Canning: When Your Jelly Doesn’t Jell

I made some lovely grape jelly yesterday.  It was gorgeous in color and flavor, and it looked like it was going to yield an amazing 10 half pints.  So I watched it carefully, and at the very moment when it looked like it was sheeting, I shut off the heat and canned it. And I got 10 lovely half pints of grape cordial.

There are several things you can do when your jelly doesn’t jell:

1) Keep it as a cordial or syrup.  Pour it on your pancakes or waffles, stir the syrup into your yogurt or add it to seltzer water for a natural soda alternative.

2) Be patient.  Wait to see if it jells in a few weeks.  Some do, and some don’t need a little extra time to jell.  Both the crabapple and elderberry jelly I’ve made recently have continued to firm up over the last few weeks.  And there’s always the fridge to help your jelly hold it’s shape once the jar is opened.  When serving it, be sure to serve it chilled for maximum jelliness.

3) Rebatch it. I knew my grape jelly wasn’t going to firm up on its own, and I wanted jelly, not cordial this time.  So I poured it out of the jars, and reheated it.  This time, I made sure the signs of sheeting were obvious, and this time I know it’s going to jell.

Sometimes, you need to add more sugar.  Sometimes you need to add commercial pectin.  Read the directions for your brand of pectin. Pomona Universal Pectin has specific directions, and you probably don’t need to add any more sugar if you use the Pomona.

4) Take some notes.  You don’t have to get out a paper and pencil, but try to determine what went wrong.  I know I rushed the grape jelly, and that I tried to make it low sugar without adding extra commercial pectin.  This was an exploratory batch.  I know that “greener” grapes have more pectin, so I upped the natural pectin in my batch by including mostly the reddish-brownish-purplish grapes (these are similar to concords in tartness and seediness, but definitely not the same grape as concords, but maybe they are muscadine? I don’t have a clue . . .) and added some of the greener grapes.  Then, knowing I had more natural pectin, I decreased the sugar. It was a gamble, and initially it didn’t pay off.

Be careful of overdoing it — jelly can be tender!  Be careful of overcooking because you will get an overcooked flavor.  Then wait and see.  I bet no matter what form your jelly ends up in, it will be gone before you know it!

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2 comments to Canning: When Your Jelly Doesn’t Jell

  • Debbie

    I made cranberry apple cider jelly. It didn’t set up,so I cooked it again with more pectin. Still didn’t set up. Any ideas.

  • elizabeth

    Jelling depends on several things — how much pectin your fruit has in them already (not too ripe, not frozen) — how much sugar is in your recipe, and the type of pectin or jelling agent you use. Sometimes even cooking it too long will make it soupy. That said, sometimes gelling happens after a couple weeks. When my jam doesn’t jell (it usually does, but everyone has those batches that don’t do what you expect them to) then I use it for syrup or sauce. I don’t really like the idea of recooking and using more pectin. It’s really hard for me to tell what happened with your recipe, but I think the place to start is to look at the quality of your fruit and then to make sure you cooked it long enough, and used the right amount of pectin for the amount of your ingredients. Often to save a batch, you can add a packet of liquid pectin, but then you should follow the directions with the product. Hope your next one turns out perfectly!

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