Making Apple Butter

September 8, 2006
by Laura

I made apple butter for several years running, perhaps thinking I was going to get some Susie Homemaker Award or something. I do love apple butter, don’t get me wrong, but I decided it just wasn’t worth it. Read on for the method and more of why you only want to try it once:

Start by peeling, coring, and dicing a HUGE number of apples. This is easier if you use a peeler/corer/slicer. (If you like apples at all, this is something you need to have in your kitchen.) Pour 2-3 cups of sugar and several tablespoons of cinnamon over the apple bits and toss to mix.

Then, plug in your large crockpot. Put in just enough water that the bottom is covered, then put your plethora-o’-apples in. Now, let the whole deal simmer on low heat for at least a day or two, or even three. Stir occasionally, and watch for that apple-buttery texture to develop. I’m telling you, it will take a long time, and the apples will have to cook WAY down before it’s right.

(Hyperbole alert!) When you are done, you will find that you’ve cooked 85 bushels of apples down and now have 3.2 pints of apple butter. Hope you really like it, because it just cost you $4000 a jar.

Okay, that bit above is really exaggerating, but every time I’ve made apple butter, I was really disappointed with the very small amount that I got from a really colossal number of apples. And I actually found that I liked the store-bought variety BETTER for flavor and consistency. It may be a character flaw in me–in fact, that’s very likely. But there it is. I recommend that you spend your apple butter money on buying a few nice jars from the store, and save yourself several hours of labor and several days of cooking. Maybe you want to try it once, just to feel like the old-fashioned Little House wife on the prairie–you can even can the apple butter after it’s done. But I think you’re going to end up agreeing with me.

LB

ADDED NOTE: We’ve revised our opinions on this subject. Be sure to check out our updated thoughts here.

Also, be SURE  to read all the comments below. We received some great ideas and musings from different readers.

BK

25 Comments for this entry

  • cooknkate says:

    Funny you mention this, Laura, because I made apple butter once too and had the exact same disappointed feeling about it. It was good, but it was SO MUCH WORK for such little return and as it sat in the jars it became more concentrated in the spice taste and ended up being a bit ‘off’ after a while. Give me a jar of simple store bought, and count me in as character flawed too.

  • Well it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. Who IS getting that Susie Homemaker Award this year, do you know?

  • cooknkate says:

    I know it ain’t me! Let me know if you find someone who actually likes making homemade apple butter!

  • fruittart says:

    Several years ago, when I only had 2 kids, I made some ‘harvest butter’ — I combined apples, pears and plums. It was *so* tasty. I borrowed a friend’s apple peeler and quartered the apples and pears and removed the seeds but didn’t dice and I removed the pits from the plums but left the skins on (nice color) and I cooked it stove-top for a few hours. I was able to cook and stir w/o having to monitor *too* closely. I don’t remember how large of a batch I made, but I do remember the stuff cooked down to about two-thirds to half the original amount.

    This year I’m debating if I want to can pears — the Husband loves them more than any other canned fruit but they’re more time consuming than peaches and I’m home schooling and have two little ones under foot and . . .well, it’s a lot of work and I’m lazy and I’m not sure I *really* want to go there ;-)

    It’s an interesting idea to use the slow cooker . . . but I’m not sure I have the patience to wait that long! LOL!

  • I don’t know how old your kids are, but for many years, we made canning a homeschool project that we did with another family. I think our all-time best canning project was canning about 60 quarts of pears with my best homeschooling friend, Anna.

    Her four kids and my four kids all were part of an assembly line that involved knives, peelers, cutting boards, saucepans full of light syrup, jars, lids, rings, two full-size propane cookstoves (the Great Big freestanding cookstoves, not the little green Coleman stoves) and five canning kettles. We got all those pears processed into sealed jars in under two hours and we had a ball! I think our kids ranged in age from 7-13. To this day, I always try to can with friends because it turns something that can be quite tedious into something fun.

    Is there another homeschool mom who is dying to learn how to can? or who would just love to spend an afternoon hanging out with your and your kids?

  • Jean Weller says:

    My aunt calls our family-made apple butter the most expensive apple butter in the world. And it is after you add up the cost for the apples, sugar, spices, not to mention the cost for hotels, travel gas, and all the food served over the two days of our event. HOWEVER, it is very yummy apple butter and it’s a great excuse for us all to get together.

