What to do with overdone jam?

daria(Z5A ME)August 14, 2006

I made blackberry jam last night, using the Ball Blue Book's "no-pectin" recipe. I tried following their spoon instructions regarding "sheeting", but clearly did something wrong, because my finished product is very rubbery. I'm no novice to making candy and fudge but I'd never cooked down jam before, so apparently I missed something - and of course the cookbook didn't recommend a specific temperature, so I could not go by my handy dandy candy thermometer.

Is there anything I can do to "fix" the jam? Any ideas for what I can do with it? My husband said "it tastes like sweet potatoes" so I have a feeling that the sugar caramelized a tiny bit.

Darn it, I'd hoped I would at least have the jam to enjoy after all my scratches heal! :)

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dgkritch(Z8 OR)

You can always heat it just a little when you use it.
Or make thumprint cookies...........it'll make a lot so you can send some to me!! :+)
Sorry, not much help, but it's hard to UNcook it.
Did you try just stirring it up really well before use?
I like my jam rather thick so it doesn't drip off the toast.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 2:48PM
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daria(Z5A ME)

My husband was the guinea pig and tried it this morning. I just made the jam yesterday so I have a feeling if it's this rubbery now, it's not going to get any better. I prefer thicker jam too, but "chewy" is probably not good. Maybe I can make it into candy...

It might be good in cookies though! :) I could try that!

I know, you can't uncook things - which is really too bad. Life should come with an undo button like my computer does!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 3:00PM
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daria, I've had some trouble with overcooked jam too, ending up with some lovely pear "taffy" last year.

I've never gotten the hang of that "sheeting off the spoon" thing. When my thermometer reaches 218F I turn the jam off, take a saucer out of the freezer which I put there when I started making the jam, and dab just a bit on the saucer. Put back into the freezer for a couple of minutes and see how it sets up. If it isn't thick enough, turn the heat back on and cook another degree, test again. That jell point comes quickly, though, I tend to "hover" during the last couple of degrees.

So, what should you do with it? Smoothies? Cookies, as already suggested? A jam cake? Stir some into yogurt for flavoring? Or mix with cream cheese and use as a spread for bagels. Yum.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 3:04PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

You say you have experience with candy making, so maybe make some chocolate jellies. The carmelized taste might fit well in those too.


Here is a link that might be useful: Chocolate Jellies

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 3:14PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

You can't remove the caramelized flavor, but you can soften the jam up a bit by adding up to 1 tablespoon of water per jar at the time it's opened and gently warming. Stir and use.

The jell point of jam is 8 degrees above boiling temp, or 220 degrees at sea level. But depending upon your preference you can go a bit lower or a bit higher. Syrup generally is 218 and jam is 219 to 221 from soft-set to firm.

An alternative to the plate test Annie mentioned, or an addition to it, is to pull the pan off when you think the jam might be done, let it cool and then put the whole batch in the fridge overnight. You'll see exactly how firm it is. Then you can reheat and pick up where you left off.

Also, I know the mistake I made when I first started out with jams was cooking too long at too low a temperature. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up and try driving off the water fast. Slow cooking increases the risk of caramelization. Make small batches, maybe even half-batches, so you can develop a feel for the process with minimum risk.

And Annie's advice is great. If you start feeling overwhelmed or there are interruptions and you can't concentrate, just pull the jam off the burner. It can sit there almost indefinitely; you can pull traditional no-commercial-pectin jams off as many times as you need. I do that a lot, especially when it's starting to get close to the jell point, but there's more foam to skim off.

Consider using your jam in anything that has a spicy or caramel flavor anyway. For example recipes with brown sugar. I make a filled mincemeat cookie that uses a brown sugar dough, but a firm jam would also be an excellent filling. Spice cakes with a Caramel frosting and a jam filling would work really well or make a spice cupcake, put half the batter in the cups, add a dollop of jam and then more batter over. Kids especially would love the "surprise" in the middle.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 3:31PM
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daria(Z5A ME)

Thanks so much for the great usage ideas - I can definitely picture some nice filled brown sugar cookies on my Christmas platter, and I think my in-laws would flip over homemade jellies dipped in dark chocolate!

