The Complete Guide to Choosing the Best Fruits to Make Jam or Jelly


Woman Choosing Fruit at the Market

Whether you are using fruit you have grown or purchased, choosing the best fruit possible is key to making the best jam or jelly possible. I have experimented with just about every fruit possible over the years. This guide is the result of the information I have gathered.

The best fruits to make jam or jelly should be:

  1. High in natural pectin and acid
  2. In season
  3. The ones you like
  4. At their peak ripeness
  5. Readily available to you

The best jam and jelly is the product of the highest quality fruit. For more details on how to find the finest fruit to make the tastiest jam or jelly for your family possible, please read on.

1. Fruits Should Be High in Natural Pectin and Acid

Some fruits are high in natural pectin like apples, crabapples, and grapes. Some fruits are low in pectin like blueberries, peaches, and strawberries. Some are high in acid like crabapples and grapes, while some are low in acid like blueberries, pears, and peaches.

As fruits are ripening, the pectin content is increasing until the fruit has reached its peak of ripeness. This is when the maximum pectin content is achieved. Then, as the fruit continues to ripen, the pectin content begins to decrease.

The best pectin content for your jam and jelly would be made from fruit which is a mixture of 1/4 slightly underripe fruit and 3/4 fully ripe fruit. The underripe fruit will provide pectin and acid, and the fully ripe fruit will provide color and flavor. But, all of these fruits can be used to make delicious jam and jelly by adding commercial pectin and lemon juice, as needed, to balance the required pectin content and acidity. Recipes will specify whether lemon juice or another source of acid are needed.

Which Fruits Are High in Pectin and Acid?

Here is a list of fruits by category:

  • Fruits High in Pectin: Sour Apples, Blackberries, Sour Cherries, Crabapples, Cranberries, certain Grapes, Kumquats, Lemons, Loquats, Mayhaws, Melons, certain Oranges, Passion Fruit (skin), certain Plums, Pomegranates, Quinces.
  • Fruits Low in Pectin: Blueberries, Figs, Grapefruit, Guavas, Papaya, Passion Fruit, Peaches, Pineapple, Rhubarb, Strawberries.
  • Fruits High in Acid: Crabapples, Currants, certain Grapes, Loquats, Raspberries.
  • Fruits Low in Acid: Sweet Apples, Blueberries, Sweet Cherries, Figs, Melons, Papaya, Passion Fruit, Peaches, Pears.

If you are making jelly and jam without adding commercial pectin, you would have better results from using fruits like crabapples, grapes, or sour apples which are all high in natural pectin and acid.

If using other kinds of fruit which are low in pectin or acid, or are low in both pectin and acid-like blueberries, you can achieve better results by mixing more than one kind of fruit to balance the pectin and acid. A combination of Blackberries and Blueberries should give you a good jam as well as Sour Cherries and Sweet Cherries.

2. Fruits Should Be in Season

Fruits should be obtained locally when they are in season. It depends on where you live as to the kind of fruit you have access to for making jam and jelly.

Buying locally ensures you are getting the best fruit with the best flavor at the best price. You do not want fruit that is picked green and shipped around the world to make your jam, jelly, and preserves.

3. Fruits Should Be the Ones You Like

Making jam and jelly is a long process which is very satisfying and rewarding, but if your family doesn’t like a particular type of fruit, there is no point in putting in the work necessary to make a jam or jelly that your family isn’t going to eat.

So, even though someone is giving you a bushel of a particular fruit, if the family won’t eat it, it is better to just pass on the free fruit.

4. Fruits Should Be at Their Peak of Ripeness

If you buy fruit from a different part of the country, or in some cases even from a different country, you can be sure they were picked green for shipping. Even though they continue to ripen, the best flavor comes from fruit picked when it is ripe or in the process of ripening.

As the fruit ripens, the starch is converted to sugar, making the fruit softer and sweeter, and the chlorophyll converts to antioxidants making the ripe fruit healthier for you.

When fruit is picked too early, the natural ripening process is interrupted and the fruit is never as flavorful or as nutritious as fruit that is either fully ripe or well into the ripening process when picked.

