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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Preserves 101: What's the Difference between Jelly, Jam, Conserves?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2011 at 2:45 PM

THOUGHT & FOUND/SHEILA
  • thought & found/Sheila

Jams and jellies and chutneys, oh my. If you pick up Ball's Blue Book Guide to Preserving you'll find 128 pages covering a wide array of canned and preserved concoctions.

Most of the products you and I call "jam" fall into the broad category of "soft spreads." It's worth knowing the differences when you're in the store. Here's how to micro-manage the naming conventions:

Jelly. Jelly is made from fruit juice. It has Jello-like texture and a gem-like glimmer and clarity. It's the concord grape mom spread on your PB&Js. When you grew up, you moved on to jam.

Jam. Jam is made from crushed or chopped fruit. It's generally easily spreadable but with some texture from the fruit: thick, but not necessarily chunky.

Preserves. Preserves are virtually the same as jam, but a purist would note they contain whole fruit or larger pieces. Think chunky. Berries are a classic preserve ingredient as they can be cooked whole. When I make jars of "soft fruit spread" at home I make preserves.

Marmalade. Forgetting Moulin Rouge for the moment, marmalade is jelly with chunks of whole fruit and peel added. The chunky texture is reminiscent of jam or preserves but with the clarity of jelly, like a jello ring filled with fruit. Orange is the big dog on the Marmalade porch, and citrus, in general, is the bulk of the pack. Marmalades often finish with a bit o' bitter from the peel and make a nice cheese accent. Use them like jam if that's the flavor profile you prefer.

Conserves. According to Ball, conserves are a "jam-like product." A conserve combines two or more fruits with nuts and/or raisins. They're a classic accoutrement for cheese or charcuterie, but you're not likely to use them on soft bread.

Chutney. Fruit chutneys vary from the rest of the group in being cooked longer and with spices and vinegar instead of sugar. Vegetables make the mix in some, and they're another oft seen partner for cheese and charcuterie.

There are also fruit butters and relishes on the outer edge of the range, and inevitably chefs and purveyors invent or resurrect other nichey sub genres, but that's pushing this primer to the 201 level, so we'll leave those for another day.

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Ben Narasin

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