I'm glad to know I can stop during the process for a non-pectin jam, and next time I'll use the candy thermometer. I'd tried that last night but I didn't know what temperature it should be, and the BBB didn't cite specifics. I only did the single batch - 9 cups of crushed berries plus 6 cups of sugar, boil until the results match the diagram.

Another clue to me should have been that the back of the spoon had gelled juice on it, even though it dripped right off the bowl side of the spoon. By the time the jam matched the BBB diagram, it was too late. Oh, well.

Perhaps next time I'll take my mom's advice (administered AFTER I made the jam) and use pectin. Ah well, lesson learned!

Thanks for your help! That's what makes this the best forum on GW!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 5:16PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Well, if you use pectin you'll have to increase the sugar, so the jam will be sweet but less intensely fruity. You pay a price for a more predictable set. (I'm referring to conventional pectins, not low-sugar or Pomona's.) I do think there's a place for pectin in processing, especially for those whose medical needs preclude sugar, but traditional jams done properly are just incredible.

It is truly satisfying to finally get the hang of making jams and jellies without commercial pectin. There is a learning curve but there's a big payoff.

I'm not quite to the fifty-year mark in canning experience, but I've never found the spoon test very helpful. I've had my best luck with the plate test Annie mentioned and then secondarily, with the thermometer.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 5:38PM
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Linda_Lou(SW Wa.)

The gel point on a thermometer is 220 degrees for jam and jellies. Syrups are made at 218 degrees.

This is a link to a PDF file on making jelly/jams. It gives you the different methods of testing them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Making jams and jellies.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 6:06PM
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Tip out the jam into a saucepan and stir in some boiling water, a little at a time until almost the correct consistency is achieved. Bring to the boil and boil for a minute or two, then rebottle it. I say 'almost' because it will harden on cooling.

If it has that 'burnt' taste, then it probably will stay, but you can always mix a little of it into a plain cake batter.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 6:09PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

If its turned brown, it may have been scorched. If its not to your liking, save it and add it all to another berry jam. Blueberries, raspberries and a few others go well together. That cooking down, no pectin method is difficult to get to a gel point. Sometimes, it will require a LOT more sugar compared to one that uses an added pectin. About the only berries that gel for me, without any added pectin, are cranberries.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 9:17PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Ken, do you mean a low-sugar pectin? I can't think right now of any conventional no-pectin jam that requires more sugar than a regular commercial-pectin recipe.

I do think once someone really gets the hang of making this sort of jam the results are more predictable than with pectin because you're relying on your own skill rather than what's in the box.

For me it's a philosophical choice also; as with so many of the home-preserving arts, there is something tremendously satisfying about learning a craft rather than relying upon a commercial product. I like being able to do what my grandmother did; it feels as if I'm continuing and honoring a tradition.

That's one benefit Sure-Jell and MCP can't box up.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 10:15PM
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Carol, I agree, my no pectin jams always take far less sugar than those with added commercial pectin, and I can even reduce the sugar called for in the recipe without compromising the set, usually.

That's why I've gotten away from commercial pectin (whether it be liquid or powder) and gone to no-pectin jams, because I CAN reduce the sugar.


    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 12:51AM
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daria(Z5A ME)

More great ideas - thank you! This is only my second year canning on my own (although I helped my mom a lot with it when I was in high school - I have the things I helped with down pat - pickles and dilly beans) and I'm really glad to have the benefit of your experience!!

I don't think it scorched - it wasn't brown, just a bit darker than jam should be. I did taste tests along the way and it never got that bitter burnt taste.

I would rather have that intense frutiness, so I'll try the traditional route again - but I'll definitely use the plate test and I won't be afraid to take it off the heat next time! Thank you for the PDF - that is very helpful!

As for this batch, my husband was VERY intrigued when I mentioned Jimster's chocolate coated jelly candy idea. :)

My mom just might let me take more of her blackberries as they ripen, so hopefully I'll get another chance this summer.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 8:51AM
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bejay9_10(zone 9/10)

Jimster -

Hmmm - wonder where I can buy the candy molds for making chocolate covered jam jellies ???

