My Jam Didn’t Set! What Should I Do?

This post is for new jam makers. If you are an experienced and seasoned canner, I invite you to leave your wisdom in the comments section!

six 12 ounce jars of cherry rhubarb jam

You’re a new canner and your jam didn’t set. It is runny and sloshy and you don’t know what to do. Before you start to worry, let me ask you a few questions.

When did you make the jam? It can sometimes take 24-48 hours for a batch of jam to finish setting up. If your jam is still just an hour or two out of the canner and you’re worried about the set, it’s time to chill out. Literally. Walk away. Stop thinking about it.

Okay. You’ve let the jars rest for a day or two and it’s still more sauce than jam. Next question. Did you follow the recipe? Many of us look at jam recipes and are aghast at the amount of sugar it calls for. So we reduce the amount of sugar, thinking that it won’t do anything but make the jam less sweet.

steamy strawberry jam

Sadly, sugar plays a huge role in set. If you cut the amount in the recipe and you don’t compensate with a pectin designed for low sugar preserving, your jam may well be runny.

Did you check for set while the jam was cooking? Any time a recipe gives you a cooking time, it’s simply an approximation. During cooking, you also need to be checking for signs of set. You do this by using the frozen plate test, watching how the jam sheets off the spatula, and taking the temperature of your cooking jam. More on those techniques here.

pear vanilla jam drizzle

You followed the recipe, it’s been a couple days since the jars came out of the canner, and still, your jam is runny. What kind of pectin did you use? If you used Certo or Sure-Jell liquid pectin, that might be the culprit. They changed their formulation a few years ago and I find that it’s not as effective as the other options on the market.

So. You followed a recipe, you checked for set, you used reliable pectin, the jars have been out of the canner for a few days, and still, the jam is too darned soft. Put a jar in the fridge and check the consistency in 24 hours. Cooler temperatures often help the jam find its way to a firmer consistency. 

finished plum jam

If you’ve gotten to the end of this post and you’re still unhappy with the way your jam turned out, you’ve got a couple of options. The first is to rename the preserve you’ve made. Call it sauce, pancake topping, or preserves. By changing the name, you shift your expectations and suddenly, runny jam doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

Or, if you absolutely, positively need to have a firm set, you can always remake the jam. I’ve got instructions on how to do that here. Just know that you’ll lose some yield in remaking it, and that there are no guarantees that you’ll end up with exactly what you want.

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39 Responses to My Jam Didn’t Set! What Should I Do?

  1. 1
    Sue F says:

    So is it only the liquid pectins that are changed? Is the Sure-Jell powdered still the same? I have used the Pomona the past 2 years, but it can be a little more complicated for long storage.

    • 1.1
      PEARL GOYETT says:

      When my jelly or jam doesn’t set I use it as apple syrup or what ever my fruit was and it is WONDERFUL SYRUP!!!!! Enjoy. Never waste

  2. 2
    Gene Black says:

    I used the Pomona’s pectin for the first time this year. I was amazed at how firm my jam became. The first batch was a bit too firm even with lower sugar. The second batch I played with the recipe just a bit and it seems perfect.
    The jam that was a bit more runny in the past never bothered me. It was still delicious.

  3. 3
    Susan says:

    I have had good luck in adding a single shredded green apple for jams requiring pectin. Have heard a kiwi works in the same way.

    I have learned too firm of a set is as challenging as too weak, so have taken jams off immediately as they pass the plate test.

    As for the tuition lessons, enjoy using my jam mistakes in smoothies and swirled in yogurt or oatmeal. Anything that isn’t spread.

  4. 4
    Jenna says:

    I just made 2 batches of peach vanilla bean jam. Sort of like my experiments. Obviously I’m sure small differences happened, but the main one was that I used the same brand (I believe Ball) liquid and powdered pectin. One of each. They’re both delicious, however the liquid is going to be a sauce, and the powdered is the perfect consistency 😀

  5. 5
    Mandy says:

    My jalapeno peach jam didn’t set very well over the weekend (I think the recipe didn’t call for enough pectin). Good news? It makes a completely delicious bbq glaze, and it’s the perfect consistency for that!

  6. 6
    Penny says:

    When my parents first got married mom made a batch of jam and it separated. My dad thought she was the coolest! He had married a genius who made syrup for pancakes or ice cream and jelly for toast all in one bottle. He had no idea it was a flub, until he started complaining that she didn’t make more! Last year I made jam that did the same thing, you would have thought dad had died and gone to heaven. I’ve only got one jar of it left and and I know he’s going to be praying that I “get it right” again this year. See, it’s really all in your outlook.

  7. 7
    Susan LeClerc says:

    I just made a BIG batch of peach jam that turned out more runny than I was hoping, so it’s now Peach Preserves!

  8. 8
    Kathy D says:

    In my first year of canning, I had a batch of strawberry jam that didn’t set, so I called it sauce and gave it away as gifts. Everyone loved it. Now I have to specifically make strawberry sauce for several of the people on that first list!

