The terms are often used interchangeably, especially online, so here are the definitions I use when I’m naming one of my own fruit spreads:
- Jellies are made from fruit juice, or occasionally–in the case of things like pepper or mint jelly–from veggie and/or herb infusions. All of the fruit and/or herb solids are strained out in advance of gelling. Most jellies require pectin to solidify, but some rely on a chemical reaction between fruit, heat and natural sugar(s) to create the gel.
- Jams are made from pureed fruits, so–unlike jellies–they still contain fruit solids. Some jams use pectin, but some do not. Many rely on the natural pectin in the fruits, and on extended periods of low heat in order to reduce the overall liquid volume, in order to create a thick fruit spread.
- Butters are very similar to jams, in that they’re made from pureed fruits. Many people use the names interchangeably, but–in my kitchen–a butter is thinner/less cooked than a jam.
- Preserves are made from chunks of fruit. A small number of preserve recipes use pectin, but–more often–preserves are created by slow-cooking chunks of fruit together with sugar, and using the gradual chemical reaction between the fruit’s natural pectin and the included sugars (from the fruit itself, and/or from any added sugars) to gel them into a thick, chunky fruit spread.
- Marmalades could also be considered preserves, but they differ in that they usually contain citrus fruits: oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, etc. Marmalades often look like citrus peels suspended in clear jellies. Because of that use of citrus peels and the oils they contain, marmalades tend to be on the tart side.
- Conserves are preserves made from whole fruits, so–needless to say–the process of making them requires a lot of time and no small amount of fruit spread skill. Conserves can be made by adding additional pectin, but–done the traditional way–it involves boiling your whole fruits in sugar syrup, then gradually reducing the overall volume while creating the surrounding gel … all without much natural pectin help from the fruit, and without either scorching the pot or stirring the fruit into pieces. Like I said: this takes some skill.
- Chutneys are preserves made using a chunky mix of sweet fruit and savory veggies, cooked together with spices and vinegar. Most chutneys are made without added pectin, but more and more, recipes are crossing my path that call for a box of Sure-Jel … rather than relying on the traditional low and slow cooking method most chutney-makers use.
- Freezer Jams are no-cook fruit spreads made using a special version of pectin. Because they’re not cooked, and they’re frozen to prevent spoilage (rather than cooked and canned in jars), freezer jams taste more like fresh, natural fruit than cooked jams do. You can also easily use Splenda or other artificial sweeteners in your freezer jams, so it makes them perfect for diabetics and others who wish to limit their sugar intake … without giving up the taste of fresh fruit in their diets. Stored properly, freezer jams last for about a year, but remember … you cannot use regular pectin to make freezer jams! You MUST use a pectin that specifically says “for freezer jam.” Regular pectin won’t gel in the freezer. It requires heat.
I’m sure I’m missing something someplace, but that “Lane to English:English to Lane” dictionary entry at least gets you started