Or - did I miss something in the link?


    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 10:13AM
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daria(Z5A ME)

For the candies, I was thinking I'd either heat up the jam, pour it out onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment, and make square slices, then freeze those and then dip them. Or, I would just make little round scoops of jam with a mini ice cream scoop, freeze those, then dip them in dark chocolate. That way everything would stay solid as they were dipped. After dipping I'd let them come to room temperature for enjoyment.

Yes, unfortunately, my jam is THAT firm. :)

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 11:20AM
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jimster(z7a MA)

I would do it the way Daria describes, melt the jelly and pour it to make a sheet about 1/2" thick or a little more. Let it solidify, then cut it into squares, etc.

The commercially made ones are made from a very firm jelly, like I imagine Daria *fortunately* has. ;-)


    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 12:34PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Some times a no pectin jam will require more sugar to gel. You must remember that most fruits do contain natural pectin, but some will need extra sugar to get it to set. Some berries have a LOT more water and ned a lot longer cooking time to reduce them. If its been boiled a lot and has not set yet, maybe adding a little more sugar will get it working, was my suggestion. If this is your first attempt at making a no pectin jelly, you may need a bit more experience in the methods of telling when its going to gel properly. Sheeting action on a spoon can be very different. I had sheeting action with soft globs hanging off the spoon. This obviously was the right amount of gelling for me. When I do make jams, its now without any sugar at all, and to test them, I place a teaspooon or two on a small saucer and place in the freezer for a minute or two to test it.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 4:12PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Barring a specific example, I think I'll stand by what I said on this one.

"Commercial pectins may be used with any fruit. Many consumers prefer the added pectin method for making fruit products for a number of reasons: 1) fully ripe fruit can be used instead of a mixture of ripe and unripe fruit; 2)cooking time is shorter and set, so there is no question when the product is done; and 3) the yield from a given amount of fruit is greater. However, the additional sugar required when using commercial pectin may mask the natural fruit flavor."


Here is a link that might be useful: Ohio Extension Fact Sheet

    Bookmark   August 16, 2006 at 12:37AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Hence my preference to Pomona pectin, with no added sugar..

    Bookmark   August 16, 2006 at 12:40AM
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Hi, I just had this same problem with overcooked fig preserves. Now I didn't read every single post above so this may have already been said, but here's what I did and it seems to have worked PERFECTLY! My preserves were also overcooked and extremely thick and rubbery but the flavor was perfect. So I emptied every jar back into my boiler and added about 1/2 to 1 cup of water and heated the mixture over low to medium heat. That loosened up the original preserves nicely and thinned down the consistency. I don't know exactly how much water I added as it was kind a "feel" thing, until it was not really soupy but much much thinner. Then I brought the mixture to a good boil again for about 3-5 minutes and simply recanned them in clean sterilized jars. I inverted them to cool and they all seem to have sealed nicely. I did not let boil too long as they were already cooked properly and I just needed to get them to a good boil for the canning. I left a small amount out and have tested the consistency and it is near perfect and I am sooooo relieved! We love figs and I was just gonna be sick if I lost all those little jewels! Maybe it'll work on your jam!

    Bookmark   July 22, 2008 at 11:05AM
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remontant(z6B TN)

This was also the first time I tried a pectin-free batch. I'm not an expert canner, but I've been canning berries successfully with pectin for several years. This was the first time I tried it using the (infamous) Ball Blue Book recipe for mixed berry jam, and the instructions in the book for determining set by it "sheeting" off a cool spoon. Anyway, ended up with overcooked junk just this side of fruit leather.
So I warmed up the jars and dumped them back in a pot with about one cup of blueberry juice, warmed gently, and am re-processing now. A sample batch that didn't quite fill a jar seems to be a good consistency now; I suppose tomorrow will be the real proof. I'm glad that at least there's some hope for "fixing" it because 1) it tasted good before I reduced it too far and 2) it's an expensive batch! ;-)

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 12:38PM
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Will these correction methods be worth trying on failed jam made with commercial pectin?

