I’ve been meaning to make Apple Butter for a really long time now… but I always get really turned off by recipes that seem to make it more difficult than it should be. Apple Butter Purists insist that: #1. You MUST cook the peels, apples, and cores all together in the same pot (in order to release the pectin) and #2. You MUST use a food mill or sieve on your cooked apple mixture – to use a blender or food processor will give you apple “sauce”, not apple butter. Well, I call BS! While that is the traditional way to make apple butter, it’s not the ONLY way… and I find it much easier to do away with all the extra work and mess that comes from following the traditional method.
While yes, you do need pectin (the substance that makes your mixture gel)… you don’t have to make the pectin in the same pot. Pectin is a complex polysaccharide (soluble fiber), a substance that forms the cell walls of plants. Apples are naturally high in pectin – but most of the pectin in an apple comes from the peels and the core, not from the sweet flesh that we eat. Why make it difficult on yourself by cooking the cut whole apples – then grinding (and straining the bits you don’t want out later) with a food mill? (Most food mills are these hand crank torture devices, that not many modern cooks have in their kitchen. I don’t have one, and I don’t want one. I don’t want an arm work-out while I’m cooking!) It’s much easier (and much less messy) to peel and core the apples before cooking them down, and cook the skins and the core in a separate pot in order to release the pectin. Using this method, you can just drain the pectin into your pot of simmering apple, and use a blender or hand blender on your cooked apple mixture since there is nothing yucky you need to strain out!
I left the spice amounts and recommendations a little bit vague on purpose in this recipe. I wanted my recipe to be fully spiced, so I used 3 tsp. of spices. If you want the apple flavor to stand out more, then you may want to cut the spice back to 1 tsp. Traditionally, most people use a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves – but I wanted to use something a little bit different. My friend just returned from a trip to India, and brought me back a wonderful fragrant package of ground spices to use in making Masala Chai (Spiced Indian Tea). So I used the Indian chai spices (which were a combination of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, black pepper, and cloves) to make my apple butter. If you want a more traditionally spiced apple butter, I would go with 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cloves, and 1/2 tsp. nutmeg. If you want apple butter that is only lightly spiced, maybe just go with 1 tsp. cinnamon only. If you aren’t sure, go light on the spice at first – you can always add more if you want later!
This recipe will make about 5 half-pints of apple butter. You could store in the freezer to preserve long term, or you can water-bath can the apple butter in half-pint jam jars. My supermarket sells Ball brand home-canning jars in the cleaning product aisle – but you can also buy these jars at craft stores, or sometimes even hardware stores or garden centers. If you are interested in canning your apple butter for long-term room temperature storage, please see my post on making peach jam for more in depth details and instructions on the water bath canning process. (It’s really easy by the way – you just need a big pot, a metal rack to go in the bottom, jars & lids, a ladle, and a big pair of tongs – I use regular BBQ tongs.)
- 3 lbs. apples (use your favorite variety)
- 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
- 2 c. apple juice or cider
- 3 c. water
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2-3 tsp. ground spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc.)
- 1 c. sugar
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 5 half-pint jars, lids, rings
- large stock pot + metal rack
1. Peel the apples. Set aside the apple peels into a small saucepan filled with the 3 c. water.
2. Quarter and core the apples, place the apple cores (seeds and all) into the saucepan with the apple peels.
3. Set the saucepan over medium low heat and allow to simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. The liquid should reduce about 75%. (Why are we cooking the apple peels and cores? To make the pectin! The pectin will help make the apple butter set, and by doing this step separately, we are avoiding the step of having to run the apple butter through a strainer or grinding mill to remove the skins, seeds, and hard parts.)
4. Meanwhile, roughly chop the apples to the size of dice.
5. When the pectin is close to being done (water level reduced to about 75%), put the peeled and diced apples into a large pot with the apple cider vinegar and the apple juice. Set the pot to simmer over medium heat.
6. Drain the remaining liquid (from the pot of apple peels and cores) into the simmering pot of apples, being careful not to let any of the peels, seeds, or core fall into the pot. (This liquid contains the pectin which will help set the apple butter.) Discard the leftover peels and cores.
7. After the apples are soft and have cooked for the 45 minutes to an hour (the total liquid reduced by about 75%), add the salt and spices. (I used an Indian chai spice mixture that contains cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, black pepper, and cardamom. You can use whatever combination of ground spices you like – if you want a more traditional spiced apple butter, I would go with 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cloves, and 1/2 tsp of nutmeg.)
8. Mix the spices into the apples, then turn off the heat, and let the apple mixture cool for about 1 hour.
9. Blend the cooled apple mixture for about 30 seconds until smooth.
10. Return the apple mixture to the pot, and add the sugar and brown sugar.
11. Heat the pureed apple mixture over medium-high heat, until at a rapid boil. While stirring, reduce the heat to medium, and continue to cook for about 5-10 minutes more. Turn off the heat and cool to store in containers for the refrigerator or freezer, or fill sterilized jars to water bath can.
12. If you are going to can the apple butter, you will want to add the hot apple butter to clean sterilized jars. (See my post on making peach jam for more information on water bath canning.) To sterilize the jars, rings, tongs, and ladle – you will want to boil them in hot water in a large stock pot with a metal rack set into the bottom (completely immersed) for 10 minutes. Use the sterilized ladle to add the hot apple butter into the sterilized jars, leaving about 1/2 inch head space. (While you are filling the jars, soak the new lids into the hot water to soften the adhesive.)
13. Wipe the rims of the jars with paper towels. Place the lids on top of the jars with the sterilized tongs. Use the sterilized rings to seal the jars, finger tight (Do not overly tighten).
14. Put the jars back into the pot of hot water, resting on the wire rack. Make sure there is at least 1 inch of water over the top of the jars. Cover and return to a boil. (When you first add the jars, you will see bubbles from the jars escaping – do not mistake this for boiling water!) Once the water has begun to boil, set a timer for 10 minutes, and cover.
15. After processing for 10 minutes, turn off the heat, and use the tongs to carefully remove the jars to a towel on the counter to cool. You will hear popping noises as the jars cool and a vacuum seal forms. Leave the jars undisturbed overnight to cool and set completely. Store jars in a cool dark pantry for up to 1 year.