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 jam 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.
- 4 pounds of 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
Prepare the Fruit
Cut the apples:
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.
First Stage of Cooking
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.
Purée Apples and Add the Sugar and Spices
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 a dash of salt, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, lemon zest and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Second Stage of Cooking
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 and smooth (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 purée 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.)
As an alternative to stovetop cooking you can cook the purée 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.
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.