Human beings have been preserving food for a long time – way before refrigerators were invented to make keeping food easy. Along the way they have made a virtue out of necessity and turned preserving into an art form. It started with drying, salting, smoking and fermenting and developed into pickling and conserving, once sugar became an affordable commodity in the 19th century.
Nowadays we have a number of different types of preserves to choose from. Preserving is done for pleasure rather than to make sure you have enough food to get through the winter months and is becoming an increasingly sophisticated hobby. If you’re going to take your preserving at all seriously, you should learn a little about the differences between types of preserves.
Fruit and preserving differences
Jam is the catch all term for fruit preserves in the UK but essentially refers to chopped or crushed fruit boiled up with sugar and pectin and left to set. Its consistency is thick enough to spread and there may still be definable lumps of fruit in the mixture. The sugar acts both to help the fruit set and to preserve it. There are official guidelines setting out rules for classing jam against other types of preserves. Essentially jam is about half and half fruit and sugar.
Jelly is a version of jam which has been strained to remove any lumps of fruit. The result is a translucent quality and glossy finish. The fruit is usually crushed, cooked and then carefully strained to ensure as much juice as possible is extracted before sugar and, if necessary, pectin is added and the mixture boiled to obtain a set. Jelly usually contains more fruit juice than sugar.
Then there is compote, which is fruit cooked slowly in a sugar syrup. The fruit should maintain its shape to be considered compote or can be pureed to make coulis. Compotes tend to be used straightaway rather than stored for later and can be mad with sweet or savoury ingredients.
What is not always obvious is that officially, jams are made with a single fruit ingredient. When a mixture of fruits are used or other ingredients such as nuts added, you have a conserve.
Preserving differences between jam and marmalade
Marmalade takes the form of a fruit jelly containing slivers of rind, usually from citrus fruits. Marmalades have a more bitter flavour than jams and are less sweet, cutting through butter to add a freshness to scones and pastries.