Aw, snap, don’t you just hate runny jam and jelly. Here are some thoughts on what happened, how to prevent it and what to do about it now.
Perhaps it will be of some comfort to know that it happens to all of us at one time or another. Sometimes it’s easy to back track and discover the problem – like the time I retraced my steps all the way to the recycling bin where I discovered the pectin package was 12 months past its Best Before Date! Sometimes, it’s impossible to know what exactly happened. While, you may never know for certain, here are some possible causes for soft, liquidy or runny or jam and jelly.
What Causes Runny Jam or Jelly
We know that in order to get a good set we need a combination of heat, liquid, sugar, pectin and acid. The pectin can be naturally occurring in the fruit we’re using or it can come from added pectin we buy in the store. Check out this Pectin Chart to see the large variety of pectin we can use.
Recipes will prescribe the type of pectin to use and the correct ratios of fruit/liquid, acid and sugar. They will also provide general recommendations for how long to cook the jam or jelly. Usually, when using store bought pectin, results are very predictable and testing for the gel set is often not required. However, if you want a good indicator of whether or not your jam or jelly will set – doing the gel set test is a good idea.
Jams or jellies don’t set when any of the elements or ratios are out of sync. It can be related to the amount of acid, sugar, pectin, liquid or heat. The fruit itself is also a highly variable factor as the amount of naturally occurring acid and pectin will vary with every batch depending on growth conditions, sun, rain, variety, ripeness, etc. It is one of the elements we have the least amount of control over.
With those general explanations here’s a chart of potential causes for runny jam and jelly and how to try to prevent it.
What to Do With Runny Jams & Jellies
By now you may or may not know why your jam or jelly is runny. But the fact is you still have a batch of the liquidy stuff to deal with. Here are some things to consider.
Option 1 – Enjoy Your Syrup Just As it Is
Embrace the sweet fruity liquid as syrup. Pour it over pancakes or mix it with soda or maybe a little gin, vodka or rum. I’ve even given my syrup as gifts – nobody needs to know this amazing nectar was an accident! Here’s what you could put on the label:
Fruity Martini Mix
To enjoy this homemade martini mix, combine 1 oz of syrup, 1 oz vodka, 1/2 oz orange liqueur, 1/2 oz dry vermouth & 1 oz orange juice. Put in shaker with ice, strain into martini glass and enjoy!
Option 2 – Reprocess Your Jam/Jelly
You can also reprocess your mix to get the set you want.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides three processes depending on the type of pectin you used. I’ve provided a synopsis here but for more information go direct to their site.
To Remake With Powdered Pectin
For each quart of jelly, mix ¼ cup sugar, ½ cup water, 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, and 4 teaspoons powdered pectin. Bring to a boil while stirring. Add jelly and bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Boil hard ½ minute. Remove from heat, quickly skim foam off jelly, and fill sterile jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Adjust new lids and process half pint or pint jars for 5 minutes.
To Remake With Liquid Pectin
For each quart of jelly, measure ¾ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons liquid pectin. Bring jelly only to boil over high heat, while stirring. Remove from heat and quickly add the sugar, lemon juice, and pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard for 1 minute. Quickly skim off foam and fill sterile jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Adjust new lids and process half pint or pint jars for 5 minutes.
To Remake Without Added Pectin
For each quart of jelly, add 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice. Heat to boiling and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Test for gel set to determine jelly doneness. Remove from heat, quickly skim off foam, and fill sterile jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Adjust new lids and process half pint or pint jars for 5 minutes.
Hopefully you won’t need this information often, but when (not if) you do, it’s here for you.
Wishing you all the best in your jam and jelly making and may you be this happy with your results!
Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist, speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.