The Basics of Making Preserves at Home

Photo: Homemade delicious strawberry jam
Making preserves at home is easier than you think — just follow these 9 easy steps.

From fermenting to container gardening and everything in between, homegrown and from-scratch foods are back in a big way. And with fall just around the corner (sorry to be the bearers of bad news) there's no better time to get in on a little preserve-making action than now. While the process might seem a little over-complicated, it's easier than you think and is a fantastic way to enjoy some of summer's bounty all year long.

First things first, here's what you'll need:

  • Canning rack
  • Tongs
  • Jars, lids and bands
  • Wide-mouth funnel
  • Fruit of your choice (pass on waxy fruits)
  • Lemon juice
  • Refined white sugar, organic sugar, evaporated cane juice or brown sugar
  • Herbs or additional flavorings (optional)

Step 1: Sterilize the jars.

Before you start making the preserves themselves, the jars need to be sterilized. Wash the jars, lids and bands in hot soapy water — this will help prevent food from becoming contaminated and is what allows it to keep for long periods of time. Next, fill a pot two-thirds of the way up with water and bring to a boil. Place the jars and their lids on your canning rack and place in the water. Boil

Fill the rack-lined pot or water-bath canner two-thirds full with water; bring to a simmer. Place jars on the rack and lower into the water to sterilize, boiling for at least 10 minutes; keep hot in simmering until ready to fill. Place lids in a separate pot and bring to a simmer, also keeping hot until you're ready to use them.

Step 2: Make your preserves.

While the fruits and flavors you use will vary, all preserves have a few common ingredients: fruit, sugar, pectin and acid. When combined with sugar and acid (both of which are also key in imparting delicious flavor to preserves) pectin, a natural carbohydrate concentrated in the skin of fruit, causes liquid to jell. This is what give preserves their thick, gel-like consistency. Note: For jam, you'll need to mash or cut up fruit, while preserves use whole or large chunks of fruit.

Here are a few recipes to try:

Step 3: Remove jars from water.

Using your tongs, remove your jar from the water, emptying and liquid, and place on a clean kitchen towel.

Step 4: Fill with preserves.

Place the funnel on top of your jars (if needed) and using a clean spoon or ladle, fill jars with the hot preserves, leaving headspace as directed in you recipe to allowing food to expand and a vacuum effect to occur.

Step 5: Stir.

With a clean spatula or handle of a wooden spoon, stir preserves to remove air pockets and bubbles. Wipe the rim and sides of the jar with a clean towel if necessary.

Step 6: Cover.

Remove the lids from the simmering water with tongs and place on top of the jars. Do the same with the bands and screw on until you feel resistance.

Step 7: Get to preserving.

This is the part where you actually preserve that delicious fruit concoction. Using the tongs, put the jars back onto the rack inside your pot. Cover the jars with 2 inches of water, bring to a rolling boil and allow to boil — covered — for 15 minutes or as specified in your recipe. Before removing from the water, allow the jars to rest for five minutes.

Step 8: Remove from water.

Using your tongs, lift the jars from the water and place on a towel or cooling rack. Let the jars to sit for 24 hours, undisturbed, to allow the jars to form a vacuum seal as they cool.

Step 9: Test the lids.

To ensure the jars sealed properly, press down on the center of the lid. If the lid pops, place the jar in the refrigerator and use within one week. The jars that successfully sealed (those that don't pop when pressed) can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Once open, store in the fridge.

Before opening, make sure to check for cloudiness or mold, signs that the preserves did not process properly, discarding if either is present.


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