    I don’t normally use pectin – I’ve had more trouble with things being too firm than too runny. Several ways to not need pectin – use green apple skins; make smaller batches; and sometimes I use a technique that has you boil the fruit and sugar for 5-10 minutes, then scoop out the fruit with a strainer and boil down just the liquid to half or a third, and then put the fruit back in to get to temperature and set.

  9. 9
    Julie says:

    I’m a firm follower of the “rename it” crew. Every time I try to fix a batch, it gets too firm or burns. There’s something to be said for having jars of “cheesecake topping” in the pantry. And I love Penny’s story about the separated jams!

  10. 10
    Gina says:

    If one of your recipes calls for liquid pectin, what should I substitute? I am noticing that every batch of jam made with liquid pectin is too runny and I am afraid to keep boiling because I don’t want to break down the pectin further.
    Thanks

  11. 11
    Marisa says:

    I made grape jam last year. It didn’t set enough, and I was really disappointed. I remembered your advice about renaming it, so I labeled it grape sauce and put it away. That simple act really was very effective. I know what I’m getting when I pull it off the shelf, and it tastes delicious thanks for the great advice!

  12. 12
    Katie Tay says:

    We made some prickly pear jelly (liquid pectin, prickly pear juice, lemon juice, sugar) last week and it didn’t set. We followed our recipe (which came from our local desert arboretum) to a T, and are confused on why it didn’t set. Any help would be appreciated.

    • 12.1
      Marisa says:

      Katie, my guess is that the issue is with the pectin. Additionally, did you check to ensure the jelly was setting up before you took it off the stove?

  13. 13
    Erin says:

    I made strawberry lemon marmalade on 8 -2- 16. I went to a pantry to check on them they did still about 1515/ 20 minutes after being pulled out of the canner. I noticed small bubbles throughout life marmalade but they are not moving around. Is my jelly safe to give to other people or eat I don’t notice any mold on the jar. I am a first-time jelly canner any help would be appreciated thank you .

    • 13.1
      Marisa says:

      They are fine. Sweet preserves are often shot through with tiny bubbles. They are only an issue if they start moving on their own and stay active.

  14. 14
    John OB says:

    i had a batch of Habanero jelly that didn’t set…. it became a delicious Habanero glaze 🙂

  15. 15
    Liz says:

    I doubled a blackberry recipe and it didn’t set. Oops. Canned it thinking it would set in a week or 2. Double oops. Now I know what I did I wrong, so I’ve got ice cream topping, pancake syrup and the best ever cobbler base!!

  16. 16
    virginia says:

    Why does my pepper jelly say not to double it, and how do you make a big batch if that is the case?

  17. 17
    Nicole says:

    How can you tell if your jelly or jam didn’t set? My jelly gelled a little bit but still moves around a little bit in the jar, but not entirely liquidy, even after been in the fridge for a few days. Is this considered a soft set or are those still a little bit firm? Or is it now a sauce? 🙂

  18. 18
    Marilynn says:

    Love the rename theory! I made the mistake of trying to make a big batch of raspberry jelly and didn’t put as much sugar as was called for. So after remaking it the second time I have twelve jars of ice cream topping, cheesecake topping, barbeque sauce etc etc….thank you!

  19. 19
    Jerry Sue Biddle says:

    Actually I have a question. Can you re-sending veggies and fruits from a can into glass Mason jars? Would that let you keep them longer?

  20. 20
    Angie Ebey says:

    One of my peach jam batches turned out running!! I thought it was a waste well one day I was baking chicken and thought bout my jam sitting in the cupboard. Well I got a jar an covered my hens in a single layer real good! Oh my when my family sat down an started eating I heard nothing but amazing compliments and I was pleased 😉 It was delish 🙂

  21. 21
    debra,demarko says:

    after making more jam and jelly then we can eat in a lift time, now the grand kids as for jars of jelly just so they can melt it down to syrups, you just can’t win sometimes lol

  22. 22
    Jeff says:

    Actually…I deliberately sabotaged my last batch so it would be a syrup! I ran out of regular sugar making strawberry jam yesterday, but had a couple of gallons of strawberries left. So I used a package of Brown Sugar and one package of liquid Certa, but hoping it would only thicken it. I suppose I could heat it when serving and add corn starch, but I don’t want more jam…just a nice syrup for waffles!

  23. 23
    Bianca says:

    I have had troubles getting syrups and jams to set properly… or sometimes I have to cook them
    FOR-EV-ER…. and I think it’s the fault of my stovetop. I cook on one of those ceramic/smooth top electric ranges, and I just don’t think they get hot enough quickly to help things set up. I also have trouble making a good roux on it too. So, your cooking range may be the culprit as well.

  24. 24
    Laureen says:

    First time jam maker and used recipe no cook low sugar from pectin box. It is very liquidy! Is it safe to eat, not having the fruit and pectin cooked in canning pan? The recipe says quick and easy jam or jelly directions. It has been 3 days since putting it in jars. Thank you.

  25. 25
    Mere says:

    I have a large batch (20 jars) of wild Maine blueberry jam that is runny. I originally used liquid pectin, and now want to remake it. I don’t want to add more sugar, can I repair it using no sugar pectin?

  26. 26
    Mitzi says:

    Can I use Jello to make my jelly?

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