My Jam Didn’t Set! What Should I Do?

August 2, 2016

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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108 thoughts on "My Jam Didn’t Set! What Should I Do?"

  • 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. 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 😀

  • 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!

  • 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.

    1. Penny my son was the same way, for years after he was grown up he thought it was meant to be syrup, then one day (about 15 years after he was married) he called and wanted the recipe for syrup! way to funny!!

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

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

    1. 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?

  • 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 .

    1. 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.

  • 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!!

  • 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? 🙂

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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 🙂

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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.

    1. Once we got one of those cooktops, I realized my cookware was part of the problem. Induction cookware solved all my issues. To test your cookware, use a magnet on the bottom. If it’s magnetic, it can be used on that kind of stove. When I’m out buying cookware, I carry a small magnet with me to test all pots and pans. You’d be surprised which brands are aluminum and not stainless. You can certainly use regular cookware, but the heat signal keeps the stove cooking hotter because the bottom of the pan or pot has a design that prevents the entire bottom from touching the burner flatly, giving the burner a signal to keep heating up. This could result in warping of the pan as well. The added heating element built into the pan is a good sign of an induction pan. Hope this was helpful.

  • 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.

  • 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?

    1. We used jello to help change up the flavor. We had a huge plum tree and that gets old after a bit. So my mother would use different flavors to accent her freezer jam. Set just fine.

      1. There’s a bit difference between using jello for freezer jams and using it for jellies destined for the boiling water bath canner. A lot of the standard rules do not apply for freezer jams. I stand my original statement, that jello is not an appropriate ingredient for jellies that are headed for the canner.

  • If I put it in the fridge and it thickens up, can I then take it back out and keep it in the cabinet provided I don’t break the seal on the jars? I made Christmas jam using your raspberry jam recipe and it’s a little to runny. I want to give it as gifts. Thanks!

  • My husband loves ice cream. Having Peach
    Ice Cream Sauce in our house is an acceptable expectation, but the cook in me would like to find that sweet spot for setting. Either way, the results are always satisfying!

  • Is is possible after 48 hours of not setting up to dump back into pot, re-boil and add more liquid pectin then re-jar in new jars?

  • Hi , I am Darrell , I made jam for the first time , made raspberry , blueberry , and they are great ,I cannot have much sugar , so did not use much , but then made choke cherry jam , and did not set , I never used much sugar and no pectin , am I able to reboil and add Certo , will it thicken and will it taste ok , please help

    1. You can use the same jars you used the first time, once you’ve remade the jam and cleaned out the jars. You will need to use fresh lids.

  • Hi! Thank you for writing this amazing site! It has helped me so much in my preserve making !
    Quick question- if my jam hasn’t set – I see one of your options is to place it in the fridge – after chilling – can I then safely remove them from them from the fridge to store ? Or do they now need to be kept in the fridge permanently? Thanks !

  • Ok. So I just processed a couple batches of ground cherry jam for the second time. Clearly I was impatient as I only waited 24 hours with the first go around for a set. So, after reading here and one of your other blogs that it could be a week (or maybe even more) for it to gel, I’m waiting to see if the second go around is successful. So far I’m dubious about the success of the second processing as it still about as runny as the first batch. So here are my questions:

    1) Can I process a third time if I just can’t stand the fact it’s not setting up?

    2) If I choose to use the “lower my expectations” approach and shelve them, I know I can use them as syrup but my goal was to use them as strudel filling. That I cannot do with runny jam. Any suggestions on how to thicken it once I open the jar and it still hasn’t set? (I know this is a jam blog and not a filling blog so I’ll understand if you can’t answer that one.)

    And by the way, same thing happened to me last year and my second processing came out fine. Matter of fact is was a little too hard and that’s why it made such great strudel filling. It didn’t run out of the pastry when baked. So saying that, I don’t have a problem if it were to set too hard.

    1. It could have been that the four jars that set were the last four jars that you filled, so they had the longest time to cook.