    Bookmark   December 20, 2010 at 10:13PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

If you mean such options as stirring in a tablespoon of warm water to thin over-thick jam, then yes, it doesn't matter if it's a commercial pectin jam or the traditional no-added-pectin kind.

Do you have something else in mind you're wondering about?


    Bookmark   December 20, 2010 at 11:23PM
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I found this page after falling asleep and allowing a 3 Kilo (about 6.6 lbs) batch of .jam to continue simmering for nearly three hours. I awoke to an a kind of burned-jam smell.

The first reaction was to discard the batch and forget it, but after reading this, I added the lost volume in water and stirred well whilst still cooking for a few minutes then poured into pre-used large jars (up to 3 lbs per jar) and will decide later whether it is worth keeping.

There is some horribly thick toffee-like stuff on the bottom of the pan that I will discard because there really is no use for it, but at least the pan itself wasn't damaged damaged, just my pride in this being the first full sized (non-experimental) batch to be discarded in over 30 years of making jam.

Although stored in a miscellany of old jars, I'm not sure it will be used as there will always be that taint to it and it won't be saleable.

I have a couple of questions, which I think may be due to the language divide between us and you in the U.S. of A.

First, the word canning". That, to me, would indicate that you're putting the jam in what we would call tins or tin cans. We don't use tins for jam, we use glass jars. Do you use "canning" to mean what we would call "bottling"?

Secondly, I was surprised about the queries concerning pectin and thermometers.

I bought a thermometer and tried to follow recipe but it really didn't help at all. It really didn't tell me anything I didn't know already and I had abandoned it before the end of a single batch - one just knows when it is boiling and when it is simmering (keep it just bubbling slightly). The trouble is, if you rely on equipment such as thermometers, you can't allow for variations such as one batch having more larger, sweeter, more juicy fruit and - well, just the feeling that it is ready and right.

My recipe is to use equal weight of plain beet sugar to fruit (don't use cane sugar because of anyone with a grass allergy) then add one large apple, peeled and stewed in water only, juice of one lemon and juice of one lime per kilo (2.2 pounds) of fruit (Lime improves the flavour). Bring to the boil and allow to boil fast for a while - about five minutes or perhaps a bit more - then reduce heat and allow to simmer.

The apple and citrus provide added pectin and avoid criticism from buyers because one doesn't need to include pectin on the ingredients list.

Someone queried the spoon test - well, that's quite easy too - take a dessert spoon, preferably one of the thick old-fashioned ones which will hold its coolness and drip a few drops onto it then put it on one side and forget it while you make another cup of coffee. Then look at it and tip it a bit. If the jam just runs around the spoon like a fluid, then it is not ready, but if it holds together, or has surface wrinkling as you tip it, then it has become jellified and is ready.

Don't forget to remove the light pink coloured "scum" on the top before bottling.

I use 12 oz jars and get 16 jars per 3 Kilos when making blackberry jam (whole fruit) but only get 12 jars per 3 kilos of fruit when making bramble jelly (smooth, without the seeds and bits).

Thank you, everybody here, for the comments and one would hope that this has helped someone else. too.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 10:31PM
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>Do you use "canning" to mean what we would call "bottling"?

Yes :). Long, long ago, cans were an option, but I have never seen them for sale for home use and I have been 'canning' since the 70s. Nevertheless, the name stuck.

This whole thread takes me back! I remember puzzling over that illustration in the old BBB and trying to make my jam match it, when I was a young teenager :).

I find just taking a sample -- on a plate or a spoon or whatever -- at letting it cool a bit works fine for me. I am not very picky, though.

I never did figure out what that old line drawing was trying to show, but my jam is of satisfactory thickness ;).

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 1:00AM
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Thank you Nila for confirming the meaning of canning. I wonder whether, in particular, you are more referring to re-usable jars such as Kilner that very few seem to use any more.

I couldn't work out what BBB is and haven't seen the cartoon.

I did learn recently that one should not shake the jars too much in the first 24 hours because this will "break the bonds" and it will have the effect of leaving it permanently slightly liquefied.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 6:06AM
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BBB = Ball Blue Book

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 9:36AM
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