Troubleshooting Tips For Jelly Making

Here’s a handy sheet for troubleshooting problems when making homemade jelly…if a batch doesn’t turn out the way you hoped, you may find the reason why here so you can avoid the problem next time.

JarI’ve also added several vintage tips at the bottom of the page, lots here, enjoy!

  • Why does it get cloudy? One or more of the following may be the cause: Pouring mixture into glasses too slowly. Allowing it to stand before it is poured. Juice was not properly strained and so contained pulp. It set too fast–usually the result of using too-green fruit.
  • Why do crystals form? Crystals throughout may be caused by too much sugar in the mixture, or cooking the mixture too little, too slowly, or too long. Crystals that form at the top of the jar that has been opened and allowed to stand are caused by evaporation of liquid. Crystals in grape varieties may be tartrate crystals.
  • What causes it to be too soft? One or more of the following may be the cause: Too much juice in the mixture. Too little sugar. Mixture not acid enough. Preparing too big a batch at one time.
  • Why is it syrupy? Too little pectin, acid, or sugar. A great excess of sugar can also cause a syrupy result.
  • What causes a weeping result? Too much acid. Storage place was too warm or storage temperature fluctuated.
  • How come it’s too stiff? Too much pectin (fruit was not ripe enough or too much added pectin was used). Overcooking.
  • Why is it tough? Mixture had to be cooked too long to reach jellying stage, a result of too little sugar.
  • Why is it gummy? Overcooking.
  • What causes fermentation? Too little sugar or improper sealing.
  • Why does mold form? Because an imperfect seal has made it possible for mold and air to get into the container.
  • What causes it to darken at the top of the container? Storage in too warm a place. Or a faulty seal that allows air to leak in.
  • What causes fading? Too warm a storage place or too long storage. Red fruits such as strawberries and raspberries are especially likely to fade.

Source: How to Make Preserves at Home, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Timeless Wisdom

Most of these tips come from a vintage booklet published in the 1940’s giving advice to homemakers on a variety of topics, others I’ve snipped from vintage articles. The Timeless Wisdom collection is an occasional feature on Tipnut where we take a look back at the techniques and advice given to homemakers decades ago–many are still quite useful for today!

  • A vegetable brush is just the thing to remove scum from the surface. Try it.
  • If it turns to sugar it can still be salvaged as a delicious syrup for waffles or pancakes by adding 1/2 glass of water to 1 glass of jelly and heating just enough to dissolve.
  • If hard or sugary, leave it in a warm oven until the sugar softens and it will be like new.
  • To Harden: After glasses have been filled and allowed to cool and still it has not hardened, place the glasses in a pan of cold water and set in the oven, allow them to cook until stiff.
  • Strong, dark colored product results from the long cooking.
  • Product made from frozen berries are superior to those made from fresh fruit. The freezing and thawing break down the cells of the fruit and allow the natural colors to dissolve in the juice.
  • It can be made much clearer and more attractive looking by straining the fruit and juice through a flour sifter. It saves a lot of time and effort too.
  • For the clearest of jellies, do not squeeze the bag when extracting the juice. The juice yield will be less, but very clear.
  • It is improved if in place of water, it is made with juice left over from either dried or fresh fruit.
  • To economize on sugar when making jam, let the fruit boil for about 10 minutes before adding sugar. Only about 1/2 of the usual amount of sugar will be needed.
  • If you put a teaspoon of butter in cold juice before you boil jelly you will not have a scum on it.
  • To prevent jam/marmalade from burning: Rub the bottom of preserving pan with a little oil or butter. This prevents burning and keeps the product clear.
  • Too much sugar is the most frequent cause of failure.
  • Juice which does not have a tart taste is not acid enough and needs lemon juice added to it, about 1 tablespoon per cup of juice.
  • Use equal parts of ripe and slightly under-ripe fruit for best flavor.
  • Use hard-ripe fruits when not adding pectin; use fully ripe fruits if using pectin. Apples, currants, crab apples, grapes and sour plums do not need added pectin.
  • For freshness of flavor: Prepare only the quantity that can be used within a few months; they lose flavor in storage.
  • Hang a piece of string over the edges of the glass before pouring in paraffin. It will be easier to remove paraffin when opened for table use. *Paraffin method is no longer advised today due to food safety issues.
  • Jellies can easily be sealed in the glasses by putting small pieces of paraffin in the bottom of the glass and pouring the hot jelly over it. The paraffin melts, rises to the surface and seals the glass perfectly. *This method is no longer recommended for food safety reasons.

