Canning 101: How To Save Runny Jam

jams for Barcamp Philly

A while back, I wrote a piece all about how to ensure that your jam sets. However, even when you keep all those tips in mind, there’s still a chance that you’ll wind up with a poor set. Here’s what you can do to salvage that jam.

If you don’t want to invest any additional work in that jam, all you have to do is change expectations. If it’s just sort of runny, call it preserves. If it’s totally sloshy, label it syrup and move on with your life.

However, if you’re committed to getting a nice, firm, jammy set, there is still hope. Here’s what you can do.

  1. First, you wait. Give the jam 24-48 hours to set up (because truly, sometimes it can take that long for pectin to active).
  2. If it still hasn’t set, it’s time to open all the jars back up.
  3. Pour the jam into your widest pot.
  4. Set heat to high and begin to bring the jam to temperature.
  5. Whisk in one tablespoon of powdered pectin as it heats.
  6. Cook vigorously until jam appears visibly thickened. Test set using plate or sheeting test (both described here).
  7. When jam has reached the desired thickness, remove pot from heat.
  8. Pour jam into prepared jars. Wipe rims, apply brand new lids and screw on the same old bands.
  9. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.
  10. When processing time is up, remove jars from bath. Let jars cool and then test seals.

That’s it!

 

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142 Responses to Canning 101: How To Save Runny Jam

  1. 1
    Jenn D says:

    Okay- what can you do if your jam sets up too much? So wishing I could hit the rewind button on strawberry season….

    ~Jenn

    • 1.1
      marisa says:

      Sadly, there’s not a whole lot you can do to save over-set jam. You can slice it up and call it pate de fruit (good with regular cheese, bread and charcuterie). Just before you plan on serving, you can also melt it down with a little bit of water. Or you can use it as the filling in thumbprint cookies. It works well in that application.

  2. 2
    Psychgrad says:

    This is great! Does it apply to liquid pectin too? I thought that you couldn’t continue cooking after adding liquid pectin.

    I just canned some peaches and ended up with the simple syrup leaking out after processing (lack of headroom, I’m assuming). But, the lids have sealed. So, troubleshooting tips in this situation would be great too!

    • 2.1
      marisa says:

      It does apply to liquid pectin. You can cook jam after adding liquid pectin, in fact, it needs some vigorous boiling after adding.

      Sounds like you experienced something called siphoning. It’s totally normal and as long as the seals are good, you’re golden.

      • Psychgrad says:

        Excellent – thank you!

      • Jennifer S says:

        I made peach jam using liquid pectin – followed your recipe actually – and the jam did not set. Should I cook jam again using the powdered pectin or liquid pectin? Or no pectin at all??

        • Marisa says:

          Jennifer, I’m so sorry to hear that your jam didn’t set. When did you make it? Jam can sometime take a week or more to achieve its final set. If it still doesn’t set after a week, you can recook it with a couple of tablespoons of powdered pectin.

          • Jennifer S says:

            Thanks, Marisa. It’s only been 2 days but I’ve got a pretty good feeling I cooked too long after adding the pectin. I’ll wait the two weeks and if it still isn’t set then I’ll cook again with powdered pectin.

  3. 3
    cathie says:

    Thanks, Marisa. This is a recipe I’m sure we’ll all need at one time or another. No shame in syrup. Syrup is good :)

  4. 4
    Jacki says:

    What do you suppose makes a jam not set? I have a favorite recipe that I *always* use and the last time I did it, the jelly didn’t set up. I re-did it and it’s fine, but the reason it didn’t set up the first time is a mystery to me.

    • 4.1
      marisa says:

      Every year is different. More water or less water in the fruit. More or less humidity in the air. Size of the pot. Age of the pectin (if using).

      • Donnie says:

        Age of the pectin! Aha! That must be it. Orange marmalade from our tree was fine last three years (first batch 4 yrs ago became syrup). Decided to make some two weeks ago – when I discovered some pectin in the back of the cupboard. Not set! Will get fresh pectin and do a remake.

      • Lori says:

        My first batch off grape jelly set well , but I dont no what happen to the other to batches.there like soup .

