It's hard to find any apple butter, let alone good apple butter in the grocery store these days. Making apple butter is a great way to preserve the fruits of an apple harvest.
What is Apple Butter?
Apple butter is made by slowly cooking pureed apples for over an hour. The sugars in the apples caramelize as the puree cooks, giving the apple butter its rich, sweet flavor and dark color.
In contrast to what the name implies, there is no "butter" in apple butter. The name comes from its smooth and buttery texture. Apple butter is delicious on buttered toast.
Don't Throw Away Your Apple Cores!
Although apple butter takes time to make, the upfront part is easy. You do not have to peel or core the apples.
The pectin for firming up the resulting apple butter resides mostly in the cores and there is a lot of flavor in the apple peels. After the first cooking, these parts get discarded as the pulp is run through a food mill.
This recipe produces a traditional apple butter, which is both sweet and sour, the addition of cider vinegar just intensifying the flavor and giving it its tangy edge. It's seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, allspice and lemon.
For more information on apple varieties, check out our Guide to Apples.
How to Make Apple Butter
You'll notice there are a few distinct stages in making apple butter.
- Simmer good cooking apples, like Gravenstein or Granny Smith, in apple cider vinegar and water until they're soft.
- Puree the cooked apples and mix in sugar, spices, and lemon.
- Cook the mixture slowly, stirring often, until it's thick and smooth.
- Store your apple butter in the refrigerator up to 3 weeks, or process it in a water bath canner to keep it shelf-stable for up to 1 year.
The Difference Between Applesauce and Apple Butter
Apple butter is a smoother, more concentrated form of applesauce. The methods for making the two both start out similarly, by slow-cooking apples until they're soft and mushy. Applesauce will be ready at this saucy stage, sometimes with the addition of sugar and/or spices to flavor it. But to make apple butter, you puree the stewed apples and cook them down further so more liquid evaporates and the apples caramelize.
Alternatives to Stovetop Cooking
Don't love standing at the stove stirring for ages? These two methods are way more hands-off.
- Microwave: Instead of cooking the seasoned puree on the stovetop in Step 5, cook it uncovered in a microwave, on medium heat setting to simmer, for around 30 minutes. If you do this, monitor the cooking every 5 or 10 minutes. Microwaves vary in their power.
- Slow cooker: In Step 5, transfer the seasoned puree to a slow cooker. Cook on low with the lid ajar (lay spoons across the cooker and set the lid on top) so steam can escape. Stir once every hour or so. Depending on your cooker, it could take up to 5 hours for the apple butter to cook down.
The Best Apples for Apple Butter
Look to softer apples, like Gravenstein, to make apple butter, as they will cook down faster. We also like the tart flavor of Granny Smith apples. Combine different apples to match your taste preferences. We recommend the following varieties:
- Golden Delicious
Learn which apples are best to use in cooking and baking in our guide to apples.
Swaps and Suggestions for Homemade Apple Butter
- Switch up the spices. This recipe calls for cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and some lemon to bring out the flavor, but feel free to play around with others spices such as ginger and nutmeg if you wish.
- Switch up the sweetener. We recommend sticking with white sugar for a straightforward apple flavor. But readers have shared some of the swaps they've made in the comments. Check them out!
To Can or Not to Can?
Want to make larger batches of apple butter so you can have jars on hand for later and not worry about refrigerating them? Planning to give jars as gifts? If so, sterilize glass jars for canning. We offer detailed directions for water bath canning in the recipe below.
If you want to eat your apple butter up quickly, skip the canning. Just keep it in the fridge and use it within a few weeks (or freeze it for later).
NOTE: For this recipe to be safe for canning, the sugar levels should not be reduced.
Storing and Freezing Apple Butter
- Fresh apple butter will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
- Sealed, canned jars of apple butter will keep for a year in the pantry. Once opened, they’ll also keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.
- Frozen apple butter will keep up to a year.
Ways to Use Your Apple Butter
Whether you spread it on toast, swirl it into oatmeal, or serve it on a cheese plate, you'll find a plethora of delicious ways to incorporate apple butter.
- Cinnamon Toast
- Blueberry Muffins
- Oatmeal Raisin, Date, and Walnut Muffins
- Easy Overnight Oats
- How to Make The Best Oatmeal
Gravenstein are the best apples to use for apple butter, if you can find them. They usually ripen mid summer. Granny Smiths work well too.
While some apple butters are sweet, concentrated versions of applesauce, this recipe produces one with a sweet and sour, deep rich flavor.
4 pounds good cooking apples (we use Granny Smith or Gravenstein)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
Sugar (about 4 cups, see cooking instructions)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 wide 8-quart pan (Stainless steel or copper with stainless steel lining)
- A food mill or a chinois sieve
- A large (8 cup) measuring cup pourer
- 6-8 8-ounce canning jars
Cut the apples into quarters without peeling or coring them. Much of the pectin is in the cores and flavor in the peels. Cut out damaged parts.
Cook the apples:
Put the quartered apples into large pot, add the vinegar and water, cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cook until apples are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
Push the apples through a food mill:
Ladle apple mixture (cooked apples and liquid) into a chinois sieve (or food mill) and using a pestle force pulp from the chinois into a large bowl below.
Add sugar, spices, lemon zest, and juice:
Measure resulting apple pulp. Add 1/2 cup of sugar for each cup of apple pulp. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, lemon zest, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Cook the apple mixture and stir often:
Cook the apple sugar mixture uncovered in a large, wide, thick-bottomed pot on medium low heat, stirring often to prevent burning. Scrape the bottom of the pot while you stir to make sure a crust is not forming at the bottom.
Cook until thick, smooth, and dark brown in color (about 1 to 2 hours). A small bit spooned onto a chilled (in the freezer) plate will be thick, not runny.
You can also cook the puree on low heat, stirring only occasionally, but this will take much longer as stirring encourages evaporation. (Note the wider the pan the better, as there is more surface for evaporation.)
How to Can the Apple Butter
Sterilize canning jars:
There are several ways to sterilize your jars for canning.
- You can run them through a short cycle on your dishwasher.
- You can place them in a large pot (12 quart) of water on top of a steaming rack (so they don't touch the bottom of the pan), and bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes.
- Or you can rinse out the jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes.
Pour the apple butter into hot, sterilized jars and seal:
If you plan to store the apple butter un-refrigerated, make sure to follow proper canning procedures.
Before applying the lids, sterilize the lids by placing them in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them. Wipe the rims of the jars clean before applying the lids.
I use a hot water bath for 10 minutes to ensure a good seal.
As the jars cool, you should hear the lids "popping" as they seal the jars.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 11g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 10g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||1%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|