Jam and Jelly Without a Water Bath

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OK, so I’m a contrarian. I don’t know whether it’s one of my best or worst characteristics, but push me too hard and I get real pigheaded. My contrarian tendencies really get the better of me when some scientist says I should or shouldn’t do something based on the latest research. The reason I balk is that I spent many years in the health-care field and a number of those years doing quality improvement, where research and the use of data are paramount. I know that people falsify data. I know that less than stellar research results can be spun just as crazily as any political statement. And I know that the money supporting some of those research projects can wind up influencing the results. So when it comes to making jams and jellies, there are some points at which my back goes up and I do it my way.

I don’t use a water bath when making jams or jellies. I know the latest instructions tell you to use a water bath for 5 to 10 minutes. But I’ve read the research and the only thing you get out of a water bath is a slightly tighter seal. Since I’ve never had a problem and I’ve been using the “invert jar for 5 minutes after sealing” method for about 40 years now, I think I’m OK. I will add that my mother died over 25 years ago. The jams and jellies my stepmother recently asked me to clean out of her cellar that were put up by my mother several years before she died still have a good seal from the invert method.

First, let me point out there are some steps for which there are no shortcuts. You absolutely must have squeaky-clean jars that do not have nicks or cracks. You must put both lids and jars in boiling water and leave them submerged until you are ready to fill them. You must work quickly, as keeping things hot and sealing quickly keep contaminants out of the food. Finally, my contrary methods below should never be used for canning things like vegetables or meat; those need pressure canning. Where I veer from the mainstream path is in skimming, ladling and water baths.

I don’t skim the foam from jams or jellies. Foam will not hurt you; it just makes the top of the jelly look different than the rest of it. And the process of skimming means it takes longer to get the hot liquid into the jars. Letting the liquid stand in an open kettle or pan increases the chances that airborne contaminants can get at it. Cooling will increase the risk of spoilage; hot liquid, sealed quickly, will decrease spoilage. Skimming also makes the whole process messier and increases the risk of a burn. By the time you get to the last jar or two, the foam has already been poured off, so if you want something pretty for a gift, use these jars.

I don’t use a ladle, for similar reasons – mess and cooling. Instead I pour the cooked jam or jelly into a pitcher that has been thoroughly washed and disinfected and equally thoroughly rinsed in very hot water (since I can’t get it into a kettle to boil it). I then take each jar out of the boiling water one at a time, fill it by pouring from the pitcher and quickly clap on and seal each lid. Using a pitcher means I almost never have a spill, so the rims of the jars rarely need to be wiped – another time-saving method that decreases mess and keeps things hot until sealed.

Sometimes the latest research is good stuff, and sometimes it’s hooey.

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144 Responses to Jam and Jelly Without a Water Bath

  1. Laurie says:

    I never have used a water bath on any of my jams in the 40 years I’ve been making them. I do have a quick question however. I wanted to make some strawberry habanero jam, basically following a typical strawberry jam recipe. I was going to throw in a couple of minced habaneros. Do you think there is enough acid in the strawberries to make this safe without adding any lemon juice? My gut says to add a Tbsp of lemon juice, but I would rather not if I can get away with it.

  2. Thanks for the great info. My Mother never water bathed her jams or jellies. She did as you, and inverted the first 5 minutes. I’ve opened jars that were 6 years old, and it was like she just canned them. I have seen her skim sometimes if the foam was a lot, but mostly she did not skim either.
    Thanks for clarifying the point!!!
    PS – Love the site!!!

    • Bee says:

      Thank you – I’m glad you like Jefferson’s Daughters. You might also want to take a look at the IANS (It Ain’t Necessarily So) posts for more on how the experts don’t know what we know!

  3. Janet LeComber says:

    Thanks so much for your blog, I have also thought a water bath is not necessary for jam and jellies….as I too have had them keep for a long time perfectly well. I have just made my first batch of the season today, all looks good.

  4. Maija says:

    Hiya,
    Thrilled to have found your site.
    Since they started all the hoopla about having to WB EVERYTHING,
    I have been. However, I don’t remember ever dying when I didn’t.
    I understand the veggie thing, but jams and jellies? I think I’ll stop
    wasting my time.. and money on WBing. However, I am about to make
    some grape jelly with a Bernardin No Sugar Pectin. These grapes are
    plenty sweet enough, so I won’t be adding any extra. I’m wondering
    what your thoughts are on making this… WB or not… because there will
    be no added sugar. The boxes say there is dextrose in them already.
    What say you?

    • Bee says:

      Maija, glad to have you with the rest of us contrarians! No-sugar pectin is designed to let you make fruit jams and jellies without sugar; it’s often called low methoxyl pectin and the binder is calcium instead of sugar and acid. One of the important factors in this no WB issue is the acidity of the fruit. With classic pectin, the pH range is between 2.8 and 3.6; in fact, they won’t gel if the pH is above 4.6, which is considered the cut-off point for preventing botulism. Low methoxyl pectin, on the other hand, will gel in a pH range of 2 to 7. The latter puts it over the safe point cutoff. I know Bernadin has some recipes they developed that ensures the pH will be low enough and they also add potassium sorbate, potassium benzoate or sodium benzoate to help inhibit mold. I really don’t know what the WB does for these low methoxyl pectins; all the research I’ve reviewed was tested on regular pectin with added sugar. If Bernadin recommends a water bath, I would follow their directions.

