Failed Quince Jelly Into Orange Marmalade With Quince And Star-Anise

When I first started making jam, I would get the occasional customer that would ask if I used added pectin.   At that point, every single batch I’d ever made used commercial pectin, and I had no clue why anyone wouldn’t want to use it. Instead of taking 45 minutes to cook a batch of jam, it takes about 5, and I thought all of the jams I’d made tasted great. Over time, however, I’ve realized that understanding how to make jam without adding pectin means that I have a better grasp of the fundamental idea of what makes a delicious jar of jam.

Jams and jellies with no added pectin often have a softer set than those with commercial pectin, which often can have a set that is too firm and hard to spread. The other main improvement that I’ve noticed stems from paying attention to the acid content of the jam. Many fruits require the addition of lemon juice to boost the acid content and ensure a good set, but this also usually improves the flavor of the fruit; that lemony kick often adds depth, brightness, and complexity to what might otherwise be too sweet and simple.

Because of all this, these days I find myself actually tasting my jams to adjust seasoning before they go in the jar.  It seems obvious, but commercial pectin teaches people to follow instructions blindly, and not adjust the jam for their own personal preference. (I would go so far as to say that they scare people into listening, implying that somehow you’ll get botulism and die if you change anything in the recipe).

The downfall of not adding pectin is that recipes are sometimes less predictable. They take longer to cook and may not set perfectly every time.  Anyone who’s tried making jelly without added pectin probably has ended up with a batch or two of syrup, the result of jelly that doesn’t gel. Many people may leave the syrup as is, since it has plenty of practical applications (topping for ice cream or pancakes, poundcake glaze, etc.) but, well,  I am a perfectionist and I don’t really eat a lot of pancakes.

Last fall I came upon a huge amount of quince from one of my neighbors, some of which ended up in a failed attempt at a star-anise scented quince jelly. I actually tried to re-cook it and it still didn’t set. In retrospect, I suspect that the issue was the acid content, and I needed more lemon juice.  Instead of re-cooking the syrup a third time, it’s going into new batches of jam.

That’s the point of all of this.  Do you have syrup in your pantry? Is it just sitting there, with FAILURE written all over it? Mine isn’t a failure anymore, it’s pectin stock. Quince is incredibly high in natural pectin, so adding a jar or two into a batch of marmalade or jelly helps make sure that for this new batch of preserves I will get a good set.  Other high-pectin failed preserves, specifically apple jelly, apple jam, failed marmalades that are too syrupy, or quince jam, would all be excellent candidates for this method. (Disclaimer: Only use high quality syrups from your pantry.  If the preserve has gone bad for some reason, don’t use it. If there are bubbles or mold in the jar, or if it smells bad, do not use it!)

Today, instead of making plain orange marmalade, I’m making star-anise scented orange marmalade in a quince jelly.  The set is beautiful, and the flavor is mild and floral because of the quince. Now that quince is impossible to find, I’m thrilled to have a whole case of quince syrup.

Orange Marmalade with Quince and Star Anise

It’s hard to say if this recipe would work perfectly for someone else since my quince syrup might be slightly different from another syrup.  This recipe could certainly serve as a jumping off point though. Any citrus could be used, and any any high-pectin syrupy preserve could be used instead of syrup in my pantry.

makes: about 6 half-pint jars

  • 1 pint of quince syrup
  • 1 pint of lemon juice (I freeze lemon juice during the winter so that I have a stash of cheap, high quality lemon juice to use later in the year)
  • 4 c. prepared oranges (3 c. oranges sliced for marmalade soaked for 24 hours in 1 c. orange juice)
  • 5 c. sugar
  • 4 c. water

Bring boiling water canner to a boil and sterilize your jars.

Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Cook on high heat, stirring ocassionaly until marmalade reaches gel point (220 degrees on a candy thermometer, or alternately, you can put a few small plates in the freezer. When you think the marmalade is almost set, start testing it by putting a teaspoon of hot marmalade on the frozen plate. Wait 30 seconds, and run your finger through it. If it’s finished, your finger will make a line through the jelly and a few small wrinkles on the surface. If not, keep cooking and try again). 

Ladle hot marmalade into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/8″ head space. Wipe rims clean and screw on lids. Process half-pint jars for 5 minutes.


