HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


What do to with old jam/jelly.

I found a stash of homemade jams and jellies from two or three years ago (some may be from last year.) Must I throw the jam away, or can I salvage it? What would happen if I reboil the jam, sterilize the jars, and fill them again?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I say if they are sealed, and don't show any signs of spoilage, they are fine. Have you smelled or tasted one?

    1 Reply
    1. re: arashall

      I agree. It's safe to eat as long as the jars are sealed and their isn't any mold. I made a batch of apple jelly two years ago, and just finished the second-to-last jar over the weekend with no ill effects.

    2. Goodness, no, don't throw them away. Some jams don't taste their best after a longer time on the shelf (strawberry springs to mind), but others "ripen" in a really delicious way -- marmalade, for instance -- after two, three, four years.

      1. Jam/jelly never dies... it's got way too much sugar in it for anything nasty to grow. The only things that can go wrong with it are cosmetic - the water can evaporate out making it shrink away from the sides of the jar and get thicker, and the sugar can start to crystallise out of the suspension. If it looks fine, it IS fine. No need to toss it. Mama had a cool dark pantry full of homemade jams and jellies and some of them were in there for a decade (she didn't make it every year, just when she felt like it, and then she made a LOT).

        1. If you really want to go to the trouble and would feel better about it, reboiling is fine - I did that to combine 2 apricot jams I had kicking around. Didn't sterilize the jar.

          Where I come from, we scraped the mold (if any) off the top and ate the jam anyway.

          1. Well, in some of the jars, the jelly nearer the top of the jar has changed color. It's gotten darker for the top 1/2 inch or so. But the smooth part of the Ball lids are still stuck down and haven't popped up, so presumably the vacuum is still intact or in place or however it should be described.
            For years I tried using old jars with wax, but lots of my jelly went bad. Now that I'm using Ball jars with Ball lids, it's doing better. Thanks for the advice about going ahead and eating it. (As I say after eating something questionable, "At least we'll know what to tell the EMTs!"

            1. One more comment, which is that one of my grandmother's neighbors nearly killed her husband by giving him home-canned green beans that contained botulism. Can't comment on her motives.

              5 Replies
                1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                  as mentioned below, jams and jellies are unlikely to harbor botullism. But anything that is suspicious when it comes to botulism must be thrown out. You can kill the active bacteria, but the really bad thing about botulism are the toxins the bacteria create, and you can't "kill them" but they will "kill you."

                  1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                    People who post to canning threads with comments like, "But Grandma did it this way for 50 years, and..." should take note of your post. I'll bet she bet she used a boiling water bath, "just like Grandma used to" for years with no problems. Could have been because she didn't know about pressure canning or decided, "Grandma knew best," but the results were the same. This is why I rant on these threads about "going by the book." You only get one chance to do it right.

                    1. re: al b. darned

                      Canning in our house ws limited to high-acid tomatoes, chili sauce, peaches (in heavy syrup), and jam. People were aware of the dangers of low-acid foods by the 1950's.

                      1. re: al b. darned

                        Absolutely. I have a friend who skips the water bath for jams and pickles (doesn't sterilize jars either), and just flips the jars upside-down to cool, which usually seals the lid as well. Fortunately, she doesn't try to can any low acid products. I'm far from germ-phobic, but follow the rules for canning to a T.

                    2. If they don't have the mentioned mold or bad smell, consider adding to a wimpy bottled BBQ sauce and that will goose up the sauce to aqwesome edible levels. But if the button on top makes a popping noise when you push on it, toss it.

                      1. That's a good idea, and maybe the heat of cooking the meat will kill the germs.
                        Assuming that botulism dies when heated. Maybe I'll do some research.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                          The food-science types can correct me if I'm wrong here, but I have always been taught that jams and jellies aren't prone to botulism because of the high acid and sugar content. Botulism is a problem for low-acid foods (like green beans) when they're improperly canned -- which is why canning guides always recommend pressure-canning for low-acid foods.