  5. Fran says:

    Hi needs some answers please.
    I made zucchini relish this September making sure everything was sterilized for the recommended time. After filling the hot jars and putting the lids and rings on the jars sat on a table for 3 days before putting them in pantry. I made sure all the lids were inverted. Today I went to get a jar to have with dinner. I found that a lot of the lids had popped. Is there any way to salvage these or are they doomed to the garbage.

    • Bee says:

      No, Fran, they definitely aren’t safe if the seals on the lids have popped! That means there may be a gas-forming bacteria in the relish, which could be botulism. On the chance that it might be, the best thing to do is dump the relish into a pot, boil hard for at least 10 minutes (to destroy any toxin) and put it in the garbage in a sealed container or bury it deep in the garden so animals can’t get to it. So sorry about that, but I really wouldn’t take a chance.

  6. Fran says:

    I made zucchini relish this year. All the jars had sealed lids inverted. After a month on the shelf I went to get a jar to have with dinner and noticed that a lid had popped. They have been kept in a dark cool place. Can they be resealed or have to be thrown out.

  7. Donna Thompson says:

    Love your advice! How would I go about taking the seeds out of blackberries for jam? These are the huge thornless berries, but you could break a tooth on the seeds! Thanks so much!

    • Bee says:

      Donna, just cook the berries until they soften a bit (maybe 10 minutes) and then either put them in a food mill and crank the juice out, or in a strainer and squash them with a wooden spoon. The food mill is faster and gets more juice out, but the strainer routine works, too.

  8. Diana says:

    Bee

    Just woke up at 3 am wondering if I my gift of jelly to my neighbors will kill them . I did no water bath, no inversion . Yes they pinged as they cooled and I keep them refrigerated at all times . Thank goodness for that extra fridge. I also sterilize in my steam oven – any issues with that ?

    • Bee says:

      Diana – if you cooked the jelly as directed and your jars/lids were all sterilized and still hot when you poured in the jelly, they should be fine. I wouldn’t think you’d need to refrigerate them at all.

    • Gina says:

      This boiling-water-bath thing must be an insurance issue. It is exclusively an American thing: no English or Australian jam or pickle or chutney recipe has ever included that step over the last 400 years. If your jam or chutney fails, it’s obvious, as with any food that goes off. If a high-acid recipe full of sugar and vinegar and boiled half to death before sealing isn’t safe then nothing is. I wonder if it just arose from a mistake repeated so often people believe it? Preserving with a Fowlers vacola set, for uncooked fruits and vegetables, has been around forever, but jam and chutneys are not just nice, they were developed as a means of preserving. Perhaps there has just been confusion over the two methods?People will admit that a high-acid mix with the right PH is impossible for botulism to grow in, than say, “But you need to process it anyway.” You don’t. The Chinese whispers effect is very strong on the internet – people here have access to US recipes and I’ve noticed odd things like instructions for boiling water baths for marmalade on Australian sites, just because people have copied American recipes from the internet. Also Australians share recipes with “all-purpose flour” which we don’t have here, as we are a hot country with no low-protein wheat, and “baking soda” for bicarb soda, and “cupcakes” instead of patty cakes as we have had for 200 years. It’s definitely an internet thing.

      • Bee says:

        The United States Department of Agriculture recommends boiling water baths for jams and jellies – which pretty obviously isn’t necessary, based on the experience of those of here.

        • Lisa says:

          I have been making jams and pickles Down Under for years and have never heard, as Gina stated, about a water bath. I have followed my mother’s and grandmother’s processes and recipes and we’re still all here! It’s obvious when a seal has broken or a batch failed – it’s as much about using your common sense and taking responsibility for yourself. (I also only refrigerate after I have opened the jars).

  9. Cara says:

    I have a question. I am new to pickles and canning in general but this year with the guidance of my mother decided to make mustard pickles/relish. It is a maritime recipe known as lady ashburham. I boiled my lids and washed my jars and kept them in the hot over until ready to use. I filled the jars and all of the lids popped on their own. I did not do a water bath/process them. I am wondering if i should have and if there is a chance of them making someone sick if I didn’t. I am also wondering if it is possible to process them now or will that make a difference ( I made the pickles 2 or 3 weeks ago. Just wondering if I could process them now or if it is too late)

  10. judi jones says:

    Hi Bee, me again..I know that this site deals with jams and jellies, but I make zucchini relish every year and I don’t use a water bath or pressure cooker for that either. I was on another site that says a person must use a pressure cooker on all veggies. Well, zucchini, bell peppers and onions are all veggies and I haven’t had a problem with them sealing. They have to be simmered for half an hour before the jars are filled. My family loves this relish and even people that hate store bought relish, absolutely love the zucchini relish. Every time I read about veggies having to be pressure cooked, I get a little un-nerved. What’s your take on this? thank you..

    • Bee says:

      Judi, the rule of thumb on vegetables is that they should be pressure-cooked because they are low acid. I haven’t done any research on this one, so I hesitate to recommend it. Sounds like a topic for another post.

      • Samia says:

        Judi Jones said she was making a relish, not just plain vegetables like when you can carrots or beans.

        Relishes contain plenty of vinegar and sugar and that will raise the acidity. You would not need to water bath or pressure bath them.

        Zucchini relish is basically like bread & butter pickles made with cuc slices. Well, who here bothers processing them in a hot water or pressure cooker bath. I never do.

        Plus – there’s all those spices. They’ll kill any unfriendly microorganism.

        Plus – you let your sliced cucs or zucchini sit in salt overnight.

