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Jam won't set up!

Hi, I've attempted to make a few types of jams and jellies in the past few weeks. In every case, I've used pectin, and in every case, they just haven't set properly. The consistency ranged from completely watery to sort of slimy. I'm following the directions very precisely and just can't figure out what I'm doing wrong! I tried making blueberry/mango jam, pear/persimmon jam, and grape jelly. Any suggestions?

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  1. Are you using liquid or powdered pectin?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Candy

      Liquid pectin. I also tried powder once and it didn't work...

    2. The amount of sugar (real, pure cane sugar, no substitutions)is crucial in getting a good set, as is the ratio of fruit to pectin. What recipes are you following? The ones contained on the flyer in the Certo liquid pectin boxes are pretty foolproof.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Hungry Celeste

        I've actually been using the recipes on the insert and they still won't work! I am totally baffled, I haven't tried to improvise at all. Could it have something to do with the amount of time the fruit boils?

        1. re: thewaz

          Yes, absolutely the amount of boiling time is important. The Certo insert is pretty specific about the boiling time. The precise combination and amount/volume of fruits is also important.

        2. re: Hungry Celeste

          Celeste is right about 100% pure cane sugar. I am rabid about that. The bargain sugar is beet sugar I have long since discovered and proved it does not cook the same as 100% pure cane sugar. Sprinkle the cheap stuff on your cereal, make hummingbird food with it but don't try to use it iin cooking.

        3. I've had great luck with Ramona's Universal Pectin (I've seen it at Whole Foods). It sets up using calcium citrate(?) that you mix separately and add, rather than depending on sugar content.

          1. Because of the less-than-standard flavor combos you've listed (other than the grape), I'm wondering if you're taking a recipe for, say, blueberry jam and then adding the mango to it. So, I guess my question is whether you are using a recipe specifically written for that flavor combo or are you improvising? Can you explain exactly the process you're using? I know you said you've followed the directions precisely, but what are the directions you're following? The ones on the pectin package or a different recipe? I make jam for a living, so I know I could probably help you if you give me some more info.

            Also, check the expiration date on the pectin.

            3 Replies
            1. re: dukegirl

              Dukegirl - you sound experienced. I made mango jam with this recipe, but it didn't set - need to know what to do to get it to set.
              6 cups mangos, 2 cups water, 3 cups sugar, 1 tbsp vanilla extract
              comine mago & water and boil 15 minutes; the process in a food blender until smooth, retunr to pot, add sugar and vanilla, boil for 30 -40 minutes until thick, pour into hot sterilized jars and seal.

              I did so, but jam is runny. I also want mor fruit pieces, so thinking of retunring "jam" to the pot and
              1. - adding some more chopped but not pureed mango
              2. - adding proportionate amount of sugar [1/2 cup sugar for each cup mango]
              3. - boil againuntil thicker consistency.

              Should I also add some pectin??

              Thanks for your help!!

              1. re: dukegirl

                dukegirl i made apricot jam last night and the recipe is 6 cups sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 8 cups apricots. add all together boil for 25 min. until thickens and pour into jars and process for 25 minutes. I did all that and my jam is not thick at all it didn't set. can I pour it back into a pot and reboil it and see if it thickens or not? THERE IS NO PECTIN IN THIS JAM

                1. re: wetpaws

                  Since I make jelly for a part time job, I cannot do all those batches without the pectin. I would have to quit my full time job. I like the no pectin jam, but for me it takes too much time to do. Some fruits take up to 2 weeks to set, marmalades, fruits with oranges, lemons, and citrus. So you need to wait the two weeks and see if the jams set up first. If you are going to do the fruit, and apricots have alot of pectin in them, you need to do the sheeting test or if you have a candy thermometer, it needs to get up to 220. The apricot will take a week or two to set.... worst case senario you can use it for sauces or top it on ice cream. My friend will take my liquid non set jellies and jams and use it as pancke syrups.

              2. To be a little blunter than dukegirl, there must be something you're not doing right. That commercial pectin stuff is nearly bulletproof if you really follow the directions to the letter. The jam or jelly may not be the greatest, but it should set up.