    We peel, cut and wash 5 bushels of apples on day one (our hands are very brown after the apple juice coats them for the whole day). The second day is spent stirring the apples first in huge pots on the stove then transferring them to the huge copper pot. Yes, we still cook over an old-fashioned wood fire, though my husband would dearly love to switch over the propane. The women in our family however are very strong-willed and it’s the tradition that counts in this process.

    Everyone participates, since the pot has be to continually stirred. There’s lots of time for fun, too, and we all play games, sing songs, gossip about family members who aren’t attending and generally have a great time. When the butter is ready (as determined by the oldest female in attendance who wishes to take on the responsibility), we start the madness of transferring the butter to jars, sprinkling on cinnamon (to retard any bacterial growth), screwing on the lids and trying to wipe down the jars (which are piping hot). The guys get to wash down the copper kettle.

    So it’s not something easily done, but that’s the point for us. It takes energy, dedication, and not a little love. And it really tastes great on the homemade biscuits!

  • jami says:

    Ever since I lived in Ohio and went to the apple festival and maple festival that they hold each year I have wanted to make apple butter. Everyone talks about using a crock pot but I was going to use my cast iron pot for this. My children are grown, my husband is at work all day and I require something to keep my old bones limber. But after reading your comments I am not to sure. But, I thought I would try it for something to let the grand babies taste…a touch of old time so to speak…yesterday I spendt the day gathering elderberris and making elderberry syrup. Wish I had a job – I don’t think I ever worked this hard away from home as I do at home.

  • Hi Jami,
    Well, give it a try–it’s worth doing once. I would think that it would take a lot less time if you cooked it in your cast iron pot. Let us know how it turns out!

    Laura

  • Reba says:

    After preparing & canning ‘true’ apple butter for the last 20 years, (I was raised in the Pennsylvania Dutch State), I have also had the $4,000 a jar?!! blues at the end of each session, (so much work, so many apples, so few jars of butter). I had no other friends or family with any interest in my lifelong canning obsession, so there was no joyus ‘sharing’ of the work and experience. Everybody though loves and devours my apple-maple butter, so on I would peel….

    A few years ago I started making it in the crockpot, still with fresh chopped, peeled, cored bushels of apples, finishing on my portable burners on the screened porch, for the final ‘stir till I drop or burn the butter’ cooking.

    Then 4 years ago I saw the big jars of apple sauce on sale in the grocery store. Since I live in some great apple country, I looked more closely at a jar made by a local apple product producer, checked the contents- apples, water and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), the exact same ingredients as my homemade applesauce. The light bulb lit up over my head.

    I bought enough jars of applesauce to fill as many 1/2 pint jars as I wanted to make, taking into account that it STILL needed to be cooked down by about another 1/2 – to end up “thick enough to stand up a large wooden spoon,without the spoon falling over”.

    My butter includes bottles of real maple syrup, proportions are really only determined by taste and budget. (All year long I buy only real maple syrup, no substitutions, a bottle at a time, at cheap stores and only when they are on sale.) The maple syrup really boils down just like the water in the applesauce, adding & leaving more flavor than any actual volume to the butter.

    First the applesauce gets plopped in the 2 large crockpots. The crockpots sit on a large table covered in 2 old plastic tablecloths I use only for butter making. This is because after the first 12 hours or so, the tops are either tilted to vent steam/moisture, meaning the apple butter MAY throw out spits of butter, or it’s time to take the tops all the way off of the crockpots, meaning the apple butter WILL spit out drops/globs of butter for 2 feet around the pots.

    I know what you are thinking- they have these great new crockpot liner bags- well they are fantastic for chili or stew but dreadful for butters. This is because during the last 3 hours or so cooking, certainly during the last 2, the butter needs to still be stirred almost constantly, or the butter, just like on the stove, when it thickens up can scorch and burn- literally in a heartbeat. A small scorch will make the whole batch taste burnt- no remedy. That much stirring makes a mess of the liner.

    I fill the 2 large crockpots almost right up to the top. The covers go on to start. They start on low temp. I only need to stir every hour or so in the beginning. As the applesauce cooks down, I add more, right out of their jars. They go all day and I leave them, tops on, on low, overnight without stirring. In the early morning, I stir well and add more applesauce to bring again up close to the top. I stir every hour again all day. At he end of the day and only if it has cooked down enough to do so, I add my 6 or so small bottles of maple syrup. I taste for sweetness, adding white or brown sugar by the cupfull if it seems to need it. After adding the maple syrup and some sugar, I turn to high and stir every half hour or so or AS NEEDED. The sugars make the butter more susceptible to burning. With the crockpot tops tilted to let out steam, it continues to cook down until I want to go to bed. I just put the crockpot tops on, unplug and go nitey nite. I wake up early, stir it well, add cinnamon & a small amt of ground cloves (and not until now), then I plug it in, usually leave the tops off now, and stir frequently until I reach a thickness that would require me to just sit there and stir for fear of burning. At this point, I scoop it out into the largest/tallest stainless steel pot (NOT TEFLON) I can fit on my kitchen stove burner. This is for the final ‘sitting and stirring cook’ till it’s very, very thick.

