The difference between jelly, jam, and preserves is sometimes subtle, sometimes boisterous, but largely one of consistency, and most often delicious.
Jam is made with whole fruit. Usually a single type of fruit is crushed or pureed into a soft pulp and cooked with a sweetener; it is meant to be a spread for bread.
Jelly is made with fruit juice. The fruit is crushed, strained, and cooked with a sweetener and pectin if necessary until it reaches the desired consistency. The result should be clear and bright. Lemon juice is often used to brighten the flavor and maintain a consistent texture.
Jelly shimmers deliciously when gently disturbed, but should be firm enough to hold its shape. Normally jelly is clear with no bits of fruit, but some specialty jellies may include some bits of fresh fruit that is added after the jelly is cooked.
Marmalade is actually a soft jelly, often citrus-based, and includes fruit and often some peel. The sweetness of the marmalade, as is the case with orange marmalade, is offset by the bitterness of the peel.
Wine jelly is an unusual and interesting dessert made with a concentration of wine. A properly made wine jelly tastes like an exceptional glass of wine in jellied form. With a dollop of fresh whipped cream, it is a fantastic finish to a very nice meal. Wine jelly is also enjoyed on toast, as a marinade for game, an accompaniment to cheese, or ice cream topping.
The term preserves, simply means fruit that is preserved, generally through canning. At one time, preserves were more commonly called conserves and incorporated whole fruit, or combinations of fruits, nuts, raisins, and spices suspended in the syrup base. They were not meant to be spread like jam, but eaten with a spoon, usually as an accompaniment to toast or scones. They are also excellent accompaniments to counteract the richness of roast beef, pork, or lamb.
Tomato conserve is a sweet, spicy, and deliciously ancient example of home cooking. The best way to make it is to use a basic recipe that you have adjusted to your taste:
* Starrt with about 2 pounds of tomatoes; if fresh tomatoes are not at hand, use a 28-ounce can of plumb tomatoes.
* Add about 1 cup each red wine vinegar and sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 2 Tablespoons each minced fresh garlic and ginger.
* Simmer everything in a covered heavy sauce pan for about 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
* Remove lid and continue the simmer for about 20 additional minutes, until mixture mounds slightly on spoon. During this step, stir the mixture frequently and carefully so that it does not burn.
* Cool and stir in about 2 Tablespoons raisins and a complementary herb, like mint, basil, or parsley to taste.
This is a luscious topping for burgers, hot dogs, or almost any offering straight from the grill.