every 2.5 cups of juice after straining. All the juice had been strained in the pot it would be made in and I didn’t want to make a mess of the dark juice. I remembered that you could convert metric volume into liters – that, after all, is the definition of a liter. Liters could be converted into cups, which could then be multiplied by the ratio of sugar to juice for the correct amount of sugar without ever needing to pour the juice out of the pot.

The diameter of the pot is 24cm. The depth of the juice was 2.6cm. ( pi*(24/2)^2 ) * 2.6 is roughly 1176.212 milliliters or 1.176212 liters. There are 4.22675282 cups in a liter. That ends up being roughly 5 cups of juice, which means 4.5 cups of sugar was needed. It was a perfect example of my math teacher saying “You may want to do this someday…” becoming true.

Fantastic jelly, geeky math fun, and a story to tell. What more could you want to do with your evening … other than sharing a piece of jelly emblazoned toast with your inspiring wife?