  • My first try I made some really delicious syrup even though I followed the recipe and all the directions.
    So… I recooked the jam and followed those instructions exactly. I canned 4 jars and put a dish in the fridge for the kids. The dish that went in the fridge came out beautifully. The stuff I water processed is better than it was but definitely not a jammy set. Ideas?

    1. The temperature in the fridge probably helped the jam set up. Put one of the jars in the fridge and see if it firms up any after 24 hours.

  • Hi, my jam is not quite set. If you put a teaspoon on the jar it will sink in like wet sand, or treacle, golden syrup. It’s fine Ike that from the fridge, it will spread fine on bread. But I wonder whether it will keep? I have made a dozen jars and think perhaps I should give them to neighbours to use up? The recipe called for 75% sugar ratio. It was probably more like 66% so I know the reason. But will that effect the life of the jam?

    1. It will keep just fine. Set has nothing to do with keeping ability. However, sugar has everything to do with jam’s ability to set. So if you reduced the sugar, that might be why it’s not as firm.

  • I had the perfect apple jelly going to the end. It had started to set not using pectin however I got impatient and added a pack of dry sure jell pectin stirred for a while, it seemed to have gotten lose. I decided after a while just to jar it and hope for the best. Two days now and still running.
    I read your article, thanks so much it’s now new name is apple syrup

  • The renaming method works quite well when you are making fudge too, my mom has used it for years, you ask what she is making and her answer is “Either fudge or ice cream topping, we will know which one soon”

  • I have a pear tree in my yard. If the pear jam does not set then it’s bar-b-que sauce.
    Blend onions, garlic, tarragon, oregano, rosemary, celery, parsley, dark brown sugar to taste and molasses.
    If you don’t grow your own tomatoes use ketchup. Dash of smoke flavor. Fruit adds a great taste to the sauce. Cook down until it thickens.
    Fruit sauce is great over pancakes and my favorite is French Toast.
    This year I have pear based wet rub, pear jam, pear preserves, pear sauce and bar-b-que sauce.

  • I’ve successfully made three batches of pomegranate jelly this fall, all set well, used powdered pectin only. However my first batch of pepper jelly this year is softish, recipe uses powdered AND liquid pectin. Can I use your method with only the sugar and powdered pectin to get a firmer set?

    1. You made freezer jam? No seal is necessary for freezer jams, because they’re stored in the freezer.

  • I know exactly what I did wrong. I added the sugar into the mashed blackberries & sure jel mixture right from the start. I knew I was supposed to wait until I boiled the sure jel/fruit mix for one minute, but I acted on auto-pilot and then it was too late and there was no way to remove the sugar. So now I have 4 large jars of what would have been delicious jam, but are now are demoted to syrup. I’m thinking it will go good with yogurt or over ice cream or on egg custard, but am at a loss for other uses. (I don’t like syrup on pancakes.) Could I turn it into pie filling if I added thickener maybe? Can it be used to make drinks, or turned into wine? The silver lining I guess is that I probably could never have used up all that jam anyway. I think I’ll make a tiny batch of jam the *right way* this time, but I hate to think of this berry syrup becoming compost.

    1. I don’t think it would work well as pie filling because it might be too sweet in the traditional pie filling proportions. But it would be great it a tart or crostata filling, particularly if combined with some fresh fruit (try apples with the blackberries). You could also try homemade pop tarts, or in smoothies. There’s also a recipe in my Food in Jars Kitchen book for runny jelly granita, which would also be a good usage.

  • I added an extra 1/4 cut of prepared fruit but a also used a liquid pectin…I guess it doesn’t really matter why my jam didn’t set…bottom line is, it didn’t set. I knew that I could unbottle it and remake the jam using more pectin however I absolutely LOVE your idea of just relabeling it as “Strawberry Syrup”! Brilliant! I’ll just grab some more fresh berries and make a new batch of jam using only the amount of berries called for and a powdered pectin. Thanks so much!

