Sunday, March 6, 2011

What To Do When Your Jams Fail

I've been really, really lucky lately. Not only did I get some calamondins sent to me from Florida, but I also got some star fruit. My mother is pretty dang cool. And so is the friend who owns the trees she picked these fruit from! After opening this huge box of star fruit (or carambola), I got right to work preserving them. I froze some, slicing them and freezing them on trays. Star fruit are good for fresh eating, and I'm not completely sold on canning them. I should point out that star fruit are high in oxalic acid, and those with kidney issues might want to abstain. I didn't know that about star fruit!

STOP. That's how this post started last week. To be honest, I wasn't too thrilled with my preserves, so what did I do? Made another batch of star fruit jam. I don't learn. I had heard people raving about star fruit jam. Why just the other day while my son ate a star fruit for snack time in toddler play group, a father gushed about the star fruit jam he had once and how good it was. I must have just made a mistake on the first batch, I thought.

Well, star fruit jam is not as easy as it seems. And if you want my opinion, it doesn't make a good jam on its own. I'm not the only one who says that. The woman whose tree I got mine from concurs. I learned this after I made the two jams. I did find, however, that they are good mixed with something else. I made a key lime-star fruit-calamondin marmalade, and it came out quite nicely. I think star fruit need to be with other fruit. Like pineapple. Wendy Read of Sunchowder's Emporia gave me a starfruit recipe that paired the carambola with pineapple. Did I use it? No. Though I bet pineapple would be perfect! Anything with high acidity and punch would be nice. How about Flamingo Musings' Carambola Pepper Jam? (Which I didn't make.) Something spicy might be just the kick that star fruit need. Sigh.

So. I made two jams. One is preserved star fruit with orange peel pectin. The other is a light jam that I used Pomona's Pectin in, and lowered the sugar thinking it would let the subtle taste of the star fruit shine. Nope. And neither jam set. The reason why I posting this is not to complain (well, maybe a little), but to point out that once you have made a jam that you are not happy with, there are a few things you can do to avoid chucking the lot. I do admit though, there are times when tossing it seems the only route. One time I saw a chef's batch of nectarine jam that had turned to candy. Hard as a rock. That might need to be tossed.

1. Let it sit and try it in a month or two. I just tasted a peach ginger preserve that I thought was boring, and upon tasting it I found I was dead wrong. It's delicious. Was I bored of peaches at the time? Did it need to sit? Who knows. But I'm glad I didn't give it all away.

2. Cook with it. I'm always adding a half-pint of jam to one baked good or another. Obvious choices are muffins and quick breads and smoothies. Make sure to reduce the sugar in the recipe. Or the obvious savory applications, like roasted or grilled meats, salad dressings and the like. Sometimes dull or bland preserves are the perfect thing for cooking applications.

3. Re-cook it. Yes, open those jars and add it to some more fruit and make a new jam. Obviously, this is for someone who's comfortable creating their own jams. But keep this in mind: you can can foods that have already been canned. Capisce? I opened four jars and made a Meyer lemon star fruit jam. I think it tastes great, but still the set isn't perfect. That is no problem at all because now it actually tastes good. I might use the rest for a chutney. And I don't have to turn these around right away. I can wait a little bit. Star fruit rhubarb jam perhaps?

4. Give it away to someone who might like it. I wouldn't do this with these star fruit jams, because they just weren't right. It tasted like I made cucumber jam. Bleh. But sometimes it's just a personal issue. And if you give it away, then it's their problem! Ha, just kidding. I recently received a lovely jar of banana jam, and I couldn't get past the smell. I have a thing with cooked bananas. I think it's psychological. But put in a batch of buttermilk muffins, and then I'm eating way too many.

What do you do when your jams fail? Besides curse, of course.


  1. I like to stir failed jam into my morning porridge. It's a nice change from the usual maple syrup!

  2. My failed jellies are usually failed because they don't set, i.e., are syrup. So onto the kids' pancakes it goes! I have been experimenting with granola and cookies, though. I have a great banana-oatmeal-choc-chip cookie recipe, but wanted to see if I could do it without banana. So in went a half-pint of not-failed apple jelly instead. Not too bad! And you know all about the not-failed blood orange marmalade granola. :) Seems like I do more with not-failed stuff than I do with failed stuff!

