Making jam with no added pectin

Today we made homemade blueberry jam and did NOT use little boxes of Sure-gel. I’ve made plum jam without added pectin, but this was a first for blueberry jam. It all happened because I got caught out in not reading directions first. I just blithely dumped in crushed blueberries and sugar and turned on the stove. Then I read the little instruction sheet in the Sure-gel box. Shoot. I wasn’t supposed to add the sugar until after the fruit and Sure-gel had done the rolling boil thing. So I switched gears.

It was time to do an experiment and try blueberry jam the old fashioned way. Here’s what I found:

No-pectin-added blueberry jam

Start with a really heavy, large stock pot. The heavier the pot is, the less likely you are to burn the jam. Remember that jam is mostly sugar and sugar burns easily. Crush your blueberries and add equal parts berries and sugar. I chose to cook up six cups of blueberries and six cups of sugar.

I brought it to a boil and then stirred it frequently, although not constantly. It takes too long to cook to be able to stir it constantly! I tried to keep the hot bubbly mixture cooking at a temperature that kept it boiling but not burning. It cooked the berries and sugar for at least 45 minutes, maybe a little more.

As the mixture cooks, you can see it starting to thicken, especially around the edges. There are a number of ways to tell how long to cook it.

Some websites recommend checking the temperature. Because I’m at sea level, I needed to get the jam up to 220°. (You can drop that temperature 2° for every thousand feet up to 4000, then 1° for the increment between 4000 and 5000 and an additional 2° for each thousand feet thereafter.)

A second way you can test if it’s cooked long enough is to put a dab on a cold saucer and put it in the fridge to see if it gels up right away. That doesn’t seem to work for me though.

The third way, and the way that I prefer to use, is by taking a metal spoon, sticking it into the jam and lifting a spoonful about ten inches above the pan. Tilt the spoon and watch how it runs off. When it sheets off the spoon (when two drops form and run together) then it’s done. (I also checked the temperature and it was right at the right place.)

Then I poured the hot jam mixture into the sterilized jars and put on the lids and rings (also sterilized.) I turned them upside down immediately for fifteen minutes and set them on a towel to cool. After fifteen minutes, I turned them back right side up. Within a few hours, all the lids gave that musical little pop as they sealed.

Two interesting things about no-added-pectin jam that I found. First, there was no foam to skim off the top before pouring into jars. Second, there was a very slight taste difference. I can taste that added-pectin contributes its own slight bouquet to jam.

And hey, I saved buying that extra box of Sure-gel!


For another recipe for no-pectin-added berry jam, see this post.

57 thoughts on “Making jam with no added pectin

  1. Very interesting….I made blueberry jam this year and some of the jars are more like syrup and I hate not knowing why it happened. Last years stuff was brilliant.

    C’est la vie….instead of spreading it on toast, we just pour it

    • Hi cooknkate, instead of using the syrup like consistancy on toast use it on pancakes and waffles. I too, years ago made some elderberry jam and did not cook it long enough and it was like syrup. So we ate it on waffles and pancakes. It was great. Kept us from buying syrup for a while. Or you can also reheat yours to the right thickened consistancy.

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  4. Hi. Liquid pectin is another option–it calls for the fruit and sugar to be boiled together first, then add the pectin and hard boil for a minute then it’s set. Also, if you want to reduce the foaming a little bit, you can add about 1/2 teaspoon of unsalted butter. (I got both of these tips from Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda Amendt.) No pectin jam is good but sometimes checking for the set point is a little stressful.

  5. Hi, Libby,

    You’re right about it being a little stressful about getting the set point right. The other thing that I’ve observed this year is that no-added-pectin jam tends to degrade faster in the fridge once it’s been opened. The sugar in the jam tends to crystallize and the texture gets bad. This isn’t a problem if there are lots of people eating the jam rather quickly. If, on the other hand, a jar of jam might sit around the fridge for two months, the no-added-pectin kind might well get yucky.


  6. I forgot to add the sugar slowly and just dumped it in all at once. I brought it to a boil and boiled for longer than 1 minute. The peach preserves did not gel. Can I do anything to save my preserves?

  7. Heather,
    Did they at least thicken up a little? My peaches didn’t form solidly gel’d jam this year either, and that may be due to a higher sugar content and lower acid. If you want to try again, it won’t hurt. What I would do is dump all the peach mix back into a big pot, then add a TBSP or 2 of lemon juice, and maybe a bit more sugar (optional). Bring it back to a boil, let it boil for one minute, and then put it in jars as per usual.