  5. 5
    Nickie says:

    hmmm…I’m gonna have to try this tip…thanks!!! I don’t mind syrup…but gosh darn it I want Jelly…elderberry jelly for a change. I keep trying and all I get is syrup LOL!

    • 5.1
      michelle says:

      dnt feel bad i cnt make peach jam to save my life…recipe calls for one box pectin…ive used any were from 3-6 sooo sad am giving up,lots of money gone syrup is o.k. but wanted jam…love pear vanilla came out soooo gooood must keep it a sacret…lololl

  6. 6
    gina says:

    The pate de fruit moniker will be perfect for the strawberry- balsamic jam I made that set too hard. I made some raspberry ‘syrup’ last year- and no one complained about that, so we’ll see about this new one. Most of the jams I’ve made have been no trouble, but it’s not a perfect science- or I’m not a perfect scientist, anyway!
    Thanks for the tip on re-boiling and adding pectin.

  7. 7
    jannett says:

    i added jalapenoes to my last batch of strawberry-rhubarb and it overset…darnit…i was sooo hoping i could “re-do” the jam by putting the contents back into a pot with added fruit…a no go eh?

  8. 8
    Cathy says:

    “Change Expectations” is the best advice ever. You made my day!

  9. 9

    Yup, I’m all for the calling it “preserves” route. Usually any attempt I’ve made to get it to gel has ended in rock hard, sickly sweet jam, which is almost entirely useless (although not fully – I’ve cut a chunk off and put it in the boiling water before I add the porridge and that works well). At least on the runny side, it’s perfect for stirring into things and poured over things and the flavour is still intact. Besides, you’ll have something to lick off your fingers!

  10. 10
    Karen Isham says:

    I am a completely new canner, :-) I have had a BWB class & pressure canning class. I was hoping I would be successful with my first conserve recipe, NOT. I made the cranberry peach conserve from the Ball book on home preservng on Mon. & it is not set enough. People are telling me now I should have boiled it longer. I did like the recipe said, boiled it hard & added 2 pouches of liquid pectin it called for & boiled hard 1 min—–can this recipe be saved? lol My peaches were too ripe, dripping with juice so I imagine that is what is wrong. Should I add more pectin or just try to reboil it? BTW, I am taking a jam class Aug. 23 & won’t make anymore till then! lol Love your blog!! TIA!

  11. 11
    Ashley says:

    Thanks for this! A few years ago I had a bunch of apples that I juiced and then made jam with. I didn’t follow instructions and I didn’t do the whole jelly bag thing… it ended up not setting and I was fine with calling it syrup as you say.
    But about 8 months later, I went and opened up another jar and it had turned to jelly! Not sure how that all worked out, but I was amused!

  12. 12
    lynn says:

    Wow, I never thought to re-can my jam. I usually just call it fruit sauce and serve over waffles or ice cream. With my latest “soft” batch, made with the instant freezer pectin, I think I will serve over some crepes. Should be yummy :) Thanks for your informative posts.

  13. 13
    Sofya says:

    Hey Marisa, this is really useful as I was just wondering the other day what the heck to do with all them cherry tomatoes from our garden! So far I’ve only thought of pickling. I’ve pickled larger red tomatoes in the past since this is a Russian classic, but those were not refrigerator kind but the long-term kind, which were processed after adding the brine for a while (can’t remember how long), making them taste just as though they’d been blanched (the desired effect, in my case).

  14. 14
    Sofya says:

    Oops – I posted this on the wrong post – I meant to post it on the cherry tomato one.

  15. 15

    I had runny sour cherry preserves this year and they didn’t set up. My solutions is sauce for dessert or breakfast (like you said and get over it, it is still delicious) or just simmer it a few minutes WHEN I open the jar to use and return it back to the jar thickened and put in the frig. I have done this once and it worked well, just be careful not to overdo it. This way I didn’t have to reprocess.

    Love to can (not as much as you!) and love your site. I am actually outside of Philly in the western burbs.

  16. 16
    AdronsCatherine says:

    I just reboiled my peach-jalepeno syrup yesterday, and now I have quite a fine jelly! Thank you so much!!!!