  • I attempted to make apricot jam a month ago and it is very runny. I sealed them and they have been in my refrigerator for about a month. Is that too long to have waited to now try to remake it?
    Thank you for helping out the disappointed.

    1. That’s not too long a time to wait. As long as the jam smells good and is mold-free, you can recook it and can it again.

  • I see your replies about putting a runny jelly/jam in the fridge to help it set up. Mine has been on the counter for about 30 hrs and still seems a bit runny to me. If I put it in the fridge to help it set, when I take it back out will it return to a runny state when it warms back up again?

    1. It will get runny again when you pull it out of the fridge. Putting it in the fridge just gives you an idea of whether the colder temps will help it firm up to a usable consistency once opened and chilled. It’s not a permanent solution.

  • I made some clover jelly, following the recipe exactly. It set in the pot and I had a bit that didn’t fit in the canning jars so I put it in the fridge right away. It is very solid. However, I canned 4 jars in my water bath canner for 10 minutes and they’re all runny. I use Sure Jell original powdered pectin as it’s the only powdered pectin available locally. The frustrating thing is I’ve made and canned jellies before successfully but the last 3 batches have been failures. Any ideas?

  • Hello – my jam set on Sat – slight liquid but still useable as jam. I shipped two pints to my son (ground) and they box for hit and it turned to liquid, and seals popped.
    I don’t have canning equipment here (we flew to sons house).
    Can I add the pectin and sugar option, put back in jars?
    Don’t care if they seal – we will be using them (hopefully as jam) while camping. I would just like them back to jam.

    1. I don’t think you need to add anything. Just open the jars and boil the jam for a little while to reduce it and thicken it up.

  • My experience exactly. I lowered the sugar and didn’t use a pectin. The jars all sealed and it sure tasted good on a biscuit this morning. So I’m not going to worry about it. It will be great on cream cheese, or pancakes or empty a couple jars into a tin and put a crust on it for a cobbler.

  • My recipe didn’t call for pectin I really wanted to add some but being new to water bath canning I didn’t want to add to recipe. It’s still like liquid. If I add pectin along with more sugar it’ll be even sweeter. Not sure what to do?

    1. It’s hard to advise without knowing the recipe. You could add pectin and recook it without adding additional sugar.

  • The ma made set on the cold ..p,m yesterday not completely set this a,m s
    After the 48 hours should I reboil .

    1. If you like it the way it is currently, you can just can it without added pectin (pectin just helps with set, it doesn’t make things safe). However, if you don’t like the consistency, add the pectin and boil.

    1. These days, I use either the Ball powdered flex pectin, Mrs. Wages pectin, or Pomona’s Pectin if I’m doing a low sugar recipe. To remake a batch of jam, I like the Ball flex pectin in the canister best, because it allows you to use precisely what you need.

  • Thank you for all the advice. This is my first time here.
    I made (atempted) Brazilian cherries & mulberry it turned out runny. Am going to remake it and will update you.

  • So my jam didn’t set all the way but when I put a jar in the fridge it set up perfect. Can I wait and just put the others in as needed and do you think they will follow suit?

    1. Jams are always a little firmer in the fridge, so you should experience that increase in set with all the jars when they go into the fridge.

  • I forgot to put 2 pouches of Certo in jam .I only put one so can I reheat jam and put in another pouch .

    1. Grape syrup is terrific in sparkling water or cocktail/mocktails. You could also use it to moisten a fruitcake or drizzle over a berry salad to sweeten. It’s also good stirred into plain yogurt.

  • Here’s the fast fix: Thick-It is a stir-in thickener for people who had a stroke and can’t swallow safely anymore. It can thicken plain juice to nectar or pudding consistency. If a batch of jam comes out thinner than I like for whatever the reason, I ignore it until I’m ready to open a jar. Then I whisk in enough Thick-It to get it right, maybe a teaspoon or so per cup of jam. Whisk in less than looks right to you, leave it for 10 minutes, and it will set up, NO REHEATING NEEDED. Then refrigerate same as you would with any homemade jam.