    See if that helps. If it doesn’t, then you have either very liquid jam, or a nice peach syrup for pancakes. 😀


  8. Interesting idea, but in my experience the real secret to the best jam, i.e. with the most fresh fruit flavor, is to minimize cooking time, and sugar – i.e. violate the two rules the cookbooks proclaim inviolable…; I suspect that your “slight flavor diff” has more to do with overcooking the bejeezus out of your poor little blueberries than with any “aroma” added by the pectin per se –

    Now the degree to which one can reduce sugar/cooking time and still get a good set seems to vary fruit by fruit, and is best determined experimentally, but I’ve found equal parts sugar/fruit and a full minute at a rolling boil is a good place to start (bombproof for raspberries, borderline for other berries, in general a bit too short for peaches), and always provides adequate sterilization for the cold-pack method, which is the only one I ever use –

  9. I just made no-pectin blueberry jam using the following recipe:

    I brought 9 cups of crushed, fresh blueberries to a boil. I slowly added the sugar and stirred until dissolved, then boiled it for about 40 minutes while stirring frequently. At this time, it thickened very quickly, but the temp (measured with 2 different thermometers) was only 216-217 degrees F. Even at this temp, it was VERY thick — too thick! Flavor is good, but too thick. I added no water, no pectin, and no lemon juice. Just the blueberries and water. I live at just about sea level.

    Why would this occur? This was my 1st batch of blueberry jam, but I’ve made various other jams in the past and haven’t had this problem. Usually I get the temp to around 220-221 degrees for a nice consistency.

    Any thoughts?

  10. Thanks so much for this handy post! I’m getting ready to move and we didn’t want to waste three very large bags of frozen strawberries and triple berry mix. So to save them, we decided to whip up a batch of jam. My triple berry jam gelled great with no pectin but my strawberries were another story. I couldn’t get them above 203 degrees. After more than an hour of waiting, I started looking and ran across your post talking about the altitude adjustment. It just so happens I’m at 7500 feet. I quickly canned realizing with the correction my strawberries were just fine. Thanks for the help!

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  12. Very interesting post. 🙂 I have been making no-pectin MICROWAVE jam this year and I love it. So very simple. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to post links here, but try the ichef website for a basic recipe. I use fruit, sugar, and lemon juice. You need more or less lemon juice depending upon the kind of fruit – the lemon is used to activate the natural pectin in the fruits. I can whip up a batch in the microwave in about 15 minutes total. I cook on high for 6 minutes until it boils – then stir. Then for the remaining 9 minutes, I stir every TWO (2) minutes. I use the cold plate method to test. It keeps for months in the fridge, or a year in the freezer. I’ve made apple, peach, blueberry, red raspberry, black raspberry, blackberry, and strawberry. Only two batches were thin – but they made beautiful syrups. Actually, with the apple variety you can skip the lemon as apple has loads of pectin and doesn’t require an acid. All raspberry and blackberries seem to have lots of pectin, too, but need a bit of lemon. Blueberry and strawberry need the most lemon juice of all. I buy 12-16 ounce bags of frozen fruit, and add 1 or 1.5 cups of sugar to suit my taste. I let the frozen fruit thaw in sugar for at least 30 minutes to an hour. I vary the 15 total minutes depending on how it looks on the cold plate. Hope this helps!

  13. Hi. I’ve actually been reading all the jam w/out pectin comments. I’m making Ohelo Berry jam…it’s found up in the mountains near Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It’s suppose to be similar to a huckleberry? I’ve noticed some of said close to cranberry – blueberry…but they aren’t that sweet. Well, the first batch I ever made was delicious and set perfectly (no pectin). Second try- came out more tart or close to bitter (not exactly) so I turned it in to a delicious chutney. I heard it could of been because I picked them at a lower elevation? This sounds odd, but really I’m waiting while it simmers and was wondering if you could tell me what that desert is on top of your header with the pecans…looks like a torte? Thanks

  14. huckleberry? I’ve noticed some of said close to cranberry – blueberry…but they aren’t that sweet. Well, the first batch I ever made was delicious and set perfectly (no pectin). Second try- came out more tart or close to bitter (not exactly) so I turned it in to a delicious chutney. I heard it could of been because I picked them at a lower elevation? This sounds odd, but really I’m waiting while it simmers and was wondering if you could tell me what that desert is on top of your header with the pecans…looks like a torte? Thanks

  15. That was fast. Thankyou… I would of thought brown sugar or caramel. I appreciate the recipe. My husband loves pumpkin. Hmm, I thought I saw a pumpkin cheese cake recipe around here. I’ve never tried that?

