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Step-By-Step Guide to Canning Jams and Jellies

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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.

strawberry can in canning jars

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 blueberry jam) which you’ll use up quickly or freezing jam. To keep fruit spreads in the pantry, though? Yes, can it!

Canning jam, step-by-step

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

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.]

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. 

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!

4. Cook the fruit

Follow the individual recipe to make the jam or jelly. This often means adding sugar and pectin to the prepared fruit and bringing it to a boil. 

5. Transfer fruit mixture to jars

Ladle the hot fruit into canning jars. Use the jar size that is specified in the recipe. A canning funnel is a lifesaver for reducing spills. 

glass canning jar with funnel and ladle of jelly

6. Know your head space when canning jam & jelly

Head space 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 lid (sometimes called a flat) on each clean jar rim. Screw a band onto the jar finger tight. 

hand setting canning ring onto jar full of jam

9. Process the jars

Pots dedicated to canning have a rack inside that will hold seven jars. Use a jar lifter (a must for canning!) to lift the filled jars into the boiling water bath canner one at a time, each in its own slot.

Make sure that the jars are completely submerged. There should be about an inch 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 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? That’s a resounding yes!! While your grandma (and my mom!) might have used the old upside down jar method, 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. 

single jar in jar tongs above a big pot

11. Check the seals

One the jars have cooled, check the lids to make sure they’ve sealed. Do this by pressing down in the center of each lid. It should feel solid. If the lid 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.

Try one of these recipes! 

jars of strawberry jam, from above

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

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