Why Your Small Batch Jam Might Be Runny and How to Fix it

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I am really starting to appreciate small batch jam making. We are just too busy lately for me to be able to devote an entire day to jam making and canning, and honestly, while it is nice to have a large supply of jams and jellies on hand I really don’t need 10 jars of one variety.

Even when working in smaller quantities it is possible to run into complications, the most common issue that seems to arise when making jams without the addition of pectin seems to be the set, and usually to soft of a set or a runny jam.

Recently someone commented wondering why their Blackberry Jam was runny, and I would love to provide an answer to help you out, but without being right there with you while you are making the jam, I can only say it was probably one of the following reasons:

  • There could be an imbalance of sugar, juice or fruit, acid, and pectin. Make sure to follow instructions very carefully for soft spreads with no added pectin.
  • The batch is too large. Never make a double batch and use no more than 4-6 cups of juice or fruit in each batch.
  • The fruit was too ripe. Just-ripe fruit contains the highest pectin levels. When the fruit ripens further, its pectin content decreases. Select fruit that is fully ripe but not over-ripe. Using some slightly under-ripe (but not green) fruit will help to provide natural pectin and aid with gelling. I have seen signs at farm markets or seller’s market dead ripe berries as “jam berries”  selling a large quantity of overripe mushy fruit at a discounted price, avoid these “deals” if you plan of on making a small batch of jam without additional pectin.
  • It was not boiled to the correct temperature. For the most accurate results use a candy thermometer and cook the jam to 220F.

You may even do everything right and there’s still a chance that you’ll wind up with a poor set.  For times like this, you can either attempt to fix it, or easier still you can change your perspective, and rename your jam. If the jam is on the softer side, call it preserves, if it is runny call it syrup.  My husband loves berry syrup on his ice cream and yogurt so nothing gets wasted here 😀

But if you are determined for a more defined set, you can try one of these fixes for runny jam:

  • Wait 24 hours some jams take longer to cool completely and gel than you’d expect. Let the jars sit at room temperature overnight or refrigerate a single jar if you’re unsure about the thickness, and check the jam in the morning. You might find a lot has changed once it is completely cool.
  • Cook it again Cooking jam without pectin requires practice and patience. A runny batch will just happen occasionally. If, after waiting, you find the jam is still too loose for your liking, empty the jars back into a wide pot and cook again. You can simply reduce the jam to your liking,  or you can also add a small amount of commercial pectin to help the process.
  • Add commercial pectin This will only work on small batch jams that were originally made without pectin. But adding pectin to a loose batch of jam while re-cooking it almost always guarantees that the jam with set back up nicely. Start with a tablespoon of powdered pectin (my go-to for small batch jam fixes is the low to no-sugar-needed variety) into the pot of cooking jam. Test for thickness, using the plate or back of the spoon method, and add another tablespoon if needed.

I hope this helps!

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