  17. 17
    Kim says:

    “If you don’t want to invest any additional work in that jam, all you have to do is change expectations. If it’s just sort of runny, call it preserves. If it’s totally sloshy, label it syrup and move on with your life.”

    I’m new to canning (in fact, I have yet to can, waiting on my canner to be delivered). However, of all of the research I have done, this is by far my favorite advice yet!!

  18. 18
    Rachel says:

    An idea for a 101 post; what NOT to can. This might be helpful for newbies like me. :)
    Thank you, I really enjoy your blog.
    Rachel

  19. 19
    Brandy says:

    How long can you wait to re “set” the jam? I made some jam this week and some of the smaller jars set up fine, but some of the larger jars are runny. I am going camping this weekend though and I don’t think I’ll have time to re-do them until I come home. Is that too long to wait?

    • 19.1
      marisa says:

      You can wait as long as you need. However, if the smaller jars set, I bet those larger jars will eventually set as well. Before you open them up when you get back from your trip, take a peek and see if they set up on their own.

  20. 20
    lynnann says:

    heya all…does this go for un-set jelly as well? I have a batch of grape jelly that set to the texture of egg whites, but several months later it hasn’t set firmly.

    After steam juicing my fruit, I freeze the juice and pulp until I have time to make and process the jelly/jam. I usually have a good set…but not this time….
    love and peace.

  21. 21

    [...] not set. Now my favorite blog in the whole world, Food in Jars, did a post on how (and whether) to fix common problems such as my freaking jam didn’t [...]

  22. 22
    Brandy Auld says:

    Is there really no time limit on redoing jam – I made grapefruit marmalade last winter and I have syrup. Didn’t use any pectin first time around. Also what does it mean if the upper portion of a jar of say peach jam is darker than the rest? Sorry two questions!

    • 22.1
      marisa says:

      Brandy, you could certainly try it with your marmalade. I can’t promise that it will work, but if you’re not using it as syrup, there’s no harm in attempting to reset it. And don’t worry about the darkening on your peach jam. It’s just natural oxidation. Happens to apricot jam too.

  23. 23
    Nicole says:

    I recently tried to make a peach-plum jam (using dino plums) and while I thought the jam was ready to be jarred, I opened one container this wkend to find it hadn’t set properly and is more of a sauce-y consistency. I tend to stay away from pectin if I can help it – how would you advise a reset attempt here? Adding more sugar? I tend to cut back on sugar (I’m always afraid the taste of the fruit will be masked), and I think that’s part of my problem, especially if I’m not using pectin. Maybe it’s time to reconsider my stance on pectin…

    • 23.1
      marisa says:

      You either need to add pectin, or you need to add enough sugar that you’re then able to cook the jam to around 220 degrees. Or cook it low and slow into a fruit butter. Otherwise, you’re going to have sauce.

  24. 24
    STEVE says:

    Been making jalapeno jelly…and loving it. Usually use liquid pectin…but this time made a dozen pint jars in two batches and used powdered instead. Used two boxes per six pint jars. Hasn’t set up enough. Thrilled I can open all the jars and fix it…but it says to add one tablespoon of pectin to the pot. How many jars and of what size will that fix? I guess I need to adjust that number…but don’t know what it was for so don’t know what to increase it to…if that makes sense. Also…is it really true I can’t reuse the brand new lids that I had put on the jars? Thanks so much for a hopefully quick reply.

    • 24.1
      marisa says:

      Steve, the problem here is that there’s no one formula that works for repairing all batches of jams and jellies. I would keep the batches separate and start with a tablespoon of additional pectin. Test the set as you cook and if it doesn’t seem to be setting add more.

      And it is true that you can’t reuse the lids. They’ve sealed and so the compound is now spent.

  25. 25
    Colleen says:

    Thanks for the help! My strawberry lemon marmalade did not set up, and I intend to use your tips to fix it. If it still doesn’t set, why, I have a very tasty topping for pancakes. Incidentally, here’s another tip for those of you with jam that is OVER set and rather firm: slice jam into small squares or rectangles with an oiled knife, dust in powdered sugar (or a combination of powdered sugar and cornstarch), and you have Turkish Delight! My friend started out to made plum jam and ended up with really wonderful plum candies, quite by accident!