      • judi jones says:

        okay thank you..I have been doing them for many years with out water bath or pressure cooking, as has my mom 7 aunts for many years..no problem as of yet.just done 22 pints of relish last week..

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Judi Jones,
      I’ve been looking for a good relish and was wondering if you would share your zucchini relish? It sounds delicious. Just in case you will here’s my email; tsprops@gmail.com
      thank you in advance!
      Teresa

  11. Judy D. says:

    Hi Bee:
    I am a different Judy from the ones that have already posted.
    I want to say I love your background. This kind of writing is a thing of the past in fact some young people cannot read writing anymore. Everything is in printing, computers, texts, websites and emails. It is a shame. I don’t know if it is your Mom’s writing or yours but it reminds me of my Mom and Grandma. Well, so much for that subject.
    I am glad you had this posting. I am a newbie at the jelly making and was looking for the water bath answer. My recipe says to leave 1 inch at the top but I notice your jelly is right to the top. I will be doing a second batch tomorrow, what is the reason for leaving an inch at the top or should I just go ahead and fill the jars to the top? Thank you for your help.

    • Bee says:

      Hi Judy –
      You’re right, there have been a lot of women named Judy or Judi; must be a popular name. The background of the website is actually the Declaration of Independence. Ell was the one who found it and managed to put it up, when we first started the blog — there was a bit of creative swearing during the process, as I recall. I do know what you mean about the younger generation’s writing, although I must admit that I myself print, a habit I started years ago when nurses did all their charting by hand; printing was faster and more legible.
      As far as the jelly, I have always left only a quarter of an inch (another instruction in the older cookbooks). Not sure what the rationale is for an inch, but I doubt that it matters much either way.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  12. judi jones says:

    I made some apple jams and jellies . It called for 1 5/8 teaspoons lemon juice with 5 cups sugar..I used 1/4 cup lemon juice instead, because my pear jam/jelly recipe called for that amount. Then I read about the right ratio of acid and sugar together. Is my jams and jellies going to be okay..love your site! Thank you! Judi Jones

    • Bee says:

      Hi Judi –
      The additional lemon juice might make your apple jam and jelly a bit more tart, but it shouldn’t affect safety as long as you otherwise followed the directions and have a good seal on the jars. In fact, the extra acidity might even help preserve it a little better. As far as taste, I suspect it will depend on the variety of apple you used. Apples like Granny Smith, Gravenstein or Greening’s Rhode Island probably don’t need the extra pucker factor, while Golden Delicious, Macoun or Roxbury Russet could benefit. Acid can also affect how well jam and jelly set up; that’s just one of those “try it and see” things. Thanks for stopping by.

      • judi jones says:

        thank you! The jams and jelly set up perfectly..haven’t tried them yet to see what they taste like..Thanks for the advice and thank you for this wonderful site!

  13. Nellie says:

    I am making grape juice using a steam juicer, they are dealing with out a water bath, but it’s taking a bit of time to seal. Should I also put them in a water bath? I am leaving then unsweetened at this time. Thank you!!

  14. Judy says:

    Sitting down listening to all my plum jam jars popping one by one = sealed! So glad I don’t have to waterbath them. My mother never did it with jam Found your blog on a search for ‘do i have to waterbath jam’. Great site. Will spend some time browsing and learning something new Thanks for the post.

  15. Ernie says:

    Hurrah !!!! A kindred soul. I’ve been inverting jams and jellies for years with no problems. I also run my jars and lids through the dishwasher and through the dry cycle, cap them as they come out, and use them later with no further action.

  16. Jolene Dodge says:

    I have to tell you! I’m really with you on NO Water Bath for jams, and jellies! I also run all my jars through the dish washer and then just before I fill them, put them in the microwave for 3 minutes, and get them really hot to fill. My question is a new one… I just purchased new lids this year (Orchard Road) and they have a notice enclosed, not to really heat your lids any more, to just warm them and they will seal fine in your water bath or pressure canner. Have you used these lids? What do you think? I’ve tried them and the “pop” is way different than I’m used to.

  17. Shannah says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for all the informative information! I just made a hot pepper jelly but decreased the sugar because I thought it was too sweet. The jars are sealing but now I’m wondering if it may be unsafe to eat? The recipe called for 2 cups jalapeno, 2 cups green bell and 12 cups of sugar, (plus pectic and lime juice). I used only 10 cups of sugar. I’d like to know your opinion on if these will be safe to use a Christmas presents. I’d hate to make some one ill at Christmas!

    • Bee says:

      Shannah, using a little less sugar shouldn’t make a difference as long as you cooked the jelly for the recommended time, used sterilized, hot jars and lids, poured in the jelly while piping hot and immediately clapped on lids and jar rings. Jams and jellies are about the only canned goods where you can adjust the ingredient quantities a little and get away with it. Generally speaking, though, it’s not a good idea to tinker with canning recipes, as the balance of acid and sweet is key to preventing spoilage.

      • Shannah says:

        Thank you for the information. I’m still waiting for the jelly to set up. It seems more like a sauce now, as well as the fact that it seems to be clearer up top and cloudy half way through, though I boiled it for the recommended time. I put a jar in the fridge to see if that would help it set but that jar is still liquidy as well. I wonder if its because I shorted the recipe 2 cups of sugar? I’m wondering if it’s too late to save it somehow?