  3. Ah Julia...I loved this post :) I hope you will try the Pineapple and Starfruit Jam sometime when you get more Starfruit--it is really yummy. I just had a disaster making Mint Jelly because I used Granny Smith apples for pectin that were past their prime..I have 12 jars of mint syrup now :) We all have failures, I love your willingness to post about it, I love knowing I have a kindred spirit out there!

  4. I haven't failed at jam yet, but I haven't gotten very adventurous yet, so they'll be plenty of chances I'm sure.

    Unfortunately my biggest disaster was trying to recreate my grandmothers pickled onions. It was epic. They were terrible. The most expensive compost I ever made.

    Here's the play by play:

    I love your ideas though. I was once given a jar of failed jam to use on ice cream. Best summer ever. It was a huge jar :)

  5. I've practiced #2, cooked with some chutney I canned and didn't love. I just doctored it while cooking until I reached a balance I liked.

    If it's just a set issue, how about eating it w/ plain yogurt?

  6. I actually like all of your ideas already, especially roasting it on grilled meats. For some reason I was thinking you can potentially add it into a sorbet, but I haven't tried it, it was just that I thought star fruit sorbet would be really good.

  7. Failed canning projects are tough on me. My first two attempts at marmalade have not set. My failed [in texture] vanilla bean meyer lemon marm went into marshmallows and worked fabulously. As for failures in flavors, I still haven't quite figured out how to fix things. But it always is disappointing.

  8. I still have jars of Spicy Green Ketchup in the garage. I'm waiting for the next person to threaten to burn a holy book - then they are OUTTA here.

  9. What do I do when my jams fail? You know darned well. I send you an email bemoaning my fate. Then I usually try again. And yes, I pour them on stuff and glaze meats with them and bake with them and give them away and, if I'm going to a market, sell them as sauce. And sometimes I do chuck them. Last year's garlic green chile jelly comes first to mind -- that was nasty!

    Next time I see a star fruit I'm going to introduce myself. I've never met them, except in your mixed marm, which is fab.

  10. Jillian - Totally! I have lots of failed jellies. I like to call them "syrup." ; )

    Casey - It's true. They are very useful! I love cookies with syrup. I find they stay a little chewier?

    Wendy - Thanks for visiting! We do all have failures, don't we. I really mean it when I say I often love my failures just as much as successes because they teach me so much!

    Laura - "Most expensive compost ever." Ha! I love that. I've had some spendy compost myself! Thanks for leaving the link!

    Denise - That's what we do every day. We're a big yogurt household. But I guess I do save the better jams for yogurt. This star fruit jam wouldn't even do on yogurt. Bleh. I have to hide it in something.

    Christine - Sorbet is a great idea. I tried to make jam pops once and it was too sweet and sticky...Always trying!

    Emily - Marshmallows! Now that is creative. I love it.

    Kaela - Ha!

    Shae - I don't know what it is about these star fruit, but the smell just puts me off completely. Like, I'm repulsed. And I normally like star fruit. A lot! Maybe I should have somebody else taste it in case it's just me, like that banana thing...

  11. Barbecue sauce, except for strawberry which I reserve as syrup. Once I cleaned out my pantry with unopened chutneys, failed jams and cooked the whole with tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, lots of chiles and whatever spices my BBQ sauce recipe called for. I tasted it carefully so it wouldn't turn into "mystery sauce". I only did that once as it was too good to duplicate.

  12. You could make a syrup with it -- for pancakes or coffee or italian soda . . .

  13. Two By The Sea - Yes! BBQ sauce is a great idea. Continuing to taste is a very good point.

    Elizabeth - Of course; if it tastes good!

  14. This is a great post. Cooking meats with a bit of failed jam can really make a dish special.

  15. Georgia - Absolutely! And that's coming from a master (I mean you!).