For more information on making jam with no added pectin, refer to the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, Edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine, parges 22-29.

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10 responses to “Failed Quince Jelly Into Orange Marmalade With Quince And Star-Anise

  1. Caroline, we’ve been thinking the same! Before I saw this, I had pulled all of my frozen quince and apple cores/peels out of the freezer to make stock jelly to use in this way. My quince stock jelly didn’t set well. I realized that I should use it in other jams/jellies anyway — for pectin, flavor, and the fun of experimenting — just the way you’re describing here. And I started to think about using my other too-soft preserves in new batches, too. Apparently, we’re on the same wavelength this week. And your marmalade is beautiful!

  2. Shae, I saw that you were working on it as well! You know, sometimes I think that I assume that quince is so high in pectin that it will set with no effort at all, but I’m realizing I need to fine tune everything a little bit.
    Thanks for the compliment! It kind of reminded me of your orange-quince marm. with cardamom, but the ratio of jelly to citrus was way different in this one (mostly because I didn’t have enough quince!)

  3. This reminds me of my jam fix from a few months ago!

    http://nomnivorous.com/2011/03/14/golden-child-jam/

    I made quince paste that never quite got treated properly. It was stored in the fridge, not single-wrapped. So it turned into quince slush, in a way. I chopped up meyer lemons, put them in the quince puree and treated them in the three day marmalade technique. A floral jammy spread with some major meyer bite resulted. I love seeing failures turned into successes.

  4. Instead of quince jelly not setting my batch is like rubber. What can be done. Can water be added and reboiled or could it be added and melted into another jam (plum) that set sort of runny? Help.

    • Hm, that’s a really good question. I wouldn’t try adding water- the set might improve, but the flavor would probably suffer. I think you might be able to experiment to adding it with something else, but you’ll have to play around with the cook time, amounts to use, etc. If the quince jelly is like rubber, it means it was overcooked the first time, so I would keep a close eye on the gel next time. Do the sheet test on a spoon, also check a teaspoon on a frozen plate. I would love it if you reported back so we can all hear how it went! As far as flavors go, plum/quince would be nice. but I highly recomment quince in marmalades. The sweet floral taste of quince really balances out the tartness of citrus fruit.

  5. Thanks – I will try adding the rubbery quince to the marmalade I hope to be making soon. (Am waiting for the fruit on my friend’s clementina tree to ripen – in a couple of months – before the next effort). Anyway my husband is complaining he can’t find anything in the fridge among all the jars of plum jam and lemon marmalade. The fruit in season here in Israel is so beautiful and cheap one can’t help buying a few kilos to make jam. Too bad we can’t get berries

    • I’m pretty jealous of all your beautiful fruit! You should come back and tell me how the quince turns out, I’ve never tried that experiment before and I bet lots of people would love to know. If you ever have any pictures or recipes of all that jam you’re making, you should put them up on the grow it cook it can it facebook page. I’d love to see and I’m sure it will inspire other canners as well.

  6. I’m not even sure if this blog is still active or not I see the posts are quite dated but thought I’d give it a shot. Here goes– As I was cleaning my canning shelves this year, getting rid of the old , making way for the new there too sat my Quince jelly. still quite lovely– clear pinkish orange– failed to set Quince jelly that is. I was about to toss it out with ages old blackberry jam and pickled winter onions that had gotten shoved behind some larger jars when I’d remembered about the high pectin content . I like you thought it would just set itself but nada and had subsequently run across this piece. I hadn’t read the whole article but was certain to bookmark for later perusing. What stuck out was the star anise, being a lover of anise and anything licorice and I don’t mean that red stuff lol. I stopped at our little village store to pick up some vanilla beans and a fifth of vodka ( that’ll have village folks tongues a’waggin) to make some vanilla extract when I spotted the star anise in a lovely little hexagon jar and brought it home too. Days, I dare say weeks later, after stewed tomatoes, beef broth, scuppernong jelly, marinara sauce, both spiced and honey cinnamon crabapples, I remembered about the Quince and so went to bookmarks only to find that you just mentioned the anise in passing but did give some valuable info about how to use that quince jelly which I will do. My question is : do you still have the recipe for the quince jelly using the lovely star anise? . If so would you mind passing it on.? Thanks so much. Sincerely, Annmarie

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