        • Bee says:

          Jelly generally takes longer to set up, in my experience; give it at least 48 hours. The recipe is large enough that while cutting back the sugar might have a bit of an effect, I wouldn’t expect it to be like a sauce. Was the pectin fresh? That might affect the set. I suppose you could call it hot pepper syrup…

        • Jennifer says:

          I have my own business making & selling my homemade jams/jellies. When I make my pepper jelly, I cut the sugar back to 10 cups as well. Pepper jelly does usually look cloudy & takes up to a few days to set. It will clear up as it sets. I hope this is helpful!

  18. Judy Hanks says:

    I just now found your post and I did everything except I did not invert my jars. they seem to have sealed very tightly. I did not do a water bath either and I did use a label. Do you think they are OK?

    • Bee says:

      Hi Judy –
      Inverting the jars is a little extra that probably isn’t required. It’s something I learned from my mom and have always done, but several folks who’ve posted here don’t invert or water bath and get perfectly good seals. You can check the seal by removing the ring and picking up the the jar by holding the lid with your fingertips; if it’s a good seal, you’ll be able to lift the jar and the lid will stay tight.

  19. Judi says:

    I am so glad that I found your post. I am going to make small jars of peach jam for my daughter’s bridal shower. I am not wanting to water bath them, as I am not sure how to do this with the size of the jars. I have a quick question. How long do I leave the jars inverted before turning them over? I am so glad I don’t need to water bath them. Thank you, I appreciate it.

    • Bee says:

      Hi Judi –
      Five minutes is the usual; the size of the jars is irrelevant. Have a great time at the shower, and blessings on your daughter’s marriage.

  20. Judi says:

    I have the ability to get a rather large amount of grapes and would like to jar them. My ?is I would like them as a fruit spread not so much adding a bunch of sugar and most of all NO artificial sweetener. I’m having a hard time finding a recipe. Can this be done? Can I do without a water bath? How long
    Do you think shelf life would be? Thank you in advance for any info

    • Bee says:

      Judi, I don’t have any experience with using them as a fruit spread, so I hesitate to give you suggestions. You might be better off to do them as jelly, which would not require a waterbath, or as grape juice with this super easy recipe: http://www.jeffersonsdaughters.com/2015/09/20/easy-peasy-grape-juice/. Shelf life for either, properly stored, would be at least a year.

    • Susie Kasper says:

      I have used wild grapes several times to make something I call a “butter” so to speak. I dump them in skins, seeds and all after I pull them off the stem. Add a little water to sort of steam them and then run them through a ricer to get ride of the seeds and skins. It leaves you with grape pulp. I them proceed with the recipe like making jam/jelly. It turns out sort of like a soft butter. My family really likes this on their toast and biscuits.

  21. Samia says:

    Hi, Bee! I have been making jam & jelly with Pomona’s Universal Pectin (a gift from God himself if you ask me) for 20 years.

    I don’t always invert; I never water-bath the filled jars.

    Here’s something interesting. I have an old booklet written by a home economist probably in the 1970s. No instructions to process jam & jelly after sealing. Also, Pomona’s insert never said to process until a few years ago. Someone scared them, I guess.

    Thanks for your info, Bee.

    • Bee says:

      Hi Samia –
      Thanks for stopping by! I know what you mean about the older books; very different instructions. Those of us who have been canning for years know from experience that the more recent guidelines are often overkill, but many newbies have no idea, which is why I wrote the post.

      • Samia says:

        Bee, I tried to discuss this topic on a cooking forum and, well, it was World War III. I never took so much crap in my life. I was told that I was putting my family’s life at risk, etc.

        • Bee says:

          I know what you mean. Doesn’t matter what the subject is, when you swim upstream, you often get attacked. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s good to listen to opposing viewpoints, and it’s a way to learn new things. But when you’ve done your research and have years of experience with something like not waterbathing jam and jelly, you know it works. In that case, if I want to be polite, I say “thank you for sharing your opinion,” and go do it my way. If I don’t want to be polite, I — ummm — modify my response…

  22. Ellen says:

    Thanks so much for your reply. I feel much better since I did put the jars in the freezer except a little I had left over went into the fridge which I will use to make the jam cake recipe that you posted. This website is awesome!

  23. Ellen says:

    I just made blackberry freezer jam for the first time. I did sterilize jars and seals and rims; however, the jars cooled before I got all of the jam in the jars. So far, 10 minutes have gone by and no popping. Do I need to invert the jars? Will the freezer be enough to preserve? I used the directions that were in the pectin package. Did not cook jam according to these instructions.

  24. Jen says:

    so glad to find this post! I bought a different brand of pectin this morning (they were out of the one I usually buy, and I didn’t have time to go elsewhere, I’ve got fruit to jam!) and it says to use a water bath. I was seriously regretting getting the different brand – Good to know I’m not alone in thinking it’s a waste of time!

    • Bee says:

      You can relax; you’re in good company!

      • Jacqueline Gregory says:

        What is the life span if you do not do the water bath? I’m new 2 this whole canning hobby. I made pepper jelly and didn’t know I was to give it a water bath afterwards for seal. But after reading your post I feel better. One site said store all my cans in the refrigerator and they are good up to 3 weeks and the 1 week once open.

        • Bee says:

          Jacqueline, if you sterilized your jars and lids, poured in boiling-hot jelly and immediately sealed them, and you have a good seal, your jelly should be good for at least a year at room temperature (I’m not sure why the other site gave such a short storage time). Room temperature means between 50 and 70 degrees; storage in a hot area can soften the seals.I disagree with the one week refrigerated as well — I’d say a month to six weeks if not more. Congratulations on your jelly!

