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October 10, 2017 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Jam and jelly makers, lend my your ears. We've been having problems with our jam setting. What can we do to insure new batches do set, and can I recover a recent batch that is more syrup than jam ?

We use the Ball "Blue Book" and/or the insert in the liquid pectin (but don't mix between -- we stick w/ the recipe)

Most of our jams set just fine (though the fruit tends to rise to the top, and not remain dispersed, which is a visual irritation, eg peach, strawberry and blueberry all do that).

However, our fig jam never seems to set after processing in the boiling water bath. In making the jam, it passes all the jelling tests: the sheeting test (on a spoon), the plate test, and heck, the left-overs that didn't fit in the jar are solid too (put in a bowl in the fridge). But after processing, it's fig syrup, not jam :(

Similarly, a batch of hot pepper jam I just made is more syrup than jam. I've made probably 25 pints of pepper jam in the past that all set fine, so unsure why this batch didn't.

Googling suggests you can re-process the jam - re-boil, add a bit more sugar, a bit more pectin, working in small batches, and re-process. I'm OK trying, but am wary of it. Does it work ? Any suggestions/guidance on it ?

Things I've considered: how well diced the figs are, or the weight/amount of figs (or hot peppers -- weight or volume before stemming/seeding, etc aren't explicit in the recipe). We've tried a different fig recipe that did use pectin, we've used a candy thermometer to make sure we've hit the jelling point. We don't use old pectin (burned by that once) -- we buy recent and check the date on the package.

I just want some nice sturdy fig jam, and a way to salvage my hot pepper jam.
posted by k5.user to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For the fig jam you might want to try adding some grated apple. The additional natural pectin in apples can help and it's a relatively neutral flavor that shouldn't detract from the figs. I've done that with low pectin berry jams in the past to get a good set.
posted by brookeb at 9:28 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]

Are you checking the jars a few weeks after canning? Sometimes jams are funny (autocorrect from runny, I'll leave it) in the jar for quite a while.
posted by bilabial at 9:31 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

I've had much better luck using Pomona's Pectin vs Ball/Kerr pectin. It's a bit fiddly - but worth the effort (IMO) for two reasons:
- you can use as little sugar as you want (although it won't keep as long, so be wary of that!)
- you can do as large a batch as you want - double, triple, quadruple even! we have loads of fruit and tomatoes every year, so this is great.
posted by dbmcd at 9:46 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

This is a good resource I have used to save runny jam. You can indeed reprocess it. My go-to pectin is Ball brand low/no-sugar pectin additive, and I use about a third more than is suggested on the label because I like a very stiff jam.

Also, with the fig jam, are you using any additional acid? Fresh figs are one of the fruits with enzymes that actively destroy gelling, plus they are low-acid to start with-- they are borderline in pH and can vary quite a bit from batch to batch. I would think that this batch is extra-sweet compared to other batches-- how ripe are the figs? If they are very ripe, they are probably extra-low-acid. I would probably add both lemon juice and artificial pectin when re-boiling.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:49 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

Came here to mention acid, blnkfrnk beat me to it. My favorite jam is blueberry with lime. If your fruit is rising to the top, you can flip the jars halfway through setting. They should be air-tight, so leakage won't be an issue. Or you can add more fruit in smaller pieces.
posted by domo at 10:56 AM on October 10

Master preserver here- you can reprocess if your jars sealed. The berries float because there's an enzyme in them that causes air to be released. You can stop that enzyme by heating them as quickly as possible. Use your widest pot because it will transfer heat most quickly, and make sure you aren't doing double batches because that will slow down how quickly they contents of the pan heat up.

As far as setting up- are you using normal white sugar? Some alternative sugars don't set up with normal pectin. Alternatively, is it possible you're over boiling your jam? After you add liquid pectin it usually says something like "boil hard for one minute". They mean one minute. Liquid pectin will start to break down if you continue to heat it. I know I've fallen into that trap. You think your making sure it will set and you're actually breaking the pectin down.

On a personal level, I have the best luck with low sugar pectin that you can spoon out. I feel like there's more wiggle room and you're less likely to get that rubber set that jam sometimes has.
posted by Bistyfrass at 11:08 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]

I had a batch of strawberry jam that didn't gel well earlier this year. I had doubled the batch and it just couldn't get its boil on properly with too much volume in the pot. I ended up re-processing it with liquid pectin added and it did gel the second time around, although it was sweeter than I prefer, probably due to the second boil reducing it down a bit.

Liquid pectin is not as easy to find, but I think it's what you want here. Powdered pectin is more typically added with the sugar, before the boil. Liquid can go in after the mix is concentrated to your liking, which gives you a little more control.
posted by libraryhead at 11:14 AM on October 10

Similarly, a batch of hot pepper jam I just made is more syrup than jam. I've made probably 25 pints of pepper jam in the past that all set fine, so unsure why this batch didn't.

Barometric pressure can mess with the jam's set, too. Also, sometimes jam is just an unpredictable weirdo. Jam's gonna jam.

When I miss the boat on texture with my preserves, it's usually from overcooking one way or another -- runny preserves with liquid pectin from overboiling and breaking down the pectin, or a rubbery set by overcooking with regular powdered pectin.

I personally find using Pomona's to be a little more my speed. It's tricky in its own way, I guess, but its quirks work well with mine or something. I get more predictable results texture-wise, and I get to dial down the sugar to suit my own flavor preferences.
posted by desuetude at 12:39 PM on October 10

Thanks for the replies, everyone. I'll give it a shot on re-processing and pay close attention to timing.

For the fig jam, we are adding lemon juice - I think it was 1/4 cup for the batch. We do use white sugar and sure-jell/certo liquid pectin in our recipes. Will have to remember to try adding some apple next summer when our figs come in.

We do normal batch sizes -- the ball book warned us in multiple ways to not tinker with the ratios or try to make multiple batches ;)
posted by k5.user at 7:56 AM on October 11

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