    Make sure it bubbles for at least 20 minutes(stirring constantly- I can’t stress this enough) after transferring it to the canning pot on the stove, before following the usual process of putting into clean jars and processing in a boiling water bath for the appropriate time and for your altitude.

    What have I gained? Not buying the apples at (even around here) very high prices for the cores & seeds and apple juice that doesn’t go into the butter, no lugging them home, storing, washing, peeling, coring, mashing,(need I go on….).

    Now I buy the large jars of applesauce- the ones with the least ingredients, no sugar, no spices. (NOT chunky style- I thought I’d like it one year- but the chunks, even cooked down, didn’t give the same ‘mouth feel’ as smooth applesauce/butter.)

    Is it ‘real’ home-made apple butter? Figure the costs out. Then taste and decide for yourselves. Look in any good crockpot book for recipes using applesauce. Many are more simple, have different flavorings etc, and it’s good to see other recipes that might suit you.

    All I know is none of my friends or family ever noticed the switch… they still rave. I cut both my costs and prep time drastically. So, save the apples for canning cinnamon apple chunks or apple pie filling or even just apple wedges in a simple syrup (the easiest and best of all- I can do something with the prepared apple wedges another time, when I HAVE time, like fresh applesauce from just one jar at a time.)

    I hope this inspires someone to consider the goodness of canning apple butter again.

  • Reba, You may have convinced me. You’re right that it’s the cost of all those apples, plus the labor and mess of prepping them. I think I might be more inclined to do it if all I was doing was opening jars of applesauce. I’ll give it some more thought. Thanks for your input!

    Laura

  • Carolinesmom says:

    I’m so sad to read all of this. I have never made apple butter, but my huge, homemaking idea was to make some this year. I took my three-year-old daughter apple picking today (we live in California, so this is as close to “New England” fall as we can get!)and got about 30 apples. Apparently this will not be enough? I only wanted to make a few jars, but do you experts think I have enough apples, or shall I give caramel apples to the neighborhood kids instead? I don’t know what to do…..

  • Here’s what **I** think you should do. I think you peel and slice most of the apples you have. Leave about six apples to make fresh apple cake. (If you do a search on the site for fresh apple cake, you’ll see the recipe.) Then start cooking the peeled, sliced apples. After they start to turn to mush, add a nice quality (probably organic with few, if any addititives besides apples) applesauce to the pan. If you have a large pan or large crockpot, add several jars of applesauce to supplement the fresh apples. It’ll be fine.

    We used to live in California and every year picked tons and tons of apples. Some days we sure do miss that state. ;)

  • Carolinesmom says:

    Thanbks for the input, I really appreciate it!

  • Debbie says:

    Wow, I have never seen so much work go into making applebutter. I am canning some right now. I put up about 40 pints each year. Usually in 2 days.

    What I do. Starting with about 2 bushels of apples (various kinds for better flavor). Wash the apples, remove the stem and any bad spots. Quarter the apples and put into a large stock pot (I have 3 of the 12 quart ones stove now). I have diffusers on the gas burner grates to help with the burning problem. Add about 5 cups of water and cover the pans. Let stew for about 2 hours. Let cool for about an hour. Drain.

    Run them thur a puree on my kitchen aide or by hand with an old ricer type foley. This takes care of all the stuff you didn’t cut off (plus the pectin from the skin helps to thicken the sauce. Return to large kettle add 1 cup sugar to every 3 cups apple, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves and let simmer for couple of hours while I stir it every 30 minutes or so. When cooked down to where I want it. I put it in jars and into a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, remove to table and let sit overnight. Put on labels and its done.

    Hope some of you will give this one a try it is really easy and not as much work as the ways shown above. Good butter too!

  • Debbie,

    Thanks for sharing this. This sounds awfully close to what I did and it’s nice to know that I wasn’t shorting things!