  25. Lynn Plata says:

    My daughters and I (very novice jam makers) made raspberry jam tonight without pectin. We made it last year and it turned out great but we thought it was a bit sweet. It calls for 4 c berries to 4 c sugar (just like you said above) but we did 8 c berries and 6 c of sugar. We also didn’t do a water bath (I don’t think we ever do with jam but I can’t remember right now.) In hind site I’m wondering if we just messed up 4 pints of jam.

    • Bee says:

      Only way to know is to try it! If you’re concerned about extra sweetness, next time you might want to add some lemon juice. It should still be safe to eat.

  26. Patricia says:

    I made blackberry jam, did hot water bath, even though I have never done that before. The jam is crystallized along the edges and tastes nothing like blackberries it just tastes like sugar chunks. Can I fix this? What went wrong? I’ve never had a jam do this right away before.

    • Bee says:

      If it crystallized immediately after making it, the most likely problem is that the sugar was either added after the fruit came to a boil or wasn’t stirred thoroughly. Other causes of crystallization include adding too much sugar or not cooking it long enough. Sugar tends to want to crystallize, anyway, and it will often revert in stored jams. You could try putting the jam back in the kettle, adding some hot water and lemon juice (acids help prevent crystallization). Then heat it to boiling again and treat it like fresh jam (clean, sterilized jars and new lids). That will pretty much cook it to death, though. You might also try dealing with it one jar at a time: reheat, stirring well, in a double boiler, add a little lemon juice and put it in a new jar. Then store in the refrigerator.

  27. Shelley says:

    I just made my first jelly, it’s called citrus wheat beer jelly. My question is, hot long after the 10 minute water bath, then the 5 minute resting time does it start to take the hot jelly liquid to start to form up. It’s been almost an hour and still looks just like liquid. I followed the instructions to the T.

    Thank you

    • Bee says:

      Shelley, I’m not familiar with that recipe, but in my experience, jellies often take longer to set up than jams (more liquid). I’d give it at least overnight. And congratulations on your first jelly-making session!

  28. Doris Fulton says:

    I would like to know how many cups of blackberries and how much sugar do you put in your recipe to make it come out thick. And how long do you cook it.thanks

    • Bee says:

      Doris, I’m assuming from your question that you’re talking about the old-fashioned kind of blackberry jam without pectin. If that’s the case, the standard is four cups of unseeded crushed blackberries and four cups of sugar. As far as how long you cook it, that’s a little tougher, as it depends on how juicy the berries are and how fast it jells. The best I can tell you is to put a couple of saucers in the freezer and get them icy cold. Then bring berries and sugar to a boil, stirring constantly, and when it starts to feel thick, dollop a little on a cold saucer. If it thickens up and stands in a glob, it’s done. If not, rinse the saucer and put it back in the freezer; cook it a little more and retest with the second saucer. Keep that routine going until it’s as thick as you want it, then pour into hot jars and seal. This will make about two pints.

  29. Leslee Kitchings says:

    I made fig jam and the put lemon juice in it as part of the recipe. Washed the jars and filled them while the jam was still very hot. The seals all popped about 10 to 8 min. So that should mean they are all sealed right?

    • Bee says:

      Yes; you can also check them by taking off the rings and lifting the jar by holding just the lid (don’t lift too high, just in case the seal gives and the jar drops) or by looking for the dent in the lid. A sealed jar is slightly concave.

  30. Donna Gates says:

    anyone use less sugar pectin? I hate to put in 6 cups of sugar into a small amount of fruit?

    • Bee says:

      Donna, there are specific low-sugar recipes out there; if I remember correctly, you use a different kind of pectin. There are also some fruit preserve recipes that rely more on cooking the fruit down. If you’re going to tinker, find a tested recipe. Remember, part of the reason for the sugar is that it acts as a preservative.

    • Samia says:

      Pomona’s Pectin allows you to make a jam or jelly with much less sugar. I have been using it for years. I buy the Pomona’s in health food stores, tho maybe regular supermarkets sell it, also. Happy Jamming.

  31. Jolene Alford says:

    I made blackberry syrup the other day and it calls for 4 cups blackberry juice, 2 cups sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, let come to a boil and boil for four minutes. . After cooked then 1 tablespoon butter and half teaspoon of vanilla. My question is … I had sterilize my jars and they sealed very well. Someone said I needed to waterbath them and I did not. Is it too late to waterbath lamb it’s been about four days.? Or do they need water bath since they are sealed.? I don’t want to make someone sick. Thanks and advance for your answer.

    • Bee says:

      Jolene, four days later is too late to water bath them. However, if your jars were sterilized and hot when you poured in the syrup and you have a good, tight seal, you should be OK. Berries, like most fruits, are high acid. If you have any worries, store them in the refrigerator and use them within a few months. Alternatively, you could redo the batch (unseal everything, re-sterilize the jars, cook the syrup again and seal with new lids, then water bath).

  32. Jenn says:

    Another idea for sterilizing jars: Wash in hot soapy water and then put in oven to dry (@200). Leave in oven while making jam/jelly and then take out hot to fill.

  33. Lynn says:

    Canning raspberry jam at midnight is never good, and that’s what I did. Realizing that I forgot to get my jars hot beforehand. Now I’m a bit worried as I never hot bath, never invert, and I poured the jam into room temp jars. Do you think I should scrape, recook, and recan? Many thanks!

