Step-By-Step Guide to Canning Jams and Jellies

Canning jam and jelly at home is one of the easiest ways to get started with home canning. While the ingredients will vary depending on the recipe, the process itself remains the same. 

If you’re really new to canning, you should start by reading this post about canning equipment.

Originally published September 2020; this post has been updated.

jars of plum jam ready for the lids.

First and foremost, know that you should not deviate from a safe canning recipe. Adding or subtracting ingredients can alter the pH of the finished product. Follow the recipe as written.

Does jam need to be canned? Not necessarily. It needs to be canned in order to be shelf stable. Other options include making small batch refrigerator jam (like this fig jam) which you’ll use up quickly or freezing. To keep fruit spreads in the pantry, though? Yes, can it!

strawberry can in canning jars

Canning Jam & Jelly, Step-by-Step Guide

No matter what recipe you choose, the process for canning jam and jelly is generally the same. The good news? It’s not difficult! 

Water bath canning is the method of choice for jam and jelly recipes, so it’s an easy food preservation project for those new to home canning.

1. Prepare the Fruit

This is the most time consuming step. If you’re making jelly, you’ll need to extract the fruit juice. For jam, you’ll peel and seed if necessary (as with stone fruit) and then mash the fruit. You can do this by hand or with a food processor. [Read about the difference between jam and jelly.]

Choose fully ripe fruit that is free of blemishes. With a caveat. You don’t want to use fruit that’s close to spoiling, but cosmetic issues like bruising and scab can safely be cut away, allowing you to use the remainder of the ripe fruit. 

Opting for using culls (the second-quality fruit that farmers often sell for a fraction of the price) is a great way to cut costs. You don’t need pretty fruit to mash into jam or jelly!

strawberries chopped in a food processor bowl with blade showing

2. Start Heating Water in the Canner

Almost all jams and jellies can be processed using a water bath. If you’re using a standard canner that holds a large volume of water, it takes awhile to bring it to a boil.

Get it heating while you continue the process of making your jam or jelly. Fill the canner about halfway with water for pint or half-pint jars, slightly more for pint jars. 

3. Sterilize the Jars — Maybe

If the jam or jelly recipe you’re using requires a processing time of less than ten minutes, you’ll need to sterilize the jars. Do this by submerging the jars in boiling water for ten minutes. 

If the recipe calls for a processing time of ten minutes or more, you don’t need to sterilize. The jars will be sterilized during the processing time. You will, of course, want to wash the jars well before filling them!

Once washed, place empty jars in the canner while it heats. This brings the temperature of the jars up, so that when you add hot jam or jelly, they jars are less likely to crack due to temperature change.

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4. Cook the Fruit

Follow the individual recipe to make the jam or jelly. This often means adding sugar, lemon juice, and pectin to the prepared fruit and bringing it to a boil, but the ingredients will vary from recipe to recipe. 

Some jam and jelly recipes are made without the use of added pectin. This process can take quite a lot longer as you cook the fruit down and await gel formation. 

blank canning label.

Planning on doing lots of canning this year? Grab a FREE download of these cute printable canning labels — complete with a gentle reminder to return the jar, in case you’re giving some as gifts!

 

5. Transfer Fruit Mixture to Jars

Ladle the hot fruit into canning jars. Jam and jelly can be safely canned in 1/4-pint, 1/2-pint, or pint-sized jars.

A canning funnel is a lifesaver for reducing spills. 

glass canning jar with funnel and ladle of jelly

6. Know Your Headspace When Canning Jam & Jelly

Headspace is the distance from the top of the jam to the rim of the jar. Some canning recipes require more head space than others. Follow the guidelines in your recipe. 

glass canning jar with jelly inside and a tool for measuring headspace

7. Wipe the Rims

Use a damp cloth to carefully clean the rim of each jar. Residue left on the jar rim can interfere with proper sealing when canning jam and jelly. 

jars full of jelly ready for canning

8. Place the Lids and Rings on the Jars

Set a new lid (sometimes called a flat) on each clean jar rim. Read about why you should never reuse canning lids here. Screw a band onto the jar finger tight. 

What is finger tight? You want the ring to fit snugly, but don’t crank it on. 

hand setting canning ring onto jar full of jam

9. Process the Jars

Pots dedicated to canning have a rack inside that will keep the jars from sitting on the bottom. If you’re making a small batch of jam in a large stock pot, be sure to use a rack of some sort to keep the jars up. You can make one of your own using extra canning rings. 

Water in the canner should come to a rolling boil before you add the jars. 

canning rings wired together to make a rack.

Use a jar lifter (a must for canning!) to lift the filled jars into the boiling water bath canner one at a time.

Make sure that the jars are completely submerged. There should be 1″-2″ of water above the top of the jars. It’s a good idea to have a kettle with hot water on standby in case you need to top it off once the jars are in place.

Adding jars to the water canner will lower the temperature of the water. Return the water to a boil, then start the timer to mark the processing time.

Do you have to water bath jam and jelly for a shelf stable product? That’s a resounding yes!! While your grandma (and my mom!) might have used the old upside-down jar method – sometimes called open kettle canning – it is not a safe way to preserve jam in a jar.

canning pot full of jars and water

10. Remove the Jars from the Canner

Again using the jar lifters, remove each jar from the canner and set on a towel-covered countertop. Leave the jars undisturbed until they cool thoroughly.

You will likely hear the sound of the lids sealing with a little “tink!” as they cool. It’s a home canner’s favorite noise!

single jar in jar tongs above a big pot

11. Check the Seals

One the jars have cooled completely, check the lids to make sure they’ve sealed. Do this by pressing down in the center of each lid. Do not touch the lids when the jars are still hot, as this can cause a false seal.

The flat lid should feel solid. If it flexes up and down, it did not seal properly and the jar is not shelf stable. Place unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use within a month or so.

jars of strawberry jam from above

12. Store Canned Jam and Jelly

Remove the rings from the jars and wash each to remove any sugary residue that could attract ants. Dry and store jars without the rings.

Storing jars with the rings will hold the lid in place, even if a seal fails. Store canned jams and jellies in the pantry for up to a year.

🍅 Safety First!

Canning is an excellent way to preserve food for the pantry, but there are some important safety considerations to keep in mind. The recipes on this site have been made following safe canning procedures by a certified Master Food Preserver.

Try one of these recipes! 

jars of strawberry jam, from above

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. Read more about Kris and how she got started with this site here. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

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