The level of ripeness when fruits are picked affects your jams and jellies in the following ways:

  • Fruit that is underripe is dry and less juicy than ripe fruit and could result in jam or jelly that has poor flavor.
  • Fruit that is overripe has less natural pectin and acid and may result in a soft set.

Fruits Should Be Firm and Flavorful

Always taste fruit you are planning to use to make jam and jelly before you buy it. If the fruit isn’t firm and flavorful and doesn’t have a smooth texture with plenty of juice, it will not make the best tasting jam and jelly, and you will be wasting your money. The best fruits to use for canning are very fragrant, firm, and juicy.

5. Fruits Should Be Readily Available to You

The fruits you use to make jam and jelly should be readily available to you.

Maybe you have a fig tree and a cherry tree in your yard? Perhaps your sister has mayhaw, pear, persimmon, and blueberry trees? Or, maybe your best friend has access to crabapples and plums.

Those are the fruits you should start with when you want to make jam and jelly. Just find out when those fruits are in season (when they get ripe) and let the owner know you are interested in having a certain amount or whatever they can spare.

Other options for getting those delicious fruits include:

  • Woods or wild areas nearby that might have blackberries, plums, or muscadine grapes growing in them. Just be sure those woods are not privately owned. If there is a big “No Trespassing” sign posted, either forget that idea or contact the owner to see if they will give you permission to harvest the fruits. Another problem to watch out for are any wild animals including bears and snakes that might be harvesting some of the fruit for winter. You don’t want to get into a sparring match with either one.
  • Neighbors who have fruit trees and often have extras to share.
  • Local shoppers guides which have ads for people who are selling fruit.
  • Local U-pick farms which are now gaining popularity. A good website to check out is http://www.pickyourown.org/ which allows you to search your local area for the availability of u-pick farms.
  • Farmers’ Markets which are an excellent source of fresh local fruit.
  • Local fruit stands – Check with owners to see what is in season, when they will have access to it, and an estimated price.
  • Your local county agent is another good source for finding out when local fruits will be ripe and where you can get them.
  • People who earn extra income by traveling to locations where certain popular fruits and vegetables are grown and bringing home large quantities to sell. For example, many people in the Southeast go to Florida for watermelons before local watermelons are in season; to Ponchatoula, Louisiana, and Plant City, Florida, for strawberries; to Vardaman, Mississippi, for sweet potatoes; to Zellwood, Florida, for sweet corn; and to Georgia for peaches.
  • Buying commercially frozen fruit should be your last option. However, you can still make really good jam or jelly if you know how to choose the fruit properly.

What If I Just Don’t Have Time to Make the Jam or Jelly When I Can Get the Fruit?

Fresh fruit is only available for a limited time. The length of the season depends on the kind of fruit. And when it’s gone, it’s gone!

If you are serious about getting that fruit this year, it is important to plan ahead. Find out when the fruit will be ripe and mark your calendar. If you can get some fruit or you have fruit growing in the yard that will be ripe at a time when you can’t work jam or jelly making into your schedule, you can always just freeze the fruit for use at your convenience.

When preparing your fruit for canning, only prepare it as you need it. After it is prepared, the quality of the fruit deteriorates rapidly, even if refrigerated.

So, if you are making only one batch of jelly tonight and you will freeze the rest of the fruit tomorrow, only wash and prepare enough for the one batch tonight. Wash the rest and prepare it for freezing tomorrow or whenever you can get to it.

How Do I Freeze Fruit to Use Later?

There are a couple of options for freezing fruit for later use:

Option One

  • Berries – Wash and spread on a towel to dry. When dry, just pour into a baggie and put in the freezer. 
  • Fruit such as peaches and pears – I would recommend washing the fruit, pitting, and peeling and freezing in quantities that can be used to make a batch of jam or other fruit product, depending on the recipe you will use. Be sure to cut the fruit into the size pieces you want to use to make your jam or other product as the fruit is much easier to cut when it is fresh. The pits, peels, and seeds can be frozen as well to boil at a later time in order to extract the juice for making jelly.

Option Two

  • All types of fruit

Directions:

  1. Wash, place in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil.
  2. Then, reduce heat and cook 30 minutes to an hour, mashing the fruit with a potato masher as it cooks, to extract the juice.
  3. Strain through a cheesecloth
  4. Can by pouring boiling juice into prepared jars, then affix lids, and set aside to cool.