    • Bee says:

      Hi Lynn –

      Yes, I would do them over; you’ll lose a little quality, but room temp jars makes it unsafe. Even if you just stored them in the fridge, they wouldn’t last long.

  34. Julie Burton says:

    Thank you for a great informative site. I have been making Jam and Jellies all my life taught by my Mother. Can’t stand shop bought! But I too thought I was going crazy as my daughter said you must use a water bath now. I have never done it and after reading all the posts here won’t be now either!
    Just made some Cherry Jam and after a good 3 minute boil it is setting well!
    Happy Jam And Jelly making!

    • Bee says:

      Glad to hear it was helpful, Julie. I’m fond of saying I’m efficient because I’m lazy; this is a good example of a situation where extra work gains you nothing. Thanks for stopping by.

  35. Claudia says:

    I made jam this afternoon and used the invert method for sealing. After the jars were cool, I turned them right side up to check that they had sealed, and they had. When I removed the screw top ring to add labels, I discovered that some jam had leaked and the tops of some jars were a little sticky. I cleaned them up with a hot cloth, and the seal is tight on the lid but I’m wondering if they will go bad more quickly because there was obviously some jam that had escaped when I turned them upside down. Any suggestions?

    • Bee says:

      Hi Claudia –
      Sounds as though the jars might have been overfilled. Since they leaked, even though it seems you have a tight seal, there may be jam particles between the lid and the jar. To be safe, I’d recommend keeping them in the fridge and using them within a couple of months.

      • Samia says:

        When you refer to “safety”, what exactly do you mean? What might happen that we can’t actually see? If mold or yeasts form, you can obviously see that and throw the jam or jelly into the compost.

  36. Alex says:

    Do you have to give the jars a water bath if only making the jelly for one time use or putting it in the fridge right away? I made jelly the other day and followed all of the directed steps from the recipe I followed, but was wondering if it will congeal without doing all of this? Is the waterbath just to add pressure?

    • Bee says:

      Alex, if you’re making jelly for one-time use or plan to store it in the fridge for a few weeks, a water bath isn’t necessary at all. In most cases, your jam and jelly will set up properly as long as you’ve followed directions and used the correct proportion of ingredients. Very occasionally, if the fruit isn’t tart enough (the acid in the fruit interacts with the pectin), your jam and jelly may be runny. Our ancestors always used some unripe fruit in the recipe to add natural pectin and ensure a good set. The waterbath is supposed to make for a tighter seal, but as I note in the post, you can get a perfectly good seal without it.

  37. Beth Suter says:

    I was teaching my daughter how to make jam and I forgot to invert the jars while cooling. Some James are a bit loose in the jars. Is it still safe to give as gifts? Please help

    • Bee says:

      Hi Beth –

      As long as you’ve got a good seal on the jars, they should be fine. After the jam cools, take the ring off and pick up the jar by holding the edge of the lid. If the jar stays sealed it should be OK. You can also look at the center of the jar lid; a sealed jar will have a slight indent in it. Even if you find a jar that hasn’t sealed, just store in the fridge and eat it within a few weeks.

  38. karen says:

    I have made jelly all 3 ways; inverted jars with no water bath, water bath and pressure canned. All 3 produce sealed jars with no mold. Growing up, we never water bathed the jelly and jam and at 64 I’m still going strong. Anything that can cut down on the time needed to make the product is fine by me. I do pressure can my tomatoes and meat products.

  39. Steve W says:

    Just picked up a couple of boxes of pectin and read the “new” directions. When the heck did the boiling water bath requirement start? Thought i was losing my mind. Ive been making jam & jelly for years without a boiling water bath, but I have used the invert method for sealing. Never had any problems.

    • Bee says:

      Steve, I can’t tell you exactly when it started, but apparently it became the “new normal” a few years back. As far as I can tell from my research, it doesn’t gain you a thing, just adds another step to the process. Supposedly, the research says you get a “better” seal, but since the seals I get have been good for several years and some stuff my mom canned with the method stayed sealed for over 30 years, it seems pretty dumb to me.

  40. Kelly says:

    Just made some jams for Christmas gifts and curious if once they seal if I would break the seal if I removed the screw top but left the sealed plate in tact in order to place a piece of fabric and fancy label on top then screw it back on. Or should I avoid that all together n just write on the top with a sharpie to be safe?

    • Bee says:

      Kelly, not only would it not break the seal (the lid itself forms the seal, not the ring), it’s a classic way to pretty up home made jelly and jams for gifts!

  41. Crystal says:

    I recently made grape jam and forgot to hot water bath it! I didn’t invert my jars, do you think my jam will still be okay? This was my first time trying to make my own jam!

    • Bee says:

      Crystal, if you have a good seal on the jars they should be fine even without inverting. Take the ring off the jar and lift it by holding onto the lid only, not the glass. If the lid stays on you have a good seal. You can also look to see if the middle of the jar lid is slightly inverted (has a dip in it). That’s another sign of a good seal. If you’re at all worried about it, you can store them in the fridge. And welcome to the ranks of home canners!

  42. Jessica says:

    I’m a first timer! Yesterday I made pineapple/jalapeño pepper jelly! I was a nervous wreck! I’m so glad I found your article because it meant one less step to freak out about! I followed your directions! Is it ok if I heard the tops pop? I can leave them stored in the pantry correct? I put a jar in the fridge so it would set faster and it was so good with wheat thins and cream cheese!