                          1. re: LauraGrace

                            It's definitely low acid that you have to be careful about as far as botulism is concerned. Incidentally the FDA is very strict on imports of low acid canned goods.

                            With fruit/sugar mixes you might get mold or discoloration / color change but that's about as far as it goes.

                            In a more daredevil age the peaches my mother canned were especially enjoyed when a jar had gone off slightly and the peaches were a bit fizzy (think frizzante wine). YUM.

                            1. re: buttertart

                              Buttertart: I was just thinking about you as I pulled out from the refrigerator a fondant mixture that's been in there for literally years. A few years ago I made cherry liquor by soaking tart cherries in triple-distilled vodka. Upon straining it, I had about 2 cups of booze-soaked cherries left over. They sat in the fridge for a while. Then I decided to make fondant-filled Easter eggs, and added the cherries to the fondant, but instead of redraining the cherries I just dumped the whole jar into the fondant, including the accumulated vodka/juice at the bottom. The liquid totally disrupted the fondant and made it much to soft to be used for chocolate-covered eggs. So it's been sitting there, for years. Every once in a while, when the fridge is crowded, I think "I really need to throw that out." But it remains. I just pulled it out the other day and got worried about food poisoning even though the stuff (can't really call it fondant any more) is 98% sugar and booze, so it's unlikely that anything is growing in it. Nevertheless, for reasons of safety, I just boiled the stuff for a couple of minutes. It is now boozy sweet cherry syrup with cherries in it. I'm going to pour it over vanilla ice cream!

                              1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                Knock yourself out, girlfriend! I'd be right there with you. Sugar + booze = no worries. Have a jar of prunes in Armagnac/Port/Moldavian sweet wine* (no lie) in the fridge that I've been adding to since 1990. Training by depression-era parents lead to blithe disregard of use-by dates.

                                I'm very impressed you made fondant to begin with, that's been on my to-try list since I was in my teens and first heard of it.

                                * had high hopes for the wine, was decidedly unterrific, but good in this. I just top it up with whatever's going and suitable.

                          2. Yum! I would have a taste of that stuff if you invited me over.

                            Speaking of jam, a friend and I did impromptu strawberry picking today. Berries were dead ripe! So we ate a lot, and then confronted the question of what to do with the rest. So I just put together freezer jam for the first time, because it's too hot to sterilize jars and do it right. (And I still have a lot of jarred jam to finish!) So this was very easy; crush the berries somewhat, add sugar and let it sit, boil pectin and water and stir it into berries until sugar is dissolved. I hunted down plastic tubs with lids (that was the hardest part of the evening) and it rests for 24 hours until I freeze it. Pretty tasty.

                            1. And by the way, the fondant really is easy. I first made it to cover a cake, which worked out very nicely. It would have been fine for the chocolate-covered eggs except for the amount of moisture I dumped in. Give it a try when you're bored. The question is if you aren't going to roll it and cover a cake with it, what will you do with it.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                Is it the sugar cooked and then kneaded one? That always strikes me as mighty daunting.
                                My mom used to make the freezer jam - tastes so fresh. If I had space I'd try it (really need a separate freezer, but since we could live from the freezer and fridge for 3 weeks easily at this point I'm scared to get one).

                                1. re: buttertart


                                  I'm pretty sure the recipe was from the old Joy of Cooking, which I can look up for you if I can unearth my copy. It wasn't cooked, from what I recall. The recipe above looks like what I remember. Basically, the fondant is a sugar dough. I covered a cake with it in white, colored some yellow and some green, and made daisy-like flowers that I decorate the white cake with. It looked pretty, and more importantly, it didn't melt down all over the table that was holding the cake. The event was in mid-August in Boston, so can be VERY hot and humid some days.

                                  1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                    Hmm, that sounds not too hard to make. The classic one is a sugar syrup boiled to a certain temperature, cooled somewhat, and worked/kneaded so that it crystallizes (under controlled conditions) and gets firm...http://www.homemade-dessert-recipes.c... - I've always been leery of trying to make that one.

