Uh oh! Jelly help please.

intensity_tooSeptember 16, 2006

Hi everyone. I'm new here and to canning in general.

My neighbor has concord grape vines and graciously let me harvest them. I made jelly last night but I don't think it set :( It's been sitting in the jars for about 10 hours and is very runny . . . like a syrup. I used the sure-jell for lower sugar recipes. I made one batch last weekend that set fine. What do I do??

Should I remake it according to the directions in the sure-jell box for unset jelly? Do I wait longer to see if it sets? And if I do remake it what will that do to the flavor of the jelly?

Thanks for all your help.


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I'm not sure I have an answer for your question, sadly, I was just getting ready to post almost the exact same question on the web that you did. I made peach pit jelly last night and althought I have great syrup now--I really wanted jelly. So maybe someone can help both of us with our questions. I've been trying to decide if I should open all of the bottles and just boil it all longer or do I need to add more pectin.

Here is the web address to the full instructions of remaking the jams and jellys.

But I am concerned because for the brand of pectin I used it says to dissolve the pectin in 3/4 water and then add this mixture to the product being re-made. Would that dilute the flavor in an unfavorable way?

Have you ever re-made jelly or jam? I haven't and am very nervous.


    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 11:21AM
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Sometimes I have the same problem. Did you use pure cane sugar? If not, the jelly won't set right. Found that out through trial and error. How was the ripeness of the fruit? Sometimes that affects the natural pectin and won't allow for setting either. And lastly, did you follow the directions on the surejell package exactly? Even a small change can affecct the setting up. Hope this helps you.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 12:47PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Definitely you can re-make the jelly, though first I would wait longer to see if it sets. It can take up to 6 weeks for a jam or jelly to set and there's no essential difference between re-cooking now or later as long as the jars are well-sealed.

The risks of re-cooking are 1) a gummy texture due to the additional pectin 2) a caramelized taste if the jam or jelly ends up overcooked.

It is a tradeoff. I tend not to re-cook, just use the jam or jelly in its present form. However, if you've done a big batch then obviously you may not have that much use for syrup.

One other possibility - did you double the recipe? Jam and jelly recipes shouldn't be doubled. The setting depends on evaporating out enough water that the mixture reaches the jell point (with or without the assistance of commercial pectin) and larger batches are more prone to failure because by the time you've cooked it enough to set it generally has lost its fresh taste.

I hope this helps. Don't give up. There is a learning curve but it's very rewarding once you figure things out.


    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 1:07PM
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I did indeed follow the directions exactly as the surejell box stated. I had made a batch last weekend that set up fine.

I made only as much as the recipe indicated. I did make two batches last night and it seems neither has set.

I did use pure cane sugar. The grapes were ripe.

So, I guess I'll wait and see. I have 17 half pints of this jelly so it wouldn't be a disaster to recook it.

Thanks so much!


    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 1:17PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Sounds as if you did everything right. Now it's just a matter of waiting, as you said.

The reason the previous poster asked if the grapes were ripe is that as fruit ripens, the pectin level goes down. In traditional (no-commercial-pectin) jams and jellies it's routine to use 1/4 underripe fruit to increase the odds of jelling.

So it's hypothetically possible that the later batch didn't jell (or isn't jelling as quickly) because the fruit was riper. Ironically, there have been several previous threads in which posters complained about setting problems with commercial pectin.

You'd think it would be the other way around, but with or without pectin, jams and jellies are just darned unpredictable.

If you do eventually re-cook, you might consider adding a little fresh lemon juice. It can enhance the flavor and "freshen" the taste and the acid can assist in jelling.


    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 4:08PM
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Thanks Carol.

The grapes that we picked for this weekend would have been on the vine a week longer than the previous ones I used for jelly. While they were not over ripe they were certainly riper than the bunch before. So, the ripeness of the fruit makes sense. Now, is there anything I can do to correct the issue? Could I use a little more pectin than the recipe calls for? Could I add a little lemon juice to the next couple batches to help them set up?

I'm going to be making more grape jelly tomorrow so I want to be prepared should I need more pectin or lemon juice on hand.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 5:10PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Open and recook it. Sometimes even the low/no sugar pectins can be finicky. Because you used a low amount of sugar, it should cook up ok , if you treat it like it had no pectin added yet. I would also add a little bit of sugar just in case. The other option would be to try making it with the Pomona pectin, as that doesn't rely on sugar of any kind to gel properly.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 5:17PM
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Can you explain the "open and recook it like it had no pectin added yet"? Do I just dump it all back into the pan . . . and how long do I cook it? When do I know when to stop? How much more sugar?

And where do I find Pomona? I've heard about it on here but I have never seen it sold anywhere.

Remember, I'm all new to this. I appreciate this help so much!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 5:26PM
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intensity, there is a very great possibility that you won't find Pomona's Universal Pectin anywhere except on the internet. It's the only way I can get it, no one in this area sells it.

Frankly, I'm confused about the "pure cane sugar" statement. I've been canning for 40 years and I'm in Michigan where the beet sugar is processed. I always use beet sugar and generally do not have problems with jelly.

Frankly, you probably didn't do a darned thing wrong. Sometimes jelly just doesn't jell. (shrug) Commerical pectin can be tricky. For instance, I just gave "lessons" at a 3 day canning camp and we made Habanero Gold as one of the demonstrations. I've made that recipe with liquid pectin for several years, probably 50 or 60 batches, and it has ALWAYS set. ALWAYS. (And yes, I've used beet sugar in every single batch) The batch we made in "class" through, didn't set. Sigh. Sometimes it just happens and I told the participants that it was a good lesson, so when it did happen to them they would know that with 70 collective years of canning experience (My 40 years and the other instructor's 30 years) sometimes the jelly doesn't jell.