Testing With A SpoonTesting: Boil rapidly until the jelly stage is reached. To test, dip a spoon into the boiling mixture and let it run off the side as in the illustration.

When it separates into two distinct drops which run together and then “sheet” off the edge of the spoon, it is finished and should be taken off the flame. Then skim.

A thermometer may also be used. It’s done when the thermometer reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit.

To Test Juice for Pectin:

Test One: Add 1 teaspoon of the cooked juice to 1 teaspoon of alcohol and stir slowly. If the juice contains sufficient pectin, a semi-solid mass will form. Do not taste.

Test Two: Add 2 teaspoons sugar and 1 tablespoon Epsom salts to 2 tablespoons cooked fruit juice; let stand 20 minutes. If a semi-solid mass forms, the juice contains sufficient pectin to make good jelly.

Bonus: You’ll find over 100 recipes here featuring a variety of fruits, peppers and edible flowers.

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    • Barry

    Just made homemade strawberry jam it has not set how do I thicken the jam up.
    Any advice will help.

    • Sara

    I spent a long time shredding the peel, steeping the pulp and making Clementine marmalade. I brought it to a boil and could not get the temperature to 105c ! It was supposed to take 15-20 minutes, it was on for an hour and a half and barely reaches 101C!!I processed, the peel all sank to the bottom, and I now have 16 bottles of runny syrup with chunks in the bottom….can it be saved?

      • Karen

      Dear Sara. There must be a mistake in your recepie, 100°C is the maximum temperature you can get when boiling a watery substance. The reason you got it to 101°C is because of the concentration of sugar as the water evaporated. Use the sirup on pancakes.

    • Heather

    I made red pepper/peach jelly and the extra jelly I poured into the bowl set perfectly, but the jars I processed in the hot water bath did not set. What do I do?

    • Nancy

    When I made cooked strawberry jam it seemed that all the little pieces of strawberry were floating in the top half of each jar, and the bottom half was clear jelly. It set nicely, and sealed nicely…..what did I do wrong?

      • Carolyn Gibson

      I had the same problem. Being a scientifically minded person……I let the jam set up for an hour and turned the jam jar upside down and let it set for a while and then I turned the jar right side up again. During this process the berries began to distribute themseves through out the mixture. (sometimes you have to do this more than once) I know it says “Don’t disturb jar until set up, but if I had’t I would have all my berries at the top and none in the bottom. I know this is a little unorthodox but it works for me. I’ve told others about this method and they said it worked for them too. Good Luck!

        • William f Ruiz

        Hi Ladies, if I may…
        …prior to ladleing (sic?) the jam into the jars let the jam sit for about 5 minutes. this will allow for even fruit distribution. Or the old stand by Carolyn suggested.
        Good Luck

    • katherine

    My friend made raspberry jam and added 9 cups of sugar instead of 7. The jam is
    very hard to spread. What can she do to save the jam?

    • Chuck

    I’ve made several batches of pepper jelly which resulted with many jars containing sugar crystals on the bottom and at the top. Is it possible to extract solid crystal pieces and save the good for future use? The taste has been fantastic. Thanks for any and all advice.

