Guest Post: Transforming Your Jamming Fails

December 15, 2016


We’ve all been there.

Staring with glazed and uncomprehending eyes at a dozen pints of our favorite “jelly” sitting on the counter: a jelly that never jelled.

How could this have happened?

We followed the recipe to the letter. We didn’t fall into the “a little less sugar won’t hurt” trap. Our choice of pectin was impeccable. We gave up most of a Saturday, standing over a pot of boiling, staining fruit that spattered our bare arms with specks of magma while our friends hit the beach or the bar.

The seal is tight; there’s nothing wrong with the preserves inside. Still, the truth is staring us in the face: our jam or jelly didn’t get the message it wasn’t supposed to turn out like maple syrup. After all, it wasn’t pancakes you wanted to eat it with; it was toast, darn it!


Well, buck up, canners! Here’s what to do next:

  1. File this one under the “A rose by any other name smells as sweet” category! Did you think you were making marmalade? Surely you meant ‘marinade’! Through bitter experience, I’ve discovered that runny preserves work marvelously well as meaty accompanists. Use the old standbys as your guide: citrus and cranberry paired with poultry, for instance, or apple or rhubarb with pork. One of my family’s favorite recipes, the cheekily-titled “Becky’s Breasts” is basically runny cranberry sauce whisked up in equal parts with bottled Italian dressing. Souse your chicken with the above, leave in the fridge a few hours, bake, and serve!

2. Skip the sugar! Planning on whipping up the weekly apple crisp for supper? Be my guest, but why not sub in some of that failed jam or jelly as a sweetener? Some favorite failures: strawberry-rhubarb, raspberry un-jelly, and the blueberry-peach jam experiment that wound up tasting like cough syrup, but was vastly improved in its fruit crisp setting. Mix and match!

3. Your favorite neighborhood watering hole. Didn’t think that’s where you worked, did you? Now look at all of that black currant syrup you just put up. Are you going to throw out all that work, or are you going to go out shopping for some vodka and soda water and throw yourself a party? Doesn’t that feel better?

Life is a lot like canning, friends. Some relationships are going to jell beautifully, while others may require some serious adjustments in outlook. Canning pros like Marisa will tell you that it’s those willing to be flexible who enjoy the most delicious success.

Elizabeth Peirce writes books about how busy people can grow, prepare and preserve their own food. Exhausted parents get extra empathy and free pep talks at her blog, C.O.O.K. (, along with recipes, how-to’s, and book links.

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3 thoughts on "Guest Post: Transforming Your Jamming Fails"

  • This also works for things that didn’t fail. The syrup left over from canned fruit makes an excellent soda when you pour sparkling water into it. Leftover brine from pickles can become salad dressing or marinade. Renaming is still my favorite fix for a fail.

  • Syrup for waffles or pound cake! Syrup for soda & kombucha & alcohol! Mix a bit into hot drinks! Citrus based jams/jellies work especially well as cough syrup! Syrup for adding to alcohol infusions along with other stuff! Mix with an acid for salad dressing! Spoon it over your bread & peanut butter anyway – it’ll just be thinner and runnier! Mix with yogurt and/or cream cheese for a fruit dip! Add more sugar and cook it down for something jammier! Use as-is for a dip for roast beef rolls or add a bit of acid to dip taquitos and egg rolls! Pour over ice cream! Mix it into homemade ice cream! What *can’t* you do with un-set jam & jelly?

  • I have taken heart, just reading this. From “the jelly that never jelled” to the “impeccable pectin” you have given me new resolve as I gaze at my empty Masons, awaiting next year’s crop with which I feel I now can deal. Thank you!