Have you ever been confused by the differences between the various types of sweet preserves? Read on to learn more about jam vs jelly, jelly vs marmalade and more.
What are preserves?
Preserves is a general catch-all term for preserved foods such as fruit jams, jellies, curds and mincemeat. A traditional part of household management for centuries, our grandmothers made them to allow the household to eat a little fruit in winter and early spring when there was nothing to pick.
The most common of these are jam and jelly.
Step-by-step instructions on How To Make Jam
Try our Small Batch Blackberry Jam recipe for a simple and delicious jam
We all know what jam is; whole fruit or fruit chunks in a sweet jelly. Depending on the fruit, your may have identifiable pieces in a transparent jelly or a much more cohesive mass. It is the flesh of the fruit that determines whether you have jam or jelly.
The high sugar content of commercial jams results in the jewel like colours and jellied texture. Jams with a lower ratio of sugar to fruit may look more cloudy.
It’s a strange name but one used by some manufacturers. Anything labelled ‘Extra Jam’ must meet a higher minimum fruit content under UK law, though this is still lower than you might use when preserving at home. So maybe homemade jam is extra, extra jam!
So how is jelly different from jam?
Jelly is a transparent fruit conserve without the solid fruit. To make it, you strain the juice from the cooked fruit through a jelly bag or muslin cloth. You then add the sugar and pectin, and gently simmer until you reach setting point.
This may sound simple, but it is a slow process. It takes hours to allow all that juice to drip through with none of the fruit that would cloud the jelly. As my mother always told me, you MUST NOT poke the jelly bag!
When it comes to jelly vs jam, jelly is a good choice where the fruit contains a lot of pips. This is why blackberry jelly one of the more popular versions.
Some sweet jellies are popular as condiments to be served with meat, cheese and other savoury dishes. These include crab apple and redcurrant jellies.
Definitions of a conserve vary and there is no fixed legal definition, which means that you may buy quite different products described as ‘conserves’. Many people use it interchangeably with the general term ‘preserves’.
For some, it is a jam made with whole fruit or large pieces of fruit, but it is sometimes used for whole fruit in syrup. For me, a conserve is a jam recipe that starts with macerating cold, uncooked fruit in sugar. The liquid is drawn out and the sugar starts to dissolve before you start to cook.
The great benefit of the conserve method is that it fruit is less likely to cook down to mush before you reach setting point, and you have a better chance of retaining whole fruits or large chunks of fruit in the jam.
In Portugal, marmalade refers to a concentrated quince ‘cheese’ while in Germany it is the general term for jam. In the English-speaking world, however, marmalade is very specifically a citrus jelly with water in the recipe, usually containing the shredded peels of the fruit.
In terms of jelly vs jam, then, marmalade is a sort of halfway house, with the zest or peel suspended in a jelly.
Many of us were brought up with fanciful stories about a French Queen of Scotland experiencing sea sickness on the way to her new realm. ‘Marie est malade!’ became the origin of ‘marmalade’. The idea was that candied oranges would settle the stomach.
However, since the word was already in use for a quince preserve by the time Marie of Guise set sail, it is much more likely that we take the word from the Portuguese.
One of the earliest recipes for something resembling modern marmalade comes from Eliza Cholmondeley’s recipe book of the 1670s. Her marmalet of oranges calls for bitter oranges and sugar, and is possibly our first real glimpse of modern marmalade.
Such recipes became particularly popular in Scotland and commercial production really took off with the Keillers family in Dundee.
Modern orange marmalade uses bitter Seville oranges, which enjoy a very brief season in January or February. It can be dark and bitter with large chunks of zest, or sweeter and delicate in colour with very fine shreds.
Lemon, lime and mixed citrus marmalades are also popular.
Fruit spreads & butters
Much rarer in the UK are the fruit spreads and butters that consist of fruit puree reduced down to a thick dark mass. Popular in the Low Countries since Medieval times, they are more common in the Americas. You may find them in British health food shops and farm shops.
Fruit curds are usually, but not always, made with citrus. By far the most common is lemon curd, but you may see more exotic versions with passion fruit and even rhubarb.
The distinctive emulsion is the result of mixing fat, sugar, eggs and fruit juice, puree or pulp. You need to handle the eggs gently, which is why traditional methods use a bain marie or water bath. However, there are some easier recipes and many of these use the microwave oven, or even a power blender.
A Victorian favourite, fruit curds last for months in the fridge. They do not keep for years in the way that jam and marmalade will, however. Enjoy them while they are still fresh.
Preserving at home
Making preserves at home is lot easier than you might think, so why not explore the recipes on this site and make a start? You may just find it’s habit forming!