    • Bee says:

      Congratulations, Jessica! That first time is always a little crazy-making. Hearing the tops pop is a good sign. Now put your finger on the middle top of each jar and see if it’s a little indented; that means you have a good seal and you can store them in the pantry. If a jar pops in when you touch it, that’s OK, too. Store them in the pantry, pat yourself on the back and enjoy the fruits of your labors.

  43. Ken says:

    I watched my mother make jams and jellies for years and never once did she ever putthem in a hot water bath or turn them upside down. She always melted paraffin wax in the tops of the jars to seal them. I’m 50 years old so it must have worked, I do remember if any jars wound up with jelly or jam on top of thr wax were used right away.

    • Bee says:

      Turning them upside down with hot paraffin would certainly not be a good idea:-) The paraffin technique has lost favor with the experts as they say it doesn’t produce an adequate seal. In many cases, that may be true, but as you note, using them up quickly is probably a good solution to the problem. It’s an additional step and takes longer, so I wouldn’t use it, partly for that reason and partly because it’s a petroleum byproduct that I don’t want leaching into my food. Before it was available, women used beeswax, which seems to me to be a safer option from the standpoint of harmful chemicals.

  44. Beth says:

    I am wanting to make hot pepper jam with my bumper crop of regular and hot peppers I have grown. Do I need to water bath or pressure can them? Does anyone have a good recipe for hot pepper jam?

    • Bee says:

      I’ve never made hot pepper jam, so don’t have a recipe, but there are lots of them on the Web. Peppers are a low-acid fruit, and those are usually water-bathed for canning. Pepper jam and jelly recipes, however, typically add vinegar to bring up the acidity level. I don’t see why they would need a water bath or pressure canning for a jam recipe, as the vinegar and sugar both keep down bacterial growth. It you’re worried about it, go ahead and water bath.

  45. dean says:

    can i water bath after it jells.and can the lids be reused if you don’t water bath.

    • Bee says:

      Dean, once it’s jelled, you shouldn’t water bath it. If it didn’t set up or you’re concerned about the seals, you can scrape it all back into the pot and reheat to boiling. Wash all the jars and rings, get out new lids and treat it just as you would a fresh batch of jam. Once you’ve sealed it with new lids, you could water bath it. I wouldn’t do it because you’ll have cooked it to death at that point and the invert method should give you a perfectly good seal.

      As far as reusing the lids: Even without a water bath, the lids will seal well if the jelly and jars were hot enough. By the time you pry them off, they’re likely to have small irregularities in the lid and may not seal well. I’ve seen some articles about reusing lids, but I don’t think the risks are worth it unless you’re in an Armageddon-type survival situation. Lids are cheap, so I’d use new ones.

  46. marilyn newman says:

    My grandmother never used one. She also made chili sauce (ripe tomatoes) and chow chow (green tomatoes) and never water bathed those either. I do water bath the tomatoes because I was told by another canner that I should. What do you think?

    • Bee says:

      Marilyn, one of the things that is different for us than for our grandmothers is that tomatoes today often have less acid. That increases the risk for canned foods (one reason why you should pressure cook things like canned meat and low-acid vegetables). In jellies and jams, the high sugar environment retards growth of bacteria. Even though I grow many of the old heirlooms, I water bath tomato products, whether red or green. This is probably one of those times when it’s safer to play by the ‘rules.’

  47. Laura Wing says:

    Hi I just made prickly pear jelly I think I got to down good now last time I had to redue it several times. This time I used three cups of juice four cups of sugar one tablespoon of lemon juice and one box of pectin. Everything jelled perfect and no water bath. Love prickly pear jelly and the fruit is free.

  48. Samantha says:

    I have never done a water bath when making jam. I have followed the way my grandmother taught me how to make jam. We always put a tablespoon of butter to help prevent excess bubbling and inverted the jars. I have had my jam made this way all my life and I’m fine. I think that inverting the jars also helps to distribute the fruit through the jar so it is not just floating g on top.

  49. Melanie says:

    I just finished making red current jelly and the five jars i filled and hot water bathed are not setting up. The overage that I could not put into a jar I poured into a few smaller containers that I just put in the refridgerator. They are setting up fine. Does the hot water bath undo the effect of the pectin to your knowledge?

    • Bee says:

      Melanie, when jams and jellies don’t set, there are several possibilities. Some fruits are naturally low in pectin. Others just take longer to set up. The hot water bath might slow the process compared to not using a bath just because it takes longer to cool. The other possibility is that the pectin was old, although it usually lasts for a long time. Liquid pectin sometimes takes longer to set up than powdered pectin, and if you use home made pectin, it can be variable. Since the ones in the fridge set OK, I would bet the others will set if you just give them little more time. Occasionally, no matter what you do, the stuff just won’t set. If that’s the case, use it for pancake syrup!

  50. Kitty McMahon says:

    I’ve never used a water bath and have made jam and preserved figs for years. Its been about 10 years since I last did this. My understanding was that the sugar kept the jam from forming bacteria. Given the shelf life of Twinkies, that might be the case. However I always used parafin, poured in a hot stream onto the jam prior to placing the lids and inverting the jars. I’m not sure why I did that. I’ve not heard anyone on that topic. I’m in the middle of making a batch of apricot jam and am wondering if this is an old method that really isn’t necessary. Any thoughts?