    • tina

    I made peach & strawberry jam. For both batches I used 4 cups of fruit (per batch), 2 cups of water, 2 tbs lemon juice & 3 tbls low sugar pectin & 11/2-2 cups sugar. All of my jars (pints) were filled from 1/4″ from the top to 1″ due to lack of preserves & all sealed so well it is quite difficult to remove the lid but unfortunately some of the jars are molding. I made 3 other kinds the same way & they aren’t molding…except for the fact that the strawberrys & peachs were overripe eventhough I cut all of the bad parts of the fruit off. Is it possible that the overripe fruit had mold spores on it & now its tainting my jams?

    • sherry

    we made jalapeno jelly, and it didnt jell. can it be re-cooked with adding more pectin?..

    • erica

    I made some bottled juice jelly today, and my pectin seperated from the juice when i went to can it. Has anyone else had this kind of problem, and how can I fix it?

      • Eric

      Oddly I had the same problem. We made juice jelly from fruit that prickly pear cactus tunas that my girls gathered. We made 5 cups and it all seperated. I’d like to save it thus reducing the likelihood of loud unhappiness. Is this possible?

    • Mistral

    One of my first attempts to make jam was using blackberries. I foolishly decided not to seed the blackberries first and now have some wonderful but way too seedy jam.

    Any ideas how I can save this? I’m thinking I may need to press it through a sieve and see if that would reduce the number of seeds, but before I try it I hope to receive some experienced advice.

    Thanks in advance!!

    • Heather

    I tried to make blackberry jelly for the first time ever and it is syrupy. Can I dump it back in the pot and and more surejel to it?

    • Cheryl

    Earlier in the year I made my Seville marmalade. It tastes superb, but I have noticed that in the jars still sealed in storage the marmalade seems to have shrunk a little, and there is a layer of syrup between marmalade and jar. Can anyone tell me where I went wrong?

    • Diane

    we made grape jelly and before boiling the juice it tastes burnt even though we stirred it constantly. Is there anything we can try to take that taste away?

    • Brenda

    I made some strawberry jam with beautiful red ripe (not mushy) berries with chia, and honey. NO FLAVOR!! Needless to say I am very disappointed. It looks beautiful…no flavor. What can I do??

    • Ohil

    We made some muscadine jelly last fall and after opening and storing in the refrigerator the sugar crystallizes. Is there anything we can do to stop this from happening with the other jars?

    • Crystal

    Made mulberry jam lhat turned out stringy almost like taffy. I think I overcooked it because the recipe didnt have water or lemon juice in it. It just didn’t mix up like normal so I was trying to save it and I think I overcooked it. Is it fixable?

    • Sarah

    I am making tangerine marmalade. I used 8 small tangerines and 2 lemons. After I prepared the fruit according to directions, I ended up with 3.75 cups of fruit rather than 4. What do I do now?

    • faye

    I made a batch of this jam today not jelly I added a package of orange jello powder 57g size the sugar type the jam is very water like beautiful color but it won’t set any idea what can be done with it besides throwing it in the trash can sounds harsh but I am so disappointed I make jams and jellies without any trouble

    • khi

    My apple jelly did not set up. It’s like thick syrup. I put the jars in cold water and am cooking them in the oven… recommended above. I did not take off the lids…….is that a mistake (I don’t want them exploding in my oven). Yikes. I just want some good jelly……they look pretty….but

    • Jeanie

    In the middle of making peach jam (had added section and sugar to my peaches already and had boiled the mixture for about a minute ) I got an emergency phone call and had to leave. I tossed the jam in to the fridge, not knowing what I should do but couldn’t wait to can the jam. I fully expected to be right back but this emergency took all night. When I returned home I got the jam out if the fridge and to my surprise the jam had set up and it tasted wonderful.. My question is this…. How should I can it now that it has set up? if I get it hot again to pour it in jars will it not ruin the jam? Do I scoop out the lovely jam and just put it in jars and maybe seal with parafin? Put it in plastic freezer containers and pretend that its freezer jam? ( hahaha)
    At any rate I need some wisdom and I need it fast!
    Any advise will be greatly appreciated.
    Thank yiu

    • Irene Renaud

    I am making jalapeno pepper jelly. After processing and draining liquid, it is cloudy. is there any way to clear it.

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