What Is a Jelly Bag?
A jelly bag is a piece of kitchen equipment used to strain fruits, typically for use in jelly, to separate the juice from seeds and other solid materials. While often commercially available, a number of substitute home methods for straining have been created and used by jelly makers over the years. These substitutions include using unbleached muslin, old pillowcases, and even mesh cloth such as pantyhose. This bag will typically be used with a stand, often a tripod stand or bending stand that can attach to a bowl, though some can be hung from hooks above a bowl.
Often made from unbleached muslin, a jelly bag can be made from other materials as long as they are fairly thin and can allow liquids to pass through while reserving solid substances. These bags are usually used in the early part of making jelly, with fruit that has been cooked slightly or smashed. The fruit is then placed inside the bag and the bag is either suspended over a bowl or connected to the bowl through some type of stand. This allows the liquid fruit juice to slowly drip from the sheer cloth, and the solids such as seeds, skin, and meat of the fruit remain in the bag. For best use, the fruit should be left for a long time, such as overnight, and not squeezed through the bag.
A jelly bag is used to produce jelly, though it can be used for any type of application where someone wishes to separate solid matter from liquid. Someone making homemade ketchup or spaghetti sauce can use this bag to strain the liquid from crushed tomatoes, while keeping the seeds and skin separate. Home jelly makers have often bragged about the clever substitutions they have found when a traditional jelly bag was not available. The small size of some bags also tends to make them sometimes inappropriate for some uses, especially when a large quantity of jelly is being made.
Among the more popular substitutions for this bag are new pantyhose or an old pillow case. Old pillow cases are often worn fairly thin from daily use and frequent washings. This means they can typically allow liquids such as juice to pass through, while keeping solids contained within the pillow case. New pantyhose are typically of such a fine mesh, and lack large tears, that they will function much like a jelly bag. Either substitution can be suspended from a hook or similar fastener over a large bowl to collect the juices.
A jelly bag can be used for more than just making jelly. When we extract honey we use a jelly bag as a filter for the honey. This is a perfect solution as the mesh bag filters out all the things you don't want and leaves us with clear honey.
I tried using an old pillow case once as a jelly bag and the results were disastrous. The pillow case was not worn enough for the liquid to pass through and I ended up with a mess all over the place.
I can see where this might work in some situations, but I would be sure and test it out on something before you use it just to make sure. You can save yourself a big mess by doing it this way.
I enjoy making my own jelly and will often give these as Christmas gifts. For many years I used a piece of muslin or whatever I had on hand. After a few years I realized this was pretty economical, but it also made it more work than it needed to be.
I bought a jelly bag that attaches to a stand for around $15. You can buy as many bags as you need and this has been more than worth the small investment. I like attaching the jelly bag to a stand so I don't have to hold it until all the juice drains out of it.
You would be surprised how much more juice you get when you are patient and let this hang for several hours.
I have never used an actual jelly bag when I make my own jelly or jam. I have made strawberry and grape jelly through the years and just rely on a piece of cheesecloth to strain the juice from the fruit.
You can buy a whole package of cheesecloth for just a few dollars and this will last for several batches of jelly. I have never thought about using a pair of pantyhose, but if I don't have any cheesecloth on hand, I can see how this would work in case of an emergency.
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