This canned juice will be good to use for several years as long as the jars are sealed and stored properly. Or, pour the juice into a container you can place in the refrigerator to be used within a few days or put into the freezer where it will be good for several years.

No matter which method you use, be sure to label the containers with contents, amount, and date.

Using Commercially Frozen or Canned Fruit

Commercial and homemade frozen or canned fruits and juices can be used to make jam, jelly, and other fruit products. This is a good way to make jam or jelly from a fruit that is not available in your area.

If using commercially frozen fruit for making jam, be sure to buy a product that contains fruit only and does not contain sugar or other additives. Before using the fruit, always allow enough time for it to thaw in the refrigerator and do not drain the juice from the thawed fruit.

If using commercially canned fruit juice to make jelly, be sure it is 100% fruit juice and doesn’t contain sugar and other additives.

Both commercially frozen fruit and commercially canned fruit juice are usually made from fully ripe fruit and may not contain a sufficient amount of natural pectin to create a firm gel. So, if using the commercial fruit products, commercial pectin, either in individual boxes or in bulk, should be added. Here are my favorite commercial pectin brands.

How to Make Homemade Pectin

You can make your own homemade pectin if you have access to a quantity of tart, green, slightly underripe apples by following this process:

  1. Wash apples and cut into 8 pieces. (Do not remove peels or cores.)
  2. Place into a large pot and add 2 cups of water for every pound of apples.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tender, approximately 20 – 30 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. Strain through a cheesecloth and allow to drain for several hours or overnight so you’re getting all the liquid.
  6. Pour juice into a pot and bring to a boil; then allow the liquid to cook until it is reduced by half.
  7. Pectin can then be canned by pouring into prepared jars and sealing; it can be frozen by allowing to cool and storing in the freezer for later use, or it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 days.

The homemade pectin can be added to fruit that is low in pectin for a jam or jelly that is soft set. The addition of the homemade apple pectin will not change the flavor of the fruit to which it is added.

Final Thoughts

The process of canning any food is not for the faint of heart. That includes making jam, jelly, and other fruit products. It is not really difficult, but it is time-consuming and requires many steps to the process, especially if fresh fruit is being used.

You have to know what you are doing.

Because this process is not something you can just throw together, we want to be sure that the result of our work is the best we can make it. That means we have to use the very best ingredients possible.

Making a Decision

The best fruits to use when making jam, jelly, or any other homemade fruit products are the ones you and your family like best and are fruits which are ripe, are firm and flavorful, and are obtained locally when in season. This ensures that you can choose the best quality fruits which will make the best jam and jelly.

If you want to use a fruit which is not grown locally, you can either use commercially frozen or canned fruit or juice or you can try to get what is known as the best around from the place where it is grown at the time it is in season.

A good example would be Georgia peaches. Many people in the South make a trip through Georgia during peach season* just so they can bring home enough peaches to put up a sufficient quantity of jam and preserves to last their family until the next time they plan to visit The Peach State.

And don’t forget, always make single batches of jam and jelly as it doesn’t always turn out right if you double recipes or adjust amounts of ingredients.

*Georgia peaches are in season for 16 to 18 weeks during the summer, from mid-May to the early part of August. There are about 4 dozen varieties of Georgia peaches, but the most common are Clingstone and Freestone.  The flesh of the Clingstone peach “clings” to the pit, while the meat of the Freestone peach separates easily from the pit. Clingstone peaches are harvested from approximately May 15th to June 1st; Semi-Freestones from June 1st to June 20th; and, Freestones are picked from June 19th to August 10th.

Related Questions

How much pectin is in a banana? Bananas have a surprisingly high amount of pectin. In fact, the more a banana ripens, the higher the proportion of water-soluble pectin rises. This is the entire reason they get softer as they age.

Which apples have the most pectin? Yellow or green apples generally have the most pectin. Basically, the sweeter and more tart the apple, the higher the pectin content.

Does jam count as a fruit serving? Jam does have enough fruit in it to be counted as a serving, albeit a small one. If you want to have a higher serving of fruit you might try fruit preserves. As a bonus, preserves are also lower in calories since they generally do not have as much added sugar.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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