                1. You haven't reduced the amount of sugar called for in the recipe, or substituted some unusual type of sugar?

                  1. The boiling time is crucial and a "rolling boil" is a pretty strong boil that cannot be tamed by stirring. Also, make sure you add the pectin and sugar at the right times. For powdered pectin, you add the pectin at the beginning, bring to a rolling boil and then add the sugar and boil hard for one minute. With liquid pectin, you add the sugar first, bring to a rolling boil, then the pectin, then boil hard for a minute.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: dukegirl

                      Thank you """ I realized my mistake now !!! Ding !! Lightbulb ! I for years used liquid certo --- fail proof !! But this year , I decided to use the bernardino powder crystals because of cost and --disappointment crept in !! All that work for not ! Then with yiur comment I realized that I should have added the pectin AFTER the biol ! Ugh I wonder how I can make my 58 jars set now ...

                    2. Thanks everyone - I think there are a few things at play. First, I did buy the bargain sugar since the recipe calls for so much of it. Second, I was just using standard blueberry and pear recipes - not specifically the blueberry/mango and pear/persimmon combinations. I did have a thought that perhaps the enzymes in mango and persimmon could affect the outcome (sort of like pineapple in gelatin). Dukegirl, do you recommend using liquid or powdered pectin?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: thewaz

                        I use powdered pectin but only because I buy it in bulk, 10 lbs at a time. But, I think for home use, either one is fine. I find a lot of recipes written for use only with liquid pectin and you can't substitute powdered for liquid and vice versa in a recipe, since the sugar/fruit ratios are specific to the type of pectin used. So, find the recipe you like and use whichever pectin is speficied.

                        And yes, if you're mixing fruits and not using a recipe specifically designed for those fruits, that's probably your problem. Different fruits require different fruit to sugar ratios, depending on the fruit's acid levels.

                        1. re: dukegirl

                          I make jelly from desert plants and cacti. I have a heck of a time getting it to set. Where do you buy your commercial pectin? I make 1000's of jars and the small boxes of pectin get a little expensive. Thanks for any help you can give to me.

                          1. re: Jean Groen

                            I don't know the answer to your question exactly. I just happened to see yesterday in another thread a suggestion for this pectin: Pomona's Universal Pectin. I found it here: http://www.pomonapectin.com/order/ind... They have a one pound package but not the 10 pounds another poster mentioned. You may want to look up 10 pounds of pectin and see what you find.

                      2. Sounds like your end temperature is not high enough. If you are using pectin that does not set up, do not panic. Just put it back into a saucepan, boil it for a while till it gets really thick. Old time cooks would take a spoonful of the hot syrup and dribble it onto a plate that is cold and just taken out of the frig. After a few seconds, if it does not set, keep boiling and repeat the cold plate test. Jam and jelly must be cooked very thick, much thicker than most people realize.

                        1. Gosh, I've never used commercial pectin in a jam or jelly recipe. None of my recipes ever called for it. I've mostly used recipes from the Joy of Cooking and Nigella's Domestic Goddess book. I think I remember reading in JoC that a tablespoon or two of lemon juice boosts the pectin in a jam. Also, when using fruits that contain pectin (i.e., apples), it's important to boil long enough for the fruit to release it.

                          I've also found that I don't have to boil till very thick. Sometimes 20 minutes or so does it (depending on the fruit). I use the saucer test--put a drop of the jam on cold saucer, let sit for a few moments, then push the edge of the drop with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, it's done.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Kagey

                            Wow, all of this advice is wonderful!! I'll try a few different methods. Thanks, everyone!

                            1. re: Kagey

                              I use commercial pectin, mainly b/c I make jelly out of stuff that doesn't have much/any natural pectin...like hot peppers.

                            2. I believe mangoes and papaya contain enzymes that prevent pectin and gelatin from setting properly, no matter what you do.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: cpanagakis

                                I've successfully made mango jam with commercial powdered pectin.

                                4 cups mango pulp (buy about 6 lbs)
                                1/4 cup lemon juice
                                6 cup sugar
                                1 pkg powdered pectin

                                Wash, peel, seed and cut mangoes into cubes. Mash w/a potato masher or run through a food processor, but try not to puree. Mix fruit, lemon juice and pectin, bring to rolling boil then add sugar. Return to a rolling boil and boil for two minutes (I know, not the usual one minute). Remove from heat, skim foam and jar. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes (or adjust for your altitude).

                                It came out pretty good. Nice bright color and flavor and it set up just fine.

