Jelly didn't set

Yesterday, I made hot pepper jelly. The recipe called for 1.5 pounds red bell pepper, 12 ounces red jalapeños, seeded, 3 3/4 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar, and 9 tablespoons liquid pectin. When the jelly was almost done, I added the pectin, boiled it hard for one minute, as instructed, and put it in jars. I used a water bath method. All jars sealed, but the jelly turned out very thin--like a syrup. Almost as if I'd added no pectin at all. Any ideas as to why this happened?



SeaJambon October 24, 2012
@ R. Corl - I'm sorry to disagree, but it is ALL about the acid level of the product. As a Master Food Preserver (thank you for questioning my credentials; I assure you they are real), I would NEVER suggest adding a bit more sugar or salt and then calling it "good enough" and shelf stable. The key to shelf stable is to follow tested recipes that are specifically and properly tested for (wait for it): their ACID level. Most fruit is naturally high acid, so add some sugar, make a syrup or jam/jelly, water bath 10 minutes, and you're good to go. Low acid vegetables (like zuchinni, peppers and pine nuts -- don't trust me; check out where they rank on the pH scale for yourself -- and remember, 7 is neutral and the lower the number the higher the acid and 4.6 or lower is the magic number) need lots of acid added (generally, through vinegar) to become shelf stable -- and/or need to be heated to a super hot level (that's what pressure canning does) for sometimes quite an extended period of time to become shelf stable. Again, don't trust me, go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation's site, for more information. And it isn't just the particular foods put together, but also their relative quantities and denseness that will be tested to ensure they have a sufficiently high acid pH level to be safe (or that the pH + pressure canning temp/poundage/time are sufficient)

And, FWIW, the high acid content (with or without sugar or salt) doesn't prevent spoilage, it prevents botulism. The hot water bath and sealing prevent spoilage. That's why the jam is fine until opened, but will spoil after opening. And that's also why low acid is a problem -- there's nothing to prevent against botulism -- an odorless, tasteless and very deadly killer. But again, don't take my word for it --do some homework.

So, not only no, but big fat NO to "surely a preserve of zuchini, peppers and pine nuts with a high enough sugar content and properly water bathed would be a shelf stable product" -- unless you are following a tested recipe and my concern was that there did not appear to be a tested recipe being offered.