  26. 26

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  27. 27
    Kelly says:

    Can you remake it with no-sugar needed pectin? Thank you?

  28. 28
    Angela says:

    I have only made jelly a few times, so I am not an expert. But I do have a question that I have not found the answer to. I like to make herbal jellies, mostly mint. My recipe only makes a small quantity–only 4 8-oz jars (sometimes I put it in 4-oz. jars). But I like to give away the jelly to friends and family members, so I want to make a bigger batch. I know I can’t double the recipe or it won’t set up correctly. But can I make a batch and spoon the jelly into jars, put lids and bands on and load those jars in the canner of warm water and then wait until a second batch of jelly has been made and spooned into the jars and added to the canner to process it all at once? I would like to make jelly in two separate batches, one right after the other, and then process it all together, since my canner is very large and it seems illogical to process in separate batches when I can get so many jars in it at once. Is there any reason why that wouldn’t work? It seems to me that the jelly ought to set up just fine regardless, but as I said, I am not an expert so I wanted to check.

  29. 29
    Denise says:

    My mom gave me some raspberries and they have been in my freezer so I thought that I would add them to my cherries from this year and make some jam, but it didn’t set up. I used powdered pectin but I think I may have cooked it too long. any ideas? It is a
    lot of syrup.

  30. 30
    Annie says:

    My problem is that I used less sugar 4Cups then required and also water processed instead of letting it cure without water bath. It didn’t set. Do I have to go back and add the extra 3 cups of sugar and additional pectin too? Just want to make it set and do not want to change expectations. Can I salvage this? Also is the lemon juice necessary?

    • 30.1
      Marisa says:

      Annie, jam needs both sugar and lemon juice to set. If you reduce or omit items from a recipe, of course it’s not going to work! I’m not sure if you can take your adapted recipe and restore it to a jam state. So sorry!

  31. 31
    Heather says:

    Hi there,
    I’ve had the problem of poor seals due to my not screwing on the bands quite enough. I’ve done this twice (you’d think I’d learn!) and each time reprocessed the jelly in a hot water bath without changing the bands or lids because there was no introduction of air- I realized the bands weren’t tight enough before they cooled down completely and so reprocessed in a hot water bath. Both times the jelly went liquid and didn’t reset. Do I need to reboil the jelly as well? And add more pectin or just reheat? Originally, it was setting fine, just didn’t have an airtight seal… Thanks!

  32. 32
    miss_msry says:

    Diminished expectations works for me.

  33. 33
    Kate in San francisco says:

    My neighbor’s plums didn’t set up right (I think because they were so ripe), but the flavor is fantastic! I will re-can most of it, but will hang on to a couple of jars as a sauce for pork tenderloin. Thanks for the ideas!

  34. 34
    Jenn says:

    Hi there, been scouring the webs for some info, maybe you can help. I’m actually TRYING to make syrups, concentrates to be exact, to add to soda water for summer drinks. Most recipes I find are for peach lemonade, or strawberry lemonade, or anything lemony, obviously for them to be shelf safe. However, if I don’t want to use lemons (I want to use just peaches, with a bit of ginger) is it possible to add pectin (to make it shelf safe) but NOT have it firm up into a jelly?

    • 34.1
      Marisa says:

      Jenn, you can make and can fruit syrups and have them be shelf stable without the addition of pectin. Pectin is simply something that helps with set. It doesn’t do anything for safety. Acid is the key component for safety. As long as you use a fruit that is high enough in acid to be canned as a jam, a syrup made from the same fruit is also safe for canning.

  35. 35
    Deborah says:

    So let me get this straight I do not need to add more sugar to my peach jam (made with Splenda) that did not set. I can just add the pectin?

    • 35.1
      Marisa says:

      Deborah, these instructions are designed for jams made with sugar. Splenda doesn’t offer the same chemical reaction that sugar does and so any jam sweetened with Splenda must be made in concert with a low sugar pectin. Otherwise it’s never going to set.

  36. 36
    Tammy says:

    Thanks for the article. I hope you can help with me with my issue below.

