What is a Jelly Cupboard?

Donn Saylor

A jelly cupboard is an enclosed shelving unit traditionally used to store jams and jellies. Also known as a jam cupboard or jelly cabinet, these freestanding units were customarily utilized to protect the foodstuffs inside from mice and other pests. Though today they are typically used more for decorative purposes than for food preservation, these types of cupboards remain a common addition to many kitchens.

A jar of raspberry jam.
A jar of raspberry jam.

Constructed of solid wood like walnut or cherry, a jelly cupboard sports a door, or a set of doors, on the front of the unit. These doors are attached with iron brackets. The doors themselves may be totally solid, but in many cases, the doors contain a mesh window. Typical models contain two or three shelves inside, and certain makes include a drawer at the top.

Jelly on a biscuit.
Jelly on a biscuit.

Jelly cupboards have their historical roots in 19th-century America. Pioneers found plentiful fruit wherever they went and sought a way to can and preserve these finds for the long winter months. By the 1830s, jelly was common in Midwestern American households. Fruit was stewed into jam in large quantities, and appropriate storage facilities were needed. This led to the creation of the first jelly cupboards.

The visual appeal of the unit resulted in the jelly cupboard never really going out of style. When more sophisticated storage methods and refrigeration equipment were invented, the jelly cupboard was then used for decoration and storage. An antique cupboard and an Amish jelly cupboard, crafted by Amish artisans specializing in wood furniture, are two types of jam cupboards found in many American households.

Using a jelly cupboard during the 19th century entailed placing the jam and jelly jars inside to ensure proper storage. As time has passed and the cupboards became more decorative in purpose, individuals used jelly cabinets to store any number of different household items. Since most jelly cupboards are in kitchens or dining areas, they are commonly utilized to store food, silverware, dishes, or fine china.

Building a jelly cupboard involves finding a sturdy hardwood that is both attractive and practical. Many cupboards are painted to match the decor of the room in which they are placed. A jelly cupboard may or may not have mesh windows or drawers, depending on the personal preferences of the builder. Jelly cabinets can also be purchased from a variety of retailers, from large box stores to independent woodworking artisans.

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Discussion Comments


How long can you keep these preserves, etc., in cabinets. Months? Years?

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