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Sweet Preserves - Making Sweet Preserves

logo DK PublishingDK Publishing 02/07/2014 DKBooks
© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

Making Sweet Preserves

All sweet preserves are made in the same way: fruit is simmered to release a gum-like substance, pectin (a natural setting agent), then boiled vigorously with sugar to reach the setting point. For a good set, the balance of sugar, pectin, and acid must be correct.


It is the pectin in fruit that causes sweet preserves to set when mixed with sugar. Fruits fall into three categories according to the amount of pectin they contain:

High-pectin fruits set easily to give a solid set. Water is sometimes added to dilute their pectin levels. They also absorb more sugar.

Medium-pectin fruits often set satisfactorily, but because their pectin levels can vary, they may not, and usually give a softer set. Testing pectin levels can determine whether or not extra pectin is needed for a set.

Low-pectin fruits need extra pectin and acid to achieve a set. Combining high- and low-pectin fruits usually gives a satisfactory set, as can using a small amount of pectin stock.

The amount of pectin (and acid) also varies with each batch of fruit according to the variety, season, and how dry, ripe, or juicy it is. Use firm, dry, just-ripe, undamaged, very fresh fruit with no blemishes; damaged or wet fruit causes preserves to get moldy, and overripe fruit lacks sufficient pectin and acid. Lemon juice (an acid) can be added to simmering fruit to help release its pectin. Water is added to firm fruits, hard-skinned fruits, and those with high pectin levels.


Fruits also contain acid, which helps to release pectin. The tarter a fruit tastes, the higher it is in acid. Acid levels usually correspond to pectin levels.

Where acid levels are low, extra acid helps to achieve a set. Use lemon juice or citric or tartaric acid. As a guide, add the juice of 1 lemon (2 tbsp)—or 1/2 tsp of citric or tartaric acid dissolved in 4 tbsp of water—for every 2 1/4lb ( 1kg) of fruit used. Acid also improves the color and flavor of a preserve and prevents sugar crystallization.


Sugar plays a critical part in enabling pectin to gel: the more pectin there is, the more sugar it will absorb and set. It also helps to protect pectin from breaking down during the boiling stage. However, it inhibits the release of pectin and toughens the skins of fruits, so it is added after the fruit has been softened. Sugar also keeps fruit firm, so fruits for conserves are first steeped in sugar. An equal quantity of sugar to fruit (or more, if the fruit is tart or high in pectin) gives a long-lasting, sweet preserve; reduce the amount of sugar by a quarter for a fresher, fruitier jam. Half sugar to fruit gives a semi-sweet, fruit-filled jam that must be refrigerated.

Testing for a set

As a general guide, jams and conserves usually take 5–20 minutes, jellies 5–15 minutes, and marmalades 10–30 minutes to set.

Rolling boil

Recipe setting times (which are not precise and can vary) indicate the time from which a sweet preserve such as jam starts to boil. Start testing for a set as jam reaches 220°F (105°C), thickens around the sides of the pan, boils sluggishly, and the bubbles “plop” rather than froth.

Flake test

Put some jam in a bowl. Scoop up some of the jam with a wooden spoon, allow to cool for a moment, then tilt the spoon. If the last part of the jam falls in a flake rather than a stream, it is set. Always remove the pan from the heat when testing for a set.

Wrinkle test

Put a few saucers in the fridge before you make the jam. Put 1 tsp of boiling jam on a chilled saucer, allow to cool, then push it from one side with your finger. If your finger leaves a trail on the plate and the jam wrinkles slightly, it is set. Always remove the pan from the heat when testing for a set.

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