    I made 12 – 1/2 pints of crabapple jelly and they have failed to set. I believe I used too much water when cooking the crabapples.

    I did not use any pectin as I was told it was not needed with crabapples.

    Do you have any ideas for saving the batch?

    Thank you.

    Tammy

    • 36.1
      Marisa says:

      Tammy, I’ve not made jam using pectin from crabapples before, so I’m not sure I can help you much beyond what I’ve already written in this post.

  37. 37
    Marilyn says:

    I know this is an old post, I thought Id ask my question anyway. I am a high altitude canner that has yet to get a jelly to set! Do you suppose the extra 20 mins, so now 30 min processing time is the problem? This is the same issue I have when I try to can pickles. They are NEVER crisp! I have tried everything!

    thanks so much
    LOVE your site!! very helpful

    • 37.1
      Marisa says:

      The reason your pickles aren’t crisp is because of the amount of heat exposure they’re getting during processing. As far as why your jelly won’t set up, it’s probably because you need to cook it up to a higher temperature so that you activate the sugar enough to cause the chemical reaction that creates the set of the jelly.

      • Heather says:

        I am also a high altitude canner (abt 5800 ft.), and my peach jam did not set yesterday. What temp do I need to get it to? Also, my recipe only called for a 5 min. canner bath, so I added an extra minute to account for altitude. I did get a good seal, but is my whole batch ruined (for not cooking long enough)?

        • Brooke says:

          I was reading something from Virginia Tech’s food science site. It recommends processing times of 10 min when at altitude of 1000-6000 feet for hot water bath canning. In the same 12 page article it said if processing times are at least 10 min you do not need to sterilize the jars. I am just learning and want to be extra safe!!!

        • Mary says:

          I live at approximately 5800 altitude and can all the time. If you buy the powdered pectin it provides instructions for high altitude. So for example if the actual recipe calls for you to process for 15 minutes, at my altitude, I have to add an additional 10 minutes for a total of 25 minutes processing. You can search online for altitude processing times for your altitude requirements. Hope this helps :)

  38. 38

    Thank you so much for the advice re sloppy jam.. yes the flavour is wonderful, the family don’t care too much about the texture.. homemade is far superior to shop bought any day. Just made lots blackcurrant, raspberry, and strawberry. Blackcurrant is fine, strawb and rasp very ‘soft’. I believe the reason for this is that I used slightly over-ripe fruit. The annoying thing is that I knew it was too soft when I bought it. Just couldn’t resist a bargain. False economy of course.

  39. 39
    Ashley Sexton says:

    I made zucchini jelly (really a jam) yesterday. It involved zucchini, crushed pineapple, lemon juice, sugar and a jello flavor of your choice; no pectin was called for. Today it still hasn’t set up. I’m going to wait until tomorrow before I do anything. I have liquid pectin, how much should I add? I’ve made 6 pints.

    • 39.1
      Marisa says:

      Ashley, jams made with jello are a whole different animal from those made with pectin. I’m not sure that the addition of pectin is going to be able to help this one.

  40. 40
    abbie says:

    Hi I’ve made plum jam and i can’t see it setting last time i had this with strawberries and just binned the lot :-( i would really like to save it if i reboil would that work? Or add more sugar whilst reboiling any help would be fantastic
    thank you

    • 40.1
      Marisa says:

      Plums are fairly low in pectin, so they need a pectin boost in order to set well. If you follow the instructions laid out in this post, you should be able to get your jam to set.

  41. 41
    Sherree says:

    I made strawberry rhubarb jam and it doesn’t look “jammy” and some jams have a jelly look on the bottom and the upper half is cloudy and has a different texture. It tastes great however the consistency is not jammishy but not runny either. Should I redo or be patient and see what happens?

    • 41.1
      Marisa says:

      Sherree, if you’re using particularly fibrous fruit, it will separate into the two layers you’ve described. It’s not going to alter from this on its own, so you can either stir each jar up prior to serving, or you can redo it.