                                    1. re: buttertart

                                      You know, boiled syrup sounds familiar . . . . I'll try to figure out which recipe I used.

                              2. I used my old jams as the basis for barbeque sauce.

                                1. I've been recently weeding out my old jam stash by using it as the filling in crumble squares. I bake for a soup kitchen so I'm always looking for things I can make out of ingredients I already have. The jam - actually a mixture of several kinds - made a great filling in an oatmeal-based square. And even if the flavour of the jam is a bit past its prime (some of those jars were, um, well-aged) once it's baked with the crumble topping it's perfect.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Nyleve

                                    Brilliant! And might we have the oaty recipe that's the base of these squares?

                                    1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                      Gaah. I was afraid someone would ask. So here's the thing. Whenever some large amount of something gets donated to the soup kitchen, the volunteers discuss the potential uses of this stuff and, if it makes sense, we take it home to use for a future meal. This time it was a big box of Quaker oatmeal cookie mix - the institutional bulk box. I could have made cookies - but why? So instead, I made up some of the cookie mixture (per instructions on the box) and pressed it into a pan as the base. Then spread it with a mixture of leftover jams and sprinkled over it a dryer version of the cookie mixture - just enough liquid to turn it into a crumble. Baked it until done and everyone thought I made this wonderful homey dessert from scratch. I didn't.

                                      On the other hand, you can use any recipe for date squares - usually made with an oatmeal base and crumble topping - and fill with jam instead of date mixture. Same thing as what I did, really. Or you can use oatmeal cookie mix. Either way.

                                      1. re: Nyleve

                                        Perfect! Thanks. And the soup kitchen is really lucky to have you, with big heart and great cooking instincts!

                                        1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                          Nice of you to say that. I honestly get as much out of this volunteer work as I give. I absolutely love the challenge of working with the truly bizarre things that come into the kitchen every week. It's like the Iron Chef only with things that are either half-rotten or completely baffling. And you have to somehow make a tasty meal out of whatever you find. It's really fun. It might be a full pail of fresh mozzarella cheese or it could be a huge plastic bag of peameal bacon trimmings or a big box of shrivelled mushrooms. It all sounds fine but you never have eveything you need at the same time so you have to get very very creative. The folks who come in for a meal are really appreciative and tell you how much they enjoy what we cook. I love it.

                                          1. re: Nyleve

                                            I've actually envied you this volunteer position before, so I totally see how it could be fun :)

                                  2. Well, I found myself giving 150 leftover fluffernutters to a wet shelter near us, and they were very grateful, plus fluffernutters are easy to chew so there aren't dental challenges.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                      Wow - how does one end up with 150 leftover fluffernutters?

                                      1. re: Nyleve

                                        Oh, from selling only 850 during the Fluff Fest, now in its fifth year (?). Marshmallow Fluff was invented in my fine home town of Somerville, and the Fluff Fest commemorates that invention. We sell Fluffernutters to raise money for the high school music department. Actually, this year there is a big star -- none other than the woman who played "cindy" in the Brady Bunch (or so I recall.) Can't make it up! http://unionsquaremain.org/fluff-fest... Do join us this year!

                                          1. re: Nyleve

                                            Well, we don't have that much else going on, so we have to embrace what we have. I have to say, it's an impressive engineering and management feat to produce 1,000 fluffernutters.

                                      2. Jam and jelly make wonderful syrup for griddlecakes/waffles/crepes, et cet. They only need a little bit of liquid to become syrup - maple syrup is a great solution.

                                        People often spend lots of money on getting fruit flavored syrups not realizing they can turn to jams and jellies for MUCH less money and much HIGHER quality. Just think of jam and jelly is syrup that has been condensed for long-term preservation.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. Add it to carrot cake or Fannie Farmer's Dundee cake (which I make with mixed dried, rather than candied, fruit), reducing the sweetening in the cake recipe. Gives moisture and depth of flavor.

                                          1. As always, lots of great ideas. I love Chow! Thanks, guys.