                              2. Been making jam for years. Suffered all the problems, and then some. I don't like sugary jam either. I always try to use 2/3rd weight of sugar to fruit or less. Adding last season's apple when making early fruit jams such as strawberry and apricot doesn't make any sense (quince doesn't come available until plum time!). Things I do know: Pectin is most often a NATURAL agent, especially the powdered variety, usually made from apple anyway. Think acidity. That's why lemon sometimes works. Under-ripe fruit DOES work better than fully ripe, especilly stone-fruit: apricot, peach and plum. New discovery! Break a calcium capsule into 1/2 cup of water. Swish vigourously. Use two teaspoons of calcium water to every four or five pound batch of jam. It somehow acts with the pectin (in the fruit naturally, or added), and presto! Other tips; Make sure you cook the fruit before adding WARM sugar to release the maximum natural pectin. Warm the sugar on a tray in a 200• oven for 15-20 minutes.
                                Good luck, too!

                                1. mind if I jump in w/ a related question - maybe a dumb one. Have processed batch of hot pepper jelly that has not set. Can I just take it out of jars & boil until it passes the saucer test or should I add more sugar/pectin? In otherwords, can you overboil once you have added the pectin. Thanks

                                  1. I have had the same problem many times but I kept trying and kept failing. My wife got so frustrated with me that she told me to stop using the good pots on stuff that never came out. So I started using an old pot that I saved for camping that my wife wanted to through out. Guess what it worked and has been working good since. The pots that did not work is a really good set of Emerilware but the jams/jelly would not set. I researched and found something about non-reactive pans. It turns out with the wrong pan the acid attaches to the metal of the pan and not the pectin. Give it a try in a different pan

                                    1. Some jams need time in the jars.

                                      It's VERY important to take them out of the bath and put them down and then: DON'T TOUCH THEM. Don't jiggle. Don't shake. Don't tilt. Don't touch them at all for at least 2 weeks.

                                      Marmalades are especially finicky that way. I've learned this through experience.

                                      1. I have no problems using "cheap sugar" when making jam. In fact, every package I've checked at our grocery store just says sugar when I look at the ingredients. Not cane sugar, not beet sugar, just sugar, no matter what the price. So I buy the cheap stuff.

                                        I'd suggest picking up a copy of the Ball Blue Book ( http://www.amazon.com/Ball-Blue-Book-... ) available at a lot of grocery stores, or better still, the Ball Book of Home Preserving ( http://www.amazon.com/Ball-Complete-B... ). The Blue book is an annual, the Home Preserving Book goes into much more detail and contains a lot of the recipes in the Blue Book and way more. Excellent books for novices, and you'll find fruit combinations similar to the ones you tried in them.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: morwen

                                          The main problem with "cheap" (ie beet) sugar is that it smells. It has a definite funky odor and an off taste. Cane sugar (whether white or evaporated) has no smell or taste, or at most a faint, pleasant caramel-y smell.

                                          I don't know if cheap sugar would affect the set or overall texture of a jam or jelly, but I know it will affect the taste (even with strongly flavored fruit).

                                          1. re: soyarra

                                            Obviously the judges at our county fair for the past three years disagree with you:


                                        2. Hi, thewaz:

                                          I've pretty much given up on adding pectin for the same reason that nags you--very unpredictable results with setting. IMO, there are too many variables (specific fruit, mixed fruit, sugar, boil time, timing the addition, timing after addition, etc.), and the added complication isn't worth it to me.

                                          For the past 3 summers, I've just gone without adding any pectin. If I know a fruit is very low in it naturally, I'll add some lemon juice or boil a bag of citrus pith with the rest. I just boil and skim until the boiling jam hits 220--222F, and I'm done.

                                          This seems to pass all the "cold spoon/saucer" tests, and I haven't had any fail to set. What I *have* had are instances where it took over a week for some (e.g., blackberry) to set--I even labeled some "syrup", thinking I'd failed, only to find 2 weeks later that the jars are indeed set.

                                          I also find it really nice that, if you go the European route and dispense with pectin, you needn't add as much sugar. I like sweet, but not cloyingly sweet like I was getting with some pectin-added recipes. IMO, lower sugar lets the fruit flavor dominate over sweetness.


                                          1. I'm in trouble I made 1 kg of blackberry plus 1kg of preserving sugar and boiled it up with a little lemon juice. Tried the cold plate method and it was still runny so cooked some more tried again and it was setting so bottled up. This morning the jam was as solid as the glass bottle :( so i put the three jars in my steam oven which made them soft enough to put back in a pan and added about a third of water to each jar and boiled again until - this time using my thermometer - jam setting temperature. It is now like liquid and hasn't set at all. Is there anything I can do to add to this all which will make it set?

                                            1. im trying to make apple butter but it seems to come out wrong its to runny i use sure jell liquid can some one help