  16. does anyone know for how long will the jams without pectin once opened and refrigerated be safe to eat?

  17. Laura, I’m not sure of the answer to this question. I suspect it won’t keep quite as long, but I’m not sure why I think that. I don’t know that pectin has any particularly preservative qualities. I know that reduced-sugar jams don’t last as long.

    The real reason I don’t know the answer to your question is that jam never lasts long at all in my house. A jar of homemade jam inspires a flurry of toast-making and is often finished off in a day or two.


  18. Delicious, flavorful recipe – thanks! At 7000 feet, I extended cooking time and canned at about 190 degrees when it thickened. It set just fine. I appreciate the lower sugar option of a low pectin recipe. Bill – I’ll try your post of reducing the cooking time next time….sounds interesting.

  19. Even if you make no pectin jams, they should be processed for 1/2 hr. they keep for a long time on a shelf that way.

  20. I just finished making my very first batch of jam, one batch of blueberry and one batch of blackberry jam, all berries picked from the Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina). You can’t get more ‘organic’ than that. Never did preserving before, so I was unsure, but everything set up. I chose not to use Pectin, just the berries and sugar. Both batches of berries set up nicely. I sealed the jars the old fashioned way with paraffin, just to see how they’d work out. I used an old recipe from the 1800s to make jam and then figured the rest out. It worked fine. I did gently boil the berries and then the berries and sugar for a total of about 25-30 minutes before pouring into the sterilized jars. Next time, I will process them (no paraffin). Thanks for your blog, it was very informative and helped confirm we are on the right track.

    • Thanks so much for sharing. I love the idea of reviving those very old, tried and true recipes. Obviously, some things, like canning green beans without a pressure can, isn’t a good idea because we now know some of the substantial risks of that, but there are a lot of methods that were simpler and just as good as the modern methods.

    • It’s one year later, and I am still preserving berries just about the same way, again picked from the Blue Ridge Parkway. For smaller batches (eg: abt 4 finished pints) I am adding one Tablespoon of dry Pectin to my berries and sugar mixture and then rapidly boiling it along for the same amount of time as above, and it works perfectly–no need to use a whole package of pectin…Now I process the jars in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. Sets up beautifully, gals. Try it.

  21. I came across this page while searching for interesting fruit combinations for jam – better late than never perhaps.

    I’m in Australia where there is little discussion of height above sea level. Guess we must be a lower country (in more ways than one!).

    Thought I’d add my thoughts on pectin, which I rarely add, relying on the natural pectin in fruit.

    Pectin is a natural gum contained in fruit and the extraction is aided by acid. As fruit ripens, the acid content deceases. So, don’t use over-ripe fruit for jam making (but it’s great in chutney). Slightly under-ripe or just ripe is much better. You can use windfall fruit, but cut off any damaged parts.

    In some fruits, such as strawberries, cherries, melons, there is a low acid content. Add acid in the form of fresh lemon juice (about 2 tablespoons to 2lb. – but a bit more won’t hurt), or a teaspoon of citric acid or tartaric acid (known here as cream of tartar).

    You can also combine low acid fruit with green cooking apples (about 6 to 2lb fruit), peeled, cored and diced. Red currant juice (about 1 cup to 2lb) will supply the pectin/acid mix for strawberries.

    Also be aware that pectin content of fruit may not be as high in a wet season.

    The main focus of cooking the jam is to remove the water – you will be left with the fruit and its juices and the sugar.

    Overcooking the jam, past the setting point, will result in a syrupy product – dark, little flavour, and will candy.

    Undercooked jam will retain too much water and will ferment.

    Test for readiness by either of the two methods mentioned previously – a little cooled on a cold plate will crinkle when pushed with a finger, or hot jam will ‘sheet’ from a metal spoon.

    If you make jam on a regular basis, you will notice a difference in the way the jam bubbles when it’s ready. Hard to describe, but the bubbles are larger and there’s a bit of a spurt.

