Make your own Apple Butter!

As the harvest rolls in from the garden (and farmers market) it quickly becomes apparent that we just cannot consume all these fruits and vegetables right now! Some things are very simple to freeze for later but others need a bit more processing for long term storage. Like apples. Every year I make apple butter to use up some of the excess apples before they go bad.

Apple butter, homemade on toast

Apple butter is the very first thing I ever canned as it is one of the simplest preserves to make. All you really need is apples, sugar, lemon juice and some spices. It's pretty much an applesauce that's been cooked down to a thick preserve.

It's also really easy to water bath can apple butter, so if you're new to's a great way to get started without investing a ton of money.

How to make and can Apple Butter

I've used the same recipe for at least a dozen years! In the beginning I had to adapt it for my kitchen which was not stocked with a bunch of specialty tools like food mills. So again, this is the perfect recipe if you're just getting started because all you're really going to need is some pots and regular kitchen tools, the ingredients and some ball jars.

Apple Butter recipe

3-4 pounds apple
2 cups apple cider or apple juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla

Peel, core and slice the apples. Put in a heavy pot with apple juice or cider and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the apples are very soft. Probably about 20 to 30 minutes.

Cooking apples in pot for apple butter

I mash mine a few times with a hand held potato masher. If they smash easily, they're done. All the apples should be transparent and not still white colored. Turn off heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree till smooth.

Return the apple puree to the pot and stir in sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. Simmer over medium low heat until the mixture is thickened. The timing is going to vary but it should be around 30 to 45 minutes. 

Related reading: Make your own vanilla extract, so much better than store bought!

Puree, cook and can applebutter

I know it's tempting to turn up the heat to get things moving faster, but please don' won't work. The thicker your apple butter gets, the easier it is to burn. You really just need to simmer the whole time. Plus, it tends to bubble and splatter a lot at high heat.

You'll need to test your apple butter to see if it's done. You need a clean plate and a spoon. All you'll do is put a dollop of apple butter on the plate and let it set a minute. If it's not ready it will weep juice around the edges. If it is ready it will stay looking like this.

The apple butter plate test.

Do you see that very slight ring of juice around the apple butter? (click photo to enlarge) That's ok. If the ring of juice expands or the butter lays flat or seems watery, then you'll need to cook it longer. Make sure you're simmering your apple butter with the lid off the pot. The moisture needs to evaporate.

You can store your apple butter in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, or you can water bath can it and store it much much longer.

How to can apple butter

If you made my Grape Jam recipe you'll recognize these canning instructions as they're very similar!

Ladle your apple butter into clean, hot, half pint canning jars, leaving a quarter inch of space at the top. This is called headspace. Release air pockets either by tapping the jars or using a plastic butter knife or wooden chopstick. Make sure the rims are clean, then center the lids on the jars and screw on jar bands.

To make sure the lids are not too tight (which prevents gasses from getting out during the process) and not too lose (which allows water in the jar) I put the jars on a towel to fill them. Tighten lids with only the fingertips of one hand. Once the jar