For your own sake and the sake of those you might gift some of your home canned treasures to, please, please, please -- take a class, buy some books, do it right. I cannot in good conscience
R. C. October 23, 2012
SeaJambon, as a master food preserver, you should know that there are ways to preserve other than acid, or high heat from pressure canning. High sugar content and high salt content will also preserve a food. Jellys, jams and preserves, as well as syrups and honey, rely on the sugar content to prevent spoilage. Brined meats, pickles, olives and others rely on high salt content to prevent spoilage. Surely a preserve of zucchini, peppers and pine nuts with a high enough sugar content, and properly water bathed, would be a shelf stable product.
SeaJambon August 26, 2012
As a Master Food Preserver, the concept of a recipe for "Zucchini with pepper and spices" jam that also includes pine nuts causes all sorts of alarm bells to go off!!! Unlike a more traditional fruit jam, a zuchini and pepper concoction that also includes pine nuts, sounds like it is way low acid. For safe preserving, that will mean much more than a simple water bath, but into the realm of pressure canning. Yep, there is a definite loud "whoop, whoop" of alarm bells going off... [alarm bells immediately shut down if the intent is to always store the "jam" in the fridge or freezer ... alarm bells reactivated at high volume if the hope is for a shelf stable product -- even a cool cellar shelf]
Diana B. August 25, 2012
Yes, recipes like the one that includes honey, cardamom, and pine nuts are exactly why I love this book! Most canning books have basic (read: boring) recipes, but why compete with Smucker's for plain-wrap strawberry jam? If you're going to spend all that time peeling, roasting, simmering, bottling and processing things, why not make something out of the ordinary? I love Kevin West's "Saving the Season" blog's recipes for the same reason I love Mes Confitures, and unlike Mes Confitures you know the canning methods are safe as he's a Master Food Preserver. I can't wait until his canning cookbook comes out next year. Find his blog here: and get ready for recipes that contain gruner veltliner, wild fennel seed, smoked Pimenton, honey, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, etc.
mainecook61 August 25, 2012
I love Mes Confitures too, but you have to be adaptable, since there is nothing there about proper canning methods, etc. It is an idea book. Twice this summer a food writer for the New York Times has published an adaptation of a Ferber recipe. I've made them both. The strawberry rhubarb was the best version I've ever made (it uses the macerate-strain process that Diana B mentions) and the chocolate raspberry almond spread (published 8/15/12)----well, it leaves Nutella in the dust. Ferber does not have a recipe for red pepper jelly, but while looking I stumbled across a recipe for a jam of "Zucchini with peppers and spices." It includes honey, cardamom, and pine nuts. You won't find that in the Ball Canning Book!
Diana B. August 24, 2012
I don't know about mainecook, but I love Mes Confitures. That said, I don't cook from it a lot because I'm too lazy to make my own pectin and much of what I make either has enough pectin to set or I just cook it long enough to get the consistency I want. I think all canners are indebted to her method of macerating the fruit overnight and then straining off the fruit before cooking the juices to the set point. The fresh fruit flavor is really maintained with that method, in a way traditional canning methods cannot.
petitbleu August 24, 2012
That sounds amazing. I take it you recommend Mes Confitures? I can never find quinces here. Only membrillo paste in the cheese department of our grocery store. I can, however, get my hands on lots of apples.
mainecook61 August 24, 2012
Christine Ferber in Mes Confitures also uses the apple pectin method. She makes an actual jelly she calls Green Apple Jelly and uses it as part of her recipes for low-pectin fruit jellies and jams. I tried this (had some of last year's crabapple jelly) with a black cherry and port preserve in her book and---oh my, so delicious. Now when my quince grows up----that will be super pectin.
Diana B. August 24, 2012
Homemade apple pectin is just that - homemade from apples. There are recipes around on the internet and in some of the more recent canning books. Pomona's is a brand of pectin, available at Whole Foods and by mail, that uses a different method for getting your jams and jellies to set up and allows you to use far less sugar than most pectin-based recipes. It also allows you to determine how much to add relative to the volume of fruit you have, rather than dictating a specific amount of fruit for a whole package of powdered or liquid pectin. They have a useful website here:
petitbleu August 24, 2012
I ended up pouring the jelly back into the pot and boiling it down some more (out of pectin and we live too far from a grocery store to make it worth the trip), and it did set up better when I re-canned it. I love the homemade apple pectin idea--is that what Pomona's Pectin is? Just a concentrated apple pectin?
In either case, adding more pectin seemed absurd, as using 9 tablespoons of the stuff for three half-pint jars worth of jelly stretches my idea of practical. But I guess jelly isn't all that practical to begin with.
Thanks, all!
Shuna L. August 23, 2012
Pectin is a natural occurring protein in fruits. Some fruits have loads, others have none. Pectin, liquid or powdered, comes in different strengths and can produce wildly varying results. Never take it personally.

Pectin's activator is heat (a particular temperature, held for a certain amount of time), sugar and acid. In my experience 1 minute of boiling would never be enough to set with pectin, unless the fruit at hand was very high to begin with, which peppers are not.

Diana B's idea of re-cooking with more pectin is a great idea.
HalfPint August 23, 2012
Shuna, you would not believe how many recipes I've seen that call for only 1 minute of boiling.
SeaJambon August 26, 2012
The "Sure-Jel" and "Certo" line of pectins require "exactly one minute" of a rolling boil after the pectin is added. Other brands may specify something different.

I totally agree that it will take much longer than one minute if you are relying on the fruit's own pectin to jell your product.
mainecook61 August 23, 2012
Do you have some sour apples? Quinces? Simmered in water (2 cups of water per pound of fruit) and strained, they will produce a pectin-rich juice (no sugar needed). A cup or two of this should do the trick, without affecting flavor.. Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves is an excellent resource for making these things without commercial pectin. She has a recipe for red pepper jelly, as well. Her proportions are 1/4 pound hot red peppers, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 3/4 cups homemade apple pectin, 1/3 cup vinegar, and 2 3/4 cups sugar. A thermometer is also useful if you are not a pro with the sheeting test; your syrup should gel at 8 degrees above boiling, around 220. Hope this helps.
Diana B. August 23, 2012
It's a lot of work, but you may be able to salvage the batch by putting all the jelly back in the pan, adding more sugar, and using more pectin. Might not be worth the trouble, however.
petitbleu August 23, 2012
Thanks, HalfPint. I was wondering about that. I've never made jelly before, being more of a preserves/marmalade person myself, so I had no idea that this wasn't enough pectin.
HalfPint August 23, 2012
It's really shocking how much sugar goes into a batch of pepper jelly. I treat jams/jellies the same way that I treat baked goods - don't deviate from the recipe, it's written like that for a reason.
HalfPint August 23, 2012
Hit reply too soon. I wanted to add that the recipe sounds off, so it may not be user error.
HalfPint August 23, 2012
Does not sound like there is enough sugar and pectin for that amount of peppers. Most of the recipes that I've seen has almost double the amount of sugar and about twice more pectin.
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