    • Bee says:

      Kitty, the sugar does help to retard bacterial growth, as does cooking your jam prior to pouring it into the jars (and you’re right, Twinkies should last forever, given their sugar content!). Cooking also helps break down the fruit to make it more spreadable. I don’t think the paraffin is necessary. Back in the days before screw-top bands and rubberized lids, paraffin formed an airtight seal over the food. At the time, it was the only option. In addition to it being unnecessary, I would hesitate to put a petroleum product next to a food I plan to eat.

  51. Amy Rawlinson says:

    Hi,

    I have been canning for several years now, sometimes I use a water bath others I don’t. Either way a year or two down the line I always have a good seal and well preserved jam! I am just about to make a batch of raspberry lemon and strawberry jams and thought I should google ‘water bath free jam making’ just to make sure my memory was correct about it being safe…and so I came across your site. I am glad my memory served me well and am also curious of what the ‘inversion’ does in the whole process, I have never done this before.

    Thanks,
    Amy 🙂

    • Bee says:

      Amy, my understanding is that inversion applies a little extra heat to the lid to counteract the effect of the cooling that takes place in the few minutes between when you pour in the jam and when you apply the lid. The important part is getting a good seal, so that little bit of extra heat helps.

  52. Jamie says:

    I made wild blackberry jam yesterday and realized in the middle of the night that I forgot the water bath! They all sealed fine–even though I also forgot to invert the jars! (My daughter just had surgery and is recuperating here. In my defense, I am sleep deprived and did not want to waste a good hour of berry picking!) I was relieved to read your post! I don’t remember my grandmother doing water baths either! Thanks!

    • Bee says:

      Jamie, as long as you’ve got a good seal they should be fine. If you feel anxious about it, you can just store them in the fridge. Thank you for dropping by!

  53. Jolene Dodge says:

    I forgot to mention, that I always add a small amount of butter, not margarine, to minimize the foaming.

    I had to laugh at this this morning when I read it! Thanks for letting me know I am not alone in how I do things. I never use the canner on my jams or jellies either… I always use a pitcher to fill them… and one last note… I also use my dishwasher to clean them, and then heat them in the microwave just before I fill them… that way the jars are really hot! Have been doing this for years and never had a problem.

  54. Laura Wing says:

    I just made eight jars of cranberry sauce. It is wonderful I just added the amount of raw sugar per package of cranberries and the amount of water. Put the clean jars in oven and did it the old fashion way. All the jars sealed and they look so beautiful. The last jar only was half full I made smoothies and added the sauce to the smoothies Yummy! It is so much better homemade than store bought. I did add Lemon juice also. I am not worried at all because I didn’t water bath. This is how my Granny did hers and we are all still living. Thank you for your advice.

  55. Laura Wing says:

    I had to remake my prickly pear jelly 3 times. The last one worked like a charm. I just put it back into the pot I used my camping pot this time added lemon juice and boiled it until 220. Then I did the jars in the oven and poured the jelly into the jars and flipped them over. And it worked! Thank you for the advice this is the way I will do my jelly now and all the seals went pop! So excited.

  56. Carole says:

    PHEW!!! I was so happy to see this info. because I too ama a contrarian and an RN!! I’ve been doing the fill hot jars and put hot lid on method forever and NEVER bathed the filled jars and have never killed anyone- but was starting to feel like I was just lucky so did a search-like “Jefferson’s Daughter” I am always suspect of “research” put out by anyone with a vested interest so sites like Ball etc. ??? but to get the go ahead from many older experienced canners was priceless! thanks!

    • Bee says:

      Glad to be helpful, Carole. I think too many people are so panicked by the thought of “organisms” in their food that they go to excessive lengths. I operate on the principle that if research says ABC and my personal experience is XYZ, the research can go hang. Thanks for stopping by!

  57. JC says:

    I have never used a water bath and I have jelly that I know is at least 8-years old and they have a great seal. Actually, I have never heard of water-bathing jelly.

    Now could someone enlighten me on the inverted seal system?

    • Bee says:

      JC, I don’t know when water baths for jams and jellies first came into vogue (I use that terminology on purpose, as I suspect it came from the sort of laboratory scientists who think we’ll all die if a single bacteria touches our lips), but it’s a pretty common recommendation from home extension offices these days. However, as our experience proves, it isn’t necessary as long as you know you have a good seal. The idea behind inverting jars for five minutes is that the hot jelly reheats the jar lid, since it’s cooled a touch in the process of getting it out of the hot water and onto the jar. It may not be necessary either, it’s just one of those “that’s the way I’ve always done it and it works, so why change” things.

  58. Marlene says:

    I have also done this for years and do not invert my jars…still works great and they seal perfectly and my family is still living : }

    • Ell says:

      Thanks for commenting, Marlene. Yes, it’s very interesting how the old ways often still work just fine …

    • Judy Anderson says:

      I never water bath my jams and I don’t do invert. Just finished making 22 jars of strawberry tonight and more than half already sealed. Been doing this for years and haven’t killed anyone yet. Haha! Just pour hot jam into hot jars and seal with hot lids immediately. I still use a ladle and a wide mouth funnel to fill jars. Love listening to them pop as they seal. Happy canning!!

      • Bee says:

        Yes, that “plink, plink” is music to the ears. Thanks for adding your comments, Judy!

      • Johanna says:

        That’s how I’ve been doing mine too exactly same as yours
        Have been doing canning fruits, making jellies, jams, all kinds of pickled products and over 40 years and no one has ever died. Water baths I do for certain things only. Friend did water bath and cracked her glass top stove.

  59. Carol says:

    I like it! I will try and remember this the next time I make jelly!

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