    Other tips – butter the pan you are going to use prior to putting the fruit and sugar in. It helps prevent the mix from sticking. If, in the initial cooking, the jam looks as though it going to produce a frothy scum, add a teaspoon of butter – this will prevent the scum from rising and alleviate the need to skim it off.

    If you are cooking the fruit first (as in hard fruits or marmalades), warm the sugar in the oven before adding.

    You can also freeze fruit in a time of glut (or supermarket specials) to make jam when more convenient. I prepare the fruit for jam making, and weigh it up before popping in the freezer.

  22. If you overcook it, add some water to it.

    if it’s cooled down, I put in the microwave for about one minute with the added water and it’s usually still edible I put about 4 tbsp of water for a jar of jam but it can be more or less. If it’s still to hard, simply add more water and try again.

    Hope I get mine right this year so I don’t need to do it, as it does slightly change the taste and texture

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  25. Hi

    I am making quince jam for putting on toast.

    Does anyone have a detailed recipe for a beginner

    I made my first batch last year and it was too sweet

    I made it again today, but it doesnt seem a very easy fruit to work with. I wasnt sure how much water to use and whether I should remove all the mushy fruit from the water before adding the sugar.

    It seems to have set in the jars, I did remove all the fruit and just had the flavoured water and sugar.

    I may try it in the microwave next, that sounds easier! any suggestions welcomed.


  26. Vodka
    3c. blueberries
    lg. tbs. honey
    lemon zest
    orange zest
    marinate berries for a day, strain, crush.
    on my induction range I use setting 4, until simmers, then reduce to 2-3 for 20 ish.
    yum ! goes great w/ pancakes. sub red wine, portofina, liquores. alcohol helps convert the starches naturally into sugars

  27. I just made my first batch of grape jam. I have a problem, my jam if watery and has not set, its been 8 hrs. What can I do to fix my jam. Can I reboil it and re use the cans? Thanks in advance for the advice.

  28. my dad using this way to make strawberry jam as well. But before that, it was a very traditional way. He use one layer strawberry + 1 layer sugar (adjust the sugar or too sweet), set for 3-6 months till strawberry get soft. and boil it to jam.

  29. When you talked about putting the jam into sterilized jars, turning them upside down, then right-side up, and hearing the lids seal, does that mean they can be kept on the shelf, or do they still have to be frozen? I would love to not have to do the stove-top processing of jars, because my electric burners and my processing pot are not very compatible! Thanks!

    • Deborah, we are reluctant to actually recommend the non-water-bath approach to jam-making. You won’t find a USDA site on the entire internet that thinks that’s a good idea. I WILL say that I never water-bath can my jam. We eat it quickly enough and I figure there is enough sugar in them that I’m not worried much about spoilage. I keep my jam that has not been through the canning process on the shelf, not in the freezer. But that is ME and I’m not recommending it for anyone else. I have some jam-eating maniacs in my home so it goes pretty fast.

  30. I woud like to hear from someone who makes Mulberry Jam.
    It does not have much or any natural pectin and does not set well. Would boiling the fruit and sugar for 20 min. then adding pectin do the trick? NJ

    • If you’re going to use pectin, then I recommend following the directions on the package. That’s a pretty easy, reliable way to get success on your jam. I had no idea that mulberries don’t have natural pectin. Interesting.

  31. Anybody know if you can substitute honey for the sugar when making blueberry jam?. I have about 20lbs of fresh picked BBs and after making BB pancakes, BB muffins, BB syrup, I’d like to try the no-pectin jam recipe using honey.

    • Dave, I haven’t ever made jam with honey. I’d recommend doing a very small quantity and seeing how it turns out. If it doesn’t set up, then you’ll have lovely blueberry syrup!

  32. I made no pectin plum jam yesterday, equal mounts of fruit and sugar plus a little lemon juice. I cooked for 25 minutes, then removed from the heat and added a couple of tablespoons of amaretto.

    I thought I had the gel thing down, but after canning them and letting them cool on the counter I can tell I have syrup, not jam.

    Can I dump out the jars, reheat on the stove and try to get the fruit to gel, and then recan? Or is it too late to save the jam? The flavor is great, and I will be using the syrup, but I really wanted the jam, so if this is an option I wanted to try, but didn’t want to lose the syrup if this isn’t something I should do..

