Saturday, September 28, 2013

Making Jelly on a Wood Cookstove

I mentioned in an earlier post that a job that I would far rather do on a wood cookstove than a gas range is to make and can jelly.  I had never made jelly on a gas stove until I made a batch of strawberry jelly on the new gas range back in July.  The reason that I didn't like making jelly that way was because so much heat was traveling up the side of the pot that stirring it was a very uncomfortable experience.

A veteran gas stove user told me a couple of years ago that if a lot of heat was traveling up the outside of the cookware, the flame is too high, so I lowered the flame.  No dice.  I still nearly burned my arm trying to make the jelly.  In late August, we were over at my parents' house putting up sweet corn using the 1950s gas range in their basement, and I was surprised to note how little heat was traveling up the side of the pots.  I attribute the difference to a change in the structure of new gas ranges from old ones; the burner grates on our new range lift the pots a lot farther above the flame than the old style grates did.  That's the only way that I can account for the difference.

At any rate, here is how I go about making jelly on the wood cookstove:

1. The first thing to do is to build a very brisk fire.  I fill the water bath canner about half full of water and place it and the full teakettle directly over the firebox.  Once the water in the teakettle is hot, I pour a little of that over my canning lids and place them away from the fire over low heat.

A brisk fire in Marjorie the Margin Gem, getting ready to make jelly.
2. Next, I pour the measured fruit juice into the heavy-bottomed stockpot that I use for jelly making.  If I am using powdered pectin, I put the pectin into the fruit juice.  If I am using Certo, it is the measured sugar that is put into the fruit juice right away.

It is in this step that one has two options.  Most jelly recipes say that you are to bring the fruit juice mixture to a boil quickly.  I think that this is very important.  When I've had batches of jelly that I've brought to a boil too slowly, it seems that the firmness of the set is adversely affected.  Since the "high" heat over the firebox is usually not quite as hot as the "high" setting on a gas or electric range, what I've taken to doing is removing one of the lids over the firebox and boiling the jelly directly over the fire.  This speeds the time that it takes to bring the fruit juice to a boil.  However, some jelly recipes don't call for a lot of juice, so I've successfully made jelly without removing any of the lids in those situations.

The jelly kettle is moved slightly to the right just
for this photograph so that you can see that the lid
over the firebox is removed.

Marjorie is so embarrassed.  She needs a bath
really badly, but she's been busy doing a lot of
canning recently and hasn't been cold when we
had the time to give her one.
3. Once either the sugar or the Certo is added, bring the jelly back to a good rolling boil and boil it for one minute.

4. Remove the jelly from the fire.  Skim the foam and put the jelly into the jars.

Now, according to what I read online from the USDA, canning jars do not need to be sterilized prior to canning if they are going to be used in a pressure canner or if they will be in a boiling water bath for longer than ten minutes.  I hate messing with hot jars, so even though many jelly recipes say to just water bath jellies for 10 minutes, I usually water bath jelly for 12-15 minutes, and I've never had a problem with the end product.

If you are worried about jars breaking when the hot jelly is poured into them while they are cold, the niftiest place to keep jars warm is in the warming oven.  When we made so many batches of peach jam on the Riverside Bakewell down in the summer kitchen last year, I kept all of the jars in there.

The warming oven of the Riverside Bakewell keeping
jelly jars warm and ready for peach jam back in 2012.
5. Fix the lids on the jelly jars and place them in the water bath for the required amount of time. 

This is where the teakettle comes in handy.  I am not good at guessing how much water needs to be in the canner to cover the jars sufficiently when they are all inside it.  Taking extra water out of the canner is a mess, so I find it much more convenient to have the teakettle of boiling water ready to put extra water into the canner if I need it.

6. After the processing time has elapsed, remove the jars of jelly to a towel in an area free of drafts so that the jelly will set and seal.

In the picture below, the canner is actually what is called a "sweet corn pot" which we purchased from Bomgaar's this year.  Our last kettle which was just like it had sprung a leak, so it would leave its autograph on the cooktop after we had used it.  I like to use "sweet corn pots" as small water bath canners because their bottoms are flat so they make good contact with the stovetop and facilitate efficient heat transfer.

Most real enamelware water bath canners have the familiar corrugated bottom of concentric circles.  This works just fine on gas stoves and is all right on an electric stove.  However, it is very inefficient on a wood cookstove because only about half of the bottom of the canner is making contact with the hot stovetop.  Removing the stove lid beneath one of these fixes that problem, so I have done a lot of water bath canning directly over the fire, too.

The jelly is now in the water bath canner, and you can see that
the fire doesn't have to be so brisk to keep it boiling.

Another added advantage of making jelly on a wood cookstove as opposed to making it on our gas stove is that on the gas stove, the only burner that is small enough to use for keeping the lids warm is the burner that is behind the biggest burner.  Thus, you always have to reach around either the canner or the jelly pot to reach the canning lids.  On a wood cookstove, the small pan with the canning lids is always to the side of the big kettles rather than behind them.

Well, there you have it. Making jelly on a wood cookstove is not really an involved process, but it does have some unique idiosyncrasies.  As always, if you are a wood cookstove user who makes jelly on his or her stove, please chime in by using the comments section and tell me what you find works best with your stove.


  1. Hi Jim,
    I have decided on the Home Comfort stove. I made a pretty good deal and will pick it up this weekend. I think I can fix the little issues with it myself. More later

    1. Can't wait to hear from you again. Best wishes with your new adventure!

    2. Thanks Jim, I am starting a blog about this learning experience as well.
      Maybe we can help bring back the almost lost art of cooking! LOL