    Barb

  • Kristin says:

    I took my daughter apple picking last week, and got a BRILLIANT idea, which I shared with my husband. Why don’t we make apple butter from Sophie to give out as Christmas presents to our relatives? OK… we found a recipe online. We made the applesauce today, hoping to do the crockpot part tomorrow.

    BUT…we don’t have a canner! And I have been calling around to several stores searching for one. If I order on online it can take 2-6 weeks to get here.

    Can someone tell me if I can just boil the jars in a regular pot? And is there anything else I need to know or buy?

    I don’t know if we will ever do this again, but I am beginning to appreciate those who do a lot of canning of homemade jellies and butters. And I know Sophie has had a lot of fun with each step along the way.

    Any help for locating a canner, or substituting for one would be great!
    Kristin

  • Kristin, Here are a few suggestions. First of all, no, you don’t need a canning kettle strictly speaking. You DO need a large, deep pot. If you use a large, deep stock pot, you can put a wire rack on the bottom and fill it with water. The rack is important because you don’t want the jars sitting directly on the bottom of the pan. You want to make sure that the jars don’t touch each other while the water is boiling. It’s also essential that the water in the pot completely covers the jars by at least an inch. If you have a pot this deep, or if you’re doing the really short, fat jars, you’re in business. Just make sure you boil the jars long enough….can’t remember right this moment what that is…but it’s somewhere above. You might need to do more batches this way, but this should work just fine.

    I’m kind of surprised tht you didn’t find a canning kettle on clearance at Walmart or someplace like that. Often, hardware stores will also carry canning kettles. Most stores in our area have put them on clearance because it’s pretty much the end of canning season.

    Good like,

    Barb

  • Kristin says:

    Thanks Barb!

    Now, I have another small problem. The recipe I found online for apple butter says to cook the apple butter in a crockpot on low or medium heat (6-12 hrs). It is supposed to come to a slow boil. My crockpot has low and high settings. I put it on low last night at 9 pm (it is now 1:45 pm the next day!) and it never did come to a boil… and it has reduced MAYBE by an inch or so.

    Will it burn if I put it on high in the crockpot? Or should I transfer it to the stove?

    Thanks for any help!
    Kristin

  • Hi Kristin,
    I think it probably will burn if you put it on high. If I were you, I’d put it in a stock-pot on your stove on a lowish setting, and stir it frequently. It will reduce faster on the stove, so you won’t be stuck stirring for 8 hours. But you WILL need to give it a stir every 5-10 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn to the botttom of the pan, which would give the entire batch an unpleasant bitter flavor. Good luck!

    Laura

  • Kristin says:

    Hey, Laura!

    Thanks so much! The drama has ended… The apple butter is FINALLY done. We ended up transfering the batch from the crockpot to the stove… and it was much faster. The whole house smelled like Christmas, and it tastes delicious. We even let our 2-yr old spread some on a slice of bread (with a plastic knife) and she loved it.

    Turns out a friend of mine does a lot of canning and she lent me her canner, funnel and jar grabber. Awesome! I am thinking about getting all this stuff now, too.

    I’ll check back on this message board to see what y’all are cooking.

    Kristin

  • Sheila Emborski says:

    Help! Put my crock pot with apple butter on my stove to bring the temperature up and ended up burning it in the crock pot. How do I get the burned residue off the inside of the crock pot?

  • Sheila, My crock pot is usually the easiest thing to clean–even with really caked on burnt stuff. If it doesn’t come right off, try putting hot water in it, and turning it on for a few hours–that ought to loosen/soften the hard stuff.

    Laura

  • Brandy Gunderson says:

    Hi. I just came across your site while looking for methods of preserving apple butter for the purpose of gift giving. I have never mae it, and love it. I was a bit discouraged after reading about all of the work involved. I think that maybe as soon as fall comes (I live in the midwest), when I can get a bushel for under 10 dollars, I am going to try this recipe. It sounds pretty easy, and you dont have to peel anything! Check it out.
    http://www.elise.com/recipes/archives/000119apple_butter.php

  • brian says:

    i cooked applebutter in a large stock pot far yearsit cooked way down .almost half .i used a thirty gallon copper kettle this year uing six bushel i was expecting a half a pot .it didnt cook down .i now am elbo deep in apple butter .also it burned very easy in the stock pot .but the big pot no burn no atemt to burn.it may be that cooking over a fire is so much slower i dont know

  • brian says:

    oh stir constantly, no breaks,or it will burn speicaly in a stainless pot

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