How to Fix Runny Jelly or Jam – Set Failure

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When you make a batch of jelly and it doesn’t set up – all is not lost. Yes, you can fix runny jelly!

When you make a batch of jelly and it doesn't set up - all is not lost. Yes, you can fix runny jelly!

We have all been there. You go through the process of making a batch of jelly (or jam), and the jars all give you the “tink!” of success. The next day you go to put away all of your wonderful jelly and as you pick up the first jar… your heart sinks.

Instead of a thick jelly, you have syrup. This is called “Set Failure.” Your jelly or jam failed to set up.

What Causes Set Failure in Jelly?

There are a number of things that can cause this. The usual culprits are improper boiling time – a hard boil is required for about one minute is needed to cause the pectin to gel. A hard boil is where it is boiling so hard that stirring does not make it go down.

Another factor could be an imbalance in the fruit, pectin or sugar. Precise measuring is extremely important when making jelly.

Finally, never do a double batch of jelly or jam. The volume of jelly being made is too much and you will not get even heating with the pectin. Just do a single batch and do it twice.

If your jelly fails, your just going to end up doing it over anyways, so save yourself the trouble and added work.

How to Fix Runny Jelly

Set failure is not a failure of the entire batch of jelly. You do have a few options. First, you could just use it as is, and call it “syrup.” I’ve done that myself in the past. A fruit syrup is fantastic on desserts, pancakes and all the things you would use syrup on.

But if your goal is to definitely have jelly, you can try and save it. This is more work of course, but is worth it in the end.

When you make a batch of jelly and it doesn't set up - all is not lost. Yes, you can fix runny jelly!

What You Need:

  • the unset jelly
  • fresh lids
  • canning supplies
  • pectin (no/low sugar needed variety)
  • lemon juice (bottled, not fresh)
  • sugar
  • water

First, you’ll make note of how many jars/quantity of the jelly you are working with. You should never try and work with more than 4-6 cups at a time.

You’ll measure out your ingredients before getting started.

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For every quart of jelly/jam (4 cups) you will need:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 Tb bottled lemon juice
  • 4 tsp powdered no/low sugar pectin

Open all of the jars and pour the un-set jelly into a large pot. Wash the jars and prepare them for canning. You’ll need a fresh set of lids as well.

Combine the un-set jelly with the appropriate amount of sugar, pectin, water and lemon juice in a large pot.

Bring this to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. When comes to a hard boil – meaning it starts to foam, expand, and you can not stir to make it stop – time it for one minute.

Test your jelly with a cold spoon to see if it has thickened up properly. If it has, continue with the next steps. (If it has not, you can add about 2 more tablespoons of pectin and do the hard boil for a minute again.)

Remove the jelly from the heat, and quickly skim the foam off of the top.

Fill your prepared jars leaving 1/4-inch head-space. Adjust your new lids and re-process the jelly in your hot water bath canner.

Re-Processing Time by Altitude:

Jars0 – 1,000 ft1,001 – 6,000 ftAbove 6,000 ft
half-pint or pint5 minutes10 minutes15 minutes

Allow your jelly to cool undisturbed for 24 hours before you remove the rings and store them – just as you would for all of your canning sessions.

Note – some jellies and jams take up to 48 hours to fully set-up.

Going through this process to save your jelly isn’t always successful, however it usually is, and is the best chance you have of saving the jelly after set failure.

You can find all of my jelly and jam recipes here.

When you make a batch of jelly and it doesn't set up - all is not lost. Yes, you can fix runny jelly!

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