    Thanks in advance for any guidance, I just started canning this year, and this was my first no pectin jam attempt.

    • Heather, there are a couple things that might be going on. It’s possible that your plums were ripe enough that there was too little pectin in them to gel. It’s also possible that the couple tablespoons of amaretto broke down the gel. I don’t know about that second one. I think that if I were in your shoes, I’d buy some Sure-gel and recook the fruit and sugar with that. You’ll have to get a little creative in terms of following directions because you’ve got the sugar and fruit all combined already, but it should work. Otherwise, the plum syrup will be fabulous as syrup!

  33. hi everyone ,i am about to start my home canning jelly recipes and i have found out a recipe for a natural pectin.

    what the author says in her article was you take crab apples /2 lbs and 3 cups of water and 2 tblspn of lemon juice and thats your pectin.

    it seems pectin comes from apples. the reason why she choose crab apples is because these types of apples that are unripe have twice as much pectin than regular green apples.

    she says “save your granny smiths for pie making”.

    another thing i want to share is this, pectin also comes from oranges. it comes from citrus. now i read to conflicting articles one that states it comes from the pits and the other states it comes from the peel.

    in her conclussion she wrote you could always have a good jelly or jam without pectin if you just add the apples chopped up to your juice cook that then strain then add sugar.

    the apples will always add a delicious taste to your jelly.

    and if you want to make homemade pectin which seems like a good idea, you take the apples and water boil for 30 to 40 minutes- strain in a jelly bag -bring the water back to the stove and cook it for an extra 20 minutes.

    crab apples are the apples people throw away ,or they give them away . if you get 100 lbs of that all you need is water and lemon juice.

    i dont know how much it would make but it must be close to 100 lbs of pectin.

    once you made your pectin you have to test it -and what the test is -is they take a tsp of pectin -that has been cooled down -add it to alcohol -i guess rubbing alcohol -and if it congeals -its good -if not -you have to reboil it.

    im sure you could can this homemade pectin -or you could just freeze it in little plastic tuperware.

    now all you have to do is ask around “who has crab apples”?

    • NOT rubbing alcohol. At least not if you plan to reboil it. Rubbing alcohol is a poison when consumed by humans.

      I’ve read a lot of these comments today and I’d have to caution people to use a little common sense. Much of this advice is poorly described and possibly dangerous for your health.

      • If you read carefully, Androshi is not suggesting that you add the rubbing alcohol to the jam you’re making. The commenter is saying that to test whether or not your homemade pectin is going to work, you stir it in to a bit of rubbing alcohol. If it congeals, you’re good to go. That bit that has been stirred in with the alcohol then is thrown out. The remaining pectin in the pot can either be canned or re-cooked. The alcohol mixture is not put back into the pot. The alcohol is not stirred into the pot. Rubbing alcohol is never consumed. It merely is used as a tester for the “doneness” of the homemade pectin.
        Yes, you are correct, rubbing alcohol is extremely dangerous and should never be consumed. Ever.

  34. this is my first time making jam without the use of pectin. what is the correct temperature I need to cook it to? I have heard cook to about 210 degrees to about 217 degrees. Is this correct?

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  36. Deborah and Audrey

    I am 60 and have never canned my jam in water bath, just turn upside down to seal. I may have had 1 or 2 that ever went bad and I have made a lot. My grandmother used to make jam and set it on the back of her stove in a cast iron pot to slow cook for hours till it got thick. Just make sure it is low enough to not burn but to continue to slow boil. Good luck!

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  39. I need a bit of help, I tried making mixed Blueberry/Strawberry jam without adding pectin, following the spoon test method. after the jam cooled I noticed it is a bit runny for my liking. I was wondering if I could take the same jam and throw it back on the stove for a little while to make it more firm?

    • I THINK you can try cooking it more, but I’m not 100% positive. I’ve found that my no-pectin jam never sets up quite as firmly as the jam made with commercial pectin. It certainly is worth trying a second round on the stove. If I were contemplating this, I would probably try recooking a couple of jars but not an entire batch to start with.

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  42. I’m going to try this recipe with plums. I make a peach butter with just peaches and half the amount of sugar. It takes long, low boiling (and lots of stirring) to thicken. And I love that it has way less sugar than jellies and jams using pectin.

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