  42. 42
    Ellen says:

    I made some watermelon jelly that didn’t set after a week. I recooked it with the directions from my Ball Blue Book- saying to add lemon juice, sugar & liquid pectin in certain quantities. First, I didn’t follow a recipe exactly to begin with and then made too much at once. Oh- I live at 6400′ altitude also. Well, it’s still not setting after 2 days. Is it ok to retry a second time? Didn’t know if you can keep retrying or you just get one “do over.” I figured I keep some of it as syrup, but still want to try to get a jelly.

  43. 43
    Jo says:

    just a comment….my mother always said don’t try and make jelly or jam on cloudy, rainy days,,,it will not set. I find that if I try and beat that storm coming in and get my jam made anyway it willnot set. Just have to recook it on sunny day and voila…set jelly.

  44. 44
    David says:

    UHHHHG! Science is not on my side today. I have been making a Habenero Jelly (jam) for years now. I am selling it to the masses today and only half of the jars are setting up. Surprisingly its the batch that I forgot to add salt to. If I could just figure out what I’m doing right! Usually I have a set jelly by the next day and if its runny, it never sets up. With each batch I do my darndest to do everything the same. I never do a test mainly because I don’t understand how. Could you enlighten me on how to do a fail safe test?

    • 44.1
      Marisa says:

      David, I have no idea how to do a fail safe test. I’ve never even heard of one in the context of jam making.

  45. 45
    Nancy says:

    Marisa – your recipe calls for adding 1 Tbs. of powdered pectin to the jam that needs to be thickened. Do you mean 1 Tbs. for each 1/2 pint? I’ve got 8 1/2 pints of syrupy peach jam that I’d like to fix. Thanks!

    • 45.1
      Marisa says:

      I meant a single tablespoon. To add a tablespoon for each half pint would make your jam fully solid. If your batch previously had pectin in it, I’d add an additional 2-3 tablespoons and boil it thoroughly to get a more spreadable consistency.

  46. 46
    Mary Feist says:

    I made Tomato Jam today, using 10 cups tomatoes, 10 cups sugar, lemon and ginger, and cooked it for almost an hour, then added 2 liquid pectin packets and boiled it for 2 mins. It’s not jelling! Is this one of the jams that will take a while to jell, or should I just dump it all back in the pot and boil it longer? Should I add powdered pectin? If so, how much?
    Thanks!
    BTW – the flavor and color of the jam is wonderful!

  47. 47
    Danielle says:

    Hi there! I used your site to fix my runny jam (which is now set perfectly!) but I didn’t think that the lids popped after I processed them. So, I put them all in the fridge yesterday and resigned myself to eating a lot of jam over the next couple weeks. When I opened one today, I had to pop it with a can opener to get the lid off…. does that mean that it DID set? If so, can I take it back out of the fridge and save it for later??

    • 47.1
      Marisa says:

      Check your seals by taking the rings off the jars, grabbing the edges of the lid and lifting gently. If the lids hold, they are sealed and okay for shelf storage.

  48. 48
    Mamie says:

    Thanks for this! I made last night and this morning not set. So I’ll wait another day then try again. Thanks

  49. 49
    Ami says:

    I made apple jelly this weekend. It was thickening nicely when I poured it into the jars. Some went in the canner, and some, which didn’t fit, went into the refrigerator to can later. The jars I canned turned into syrup and have yet to thicken at all, while the jars in the refrigerator were perfect. Did I mess something up with the canner? Cook too long, maybe? I am at a high altitude, so i usually go longer.

    • 49.1
      Marisa says:

      Ami, the cold of the refrigerator has made the jelly set up faster than the jars on the shelf. I’d give them more time (you could also pop them into the fridge for some time, to speed things along).

  50. 50
    Miss K says:

    Can I recan jams more then once? Can I add pectin, as recipe I went by just called for sugar? How much pectin should I use if I can can a third time? After redoing my grape jam still has not set up to my liking. Little on the thin side, sloshy when checked it for the 2nd time.

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    […] internet, I did a Google search on why the preserves were too runny.  I came across this wonderful blog site that not only saved the preserves from being too runny but told why they might not have set up the […]

  9. How to Make Raspberry Jam | Mother's Home - July 16, 2014

    […] I have had great success for years using these directions. While I have never had to reprocess any jam (knock-on-wood), but if, by chance, you jam doesn’t gel, you will need to reprocess it. […]

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