It's just one more reason I've mostly gone back to long cooked jams and preserves without commercial pectin. I can also use much less sugar, and I like that too.

In the meantime, you certainly can remake the jelly. Mine usually gets a "gummy bear" consistency that I don't like, but if you can't find a use for grape syrup it's probably better than leaving it.


    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 6:04PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Building on what Annie said, the commercial pectins (I'm not referring to Pomona's, which is a different type.) rely on a particular ratio of sugar to pectin to set. If you add more pectin, you may get a set - or you may not, because the additional pectin may need additional sugar. The problem with that, unless you're using a reduced-sugar pectin is commercial-pectin jams already have a whole lot of sugar, more by weight than any other type.

I know, I know, that's not much help, but it just demonstrates it is a gamble.

What Annie's referring to is you can "pretend" the jam is a traditional type and not add any more pectin than is already there. Instead, cook the jam down to the jelling point. What the jelling point refers to is the temperature required for the mixture to jell. Basically traditional jams need to be about 65% sugar (That includes the natural sugar in the fruit, which means riper fruit needs less sugar to set - I hope that makes sense.) Rapid cooking boils off the water until the magic % is reached.

So if you have a candy thermometer, dump the jelly into a large non-reactive pan, and bring it to a boil. Check carefully and stir often. You don't want it to scorch. 218 degrees is the temperature for syrup. 220, or 8 degrees above boiling (at other than high altitudes) is the jell point. Basically you can cook the jelly to anywhere from 218-221 depending on the firmness of the set you want.

If you don't have a thermometer, you can do a frozen plate test. Put some saucers in the fridge. When it looks like the jelly might be ready, pull it off the burner, plop a drop on one of the cold saucers and put it in the fridge for 3 minutes. Pull it out. If you push your finger against it it should wrinkle. Or pull your finger through the middle. Do the two halves run together? How quickly?

If you don't get a good set at 220-221, it's not going to happen. The canning gods are just not co-operating, LOL.

If you do decide to cook down, I'd recommend, given the number of jars you have, that you divide the batch into thirds because trying to cook that much jam down all at once, it will be overcooked and you'll end up with what Annie calls grape "taffy." It just takes too long to evaporate all the water off and meanwhile, the sugar caramelizes.

Plus a small batch gives you a chance to practice and further develop your jelly-making skills!


    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 6:50PM
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Well I used the instructions of how to re-cook jam off of the Sure Jell website in my earlier message www.kraftfoods.com/surejell. I wish I would have just kept the 8 bottles of syrup. Like Annie said, I have great "gummy bear" peach jelly, ugh!!! and yuck!!! The recipe didn't explain how many bottles I should remix with the new box of pectin, so I guessed and added 8 half-pints and the pectin I had mixed with water--following the instructions. I boiled until I reached the temp on the candy thermometer but the end result is nasty. :( Let me know what you decide to do with your grape jelly--syrup--and what ration you decide to use. I am perplexed. Not that syrup is bad I just wasn't looking for that many bottles of peach syrup. LOL


    Bookmark   September 17, 2006 at 12:42AM
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mellyofthesouth(9a FL)

I made grape jam that includes the grapes that I hand seeded. I cooked it until the thermometer read 225 degrees and it still didn't set. It has been a few weeks and it is still loose. Because it has the grapes in it I think I could call it grape preserves and then the loose set wouldn't be too bad. It is about the thickness of a spoon sweet. The flavor is so good that I'm not about to mess with it. I'll just have to dip my toast in whatever runs off.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2006 at 6:08AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Because it had not set, it is technically still a juice. Pouring it all back into a pot, add the smae amount of pectin you added the first time, and also a small amount of sugar. Just treat it as if it were still a juice and you wanted to make a jelly out of it. Cooking time would be short. If heating it to a boiling can be done, try putting a small spoonful into a saucer, place it in the freezer for a couple of minutes and see if it sets up. If it does, then it just needs to get to that boiling and recanning it. If its still liquid after testing a small amount from the freezer, then you would add the regular amount of pectin again. High acid can hinder the jelly from setting up. This is the main reason citrus based marmalades take about a month to fully set up. Scorching the liquid is the most important thing to avoid, so bring it back up to almost a boiling temp very slowly and stir constantly.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2006 at 10:11AM
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One other helpful hint is to add the sugar in portions and wait a short while between additions to keep the cooking mixture temperature from dropping too low(~145F?). We used to have all sorts of problems following different directions until we just always added the pectin first, bring the mix to a rolling boil and then add the required sugar slowly to keep the mix hotter before boiling for one minute before jarring. Now we make tripple and quadruple batches and all turn out well. But some fruits like grape take longer to set.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2006 at 2:59PM
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It has only happened a few times but- I use my unset jam or jelly as ice cream topping. Or mix it into my oatmeal at breakfast.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2006 at 11:03AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Pomona pectin can be bought directly from the maker, as well as many sites on the internet, and even a few 'all natural' food stores. Not sure if you have ever use the SEARCH engines on the internet, but when you type in 'Pomona Pectin, it will show you the makers web site as well as many other sites that sell the Pomona pectin.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pomona pectin web site

    Bookmark   September 23, 2006 at 4:43PM
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mellyofthesouth(9a FL)

We used a jar of the "grapes in syrup" this morning on oatmeal pancakes instead of syrup. All I have to say is YUM!

    Bookmark   September 24, 2006 at 5:19AM
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