Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sad tale of unsettled jam

Why would anyone keep old pectin instructions when instructions are in every new box?  Last year we made both strawberry and raspberry freezer jam.  It never set properly and we wanted jam not syrup so all of it ended up in the disposal.  This meant an entire year without strawberry jam  following a year when the freezer failed and we lost all that year’s jam too.  Grumbling, gnashing of teeth, despair.

The pectin boxes had long since been recycled so it was impossible to check the expiration date but we thought that the pectin might have been too old and it was just our fault for not checking the dates.  A closer inspection of dates and manufacturers this year revealed that the same parent company made all the pectin on the store shelves regardless of the brand name.   I have been making freezer jam for more years that I care to admit.  The instructions for last year and this year looked a bit off to me but I followed them to the letter this year being extra careful to measure the sugar and fruit and cook the pectin mix exactly as written.   The manufacturer put those instructions in the box and surely they use a test kitchen to try these things out before selling to the public.  Hmmm.  Guess what?  The jam did not gel this year either. 

What to do?  After spending $22 for a flat of berries, $18 for the pectin and about $12 and for the sugar the jam was already almost as expensive as the less tasty variety in the grocery store.  A check on the Internet showed that we were not the only folks with this annoying problem.  Several solutions were suggested but most involved cooking the berries.  I did not want to do that because freezer jam tastes just like fresh berries mostly since it is NOT cooked.  Some of the other solutions required more work than I wanted to invest at this point.  One very hot day of standing and stirring is enough of that.  Finally I found a fix that sounded reasonable enough to try.  So back we went to the store for more pectin and lemon juice (lemon juice had not been used the first time, it wasn’t in the instructions).  I didn’t want to use lemon juice since the berries seemed tart enough without it but was willing to do that if necessary to make the pectin work and the jam set.  When I emptied the soupy jam mix into a large bowl it looked just like what I remembered from previous years before adding the pectin.  There was an old stack of recipes with a rubber band around them in the kitchen.  I dug through that and found an ancient pectin box instruction sheet that had somehow survived the recent cleaning frenzy.  With some alteration my solution is a little easier and the jam did set within an hour.

Happy ending to the sad tale of the unset jam—

1.    Do one batch at a time.*  It will take more time but the proportion of fruit, sugar and pectin will be correct.
2.    Have empty clean containers and lids ready.
3.    Pour the unset jam into a large bowl and stir to remix sugar and fruit (some of the fruit may have separated from the sugar if it has been sitting for the recommended 24 hours).
4.    Put ¾ cup of water in saucepan, add one box of pectin, stir and bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil for one minute.
5.    Pour the hot pectin mix into the fruit & sugar mix.  Stir for 3 minutes.
6.    Pour the new jam into clean containers and put lids on.  Label & date the new jam.  It should set within an hour or less. 
7.    Let sit for 12 to 24 hours, then freeze or refrigerate. 

The instructions in the current pectin boxes have the sugar, water and pectin boiling together for 1 min.  I am not sure but I think this is where the problem lies.  Just like mixing yeast with salt (the yeast won’t work) it seems like mixing the sugar with the pectin doesn’t allow the pectin to work correctly. 

For new strawberry freezer jam if your pectin** box instructions are different than what is below, don’t use them unless you want syrup not jam:

2 cups crushed fruit
4 cups sugar
¾ cup water
1 box of pectin

1.  Mix the crushed fruit and sugar in a large bowl.  Stir until all or most of the sugar crystals are dissolved.  Let sit 10 min.
2.  Put ¾ cup of water in saucepan, stir in pectin bring to a boil on high heat and boil for 1 min.  The pectin might be a little lumpy to start but as it boils it will dissolve.
3.  Pour hot pectin into fruit and sugar.  Stir for 3 min.
4.  Pour jam into clean containers, seal with lid, label and date.
5.  Let sit on counter for 24 hours.
6.  The jam is now ready to put in the freezer or refrigerator.

And there was much rejoicing . . .


*  I used 24 fluid oz. rectangular freezer safe containers for most of the jam and smaller round containers for the remainder.  The recipe makes 5 cups of jam and will fill about 2 1/2 to 3 of the 24 fluid oz. containers depending on how big a margin is left (instructions say to leave 1/2 inch).  Therefore, one batch here means I emptied 3 boxes of unset jam into the bowl for each box of pectin and 4 of the round containers equaled one batch. 

** Qualifier:  I used Sure Jell but MCP and Certo are also made by Kraft.  These three brands were the only ones available in the local stores here.  See Michelle's comment below about Ultra Gel.  I will look for it next time. 


  1. My preference for freezer jam is Ultra Gel. It makes it so there is zero cooking or heating of anything and doesn't require any sugar (or as little sugar as you want) so the jam isn't too sweet.

    1. Thanks for the tip I will look for it next year.

      I really want to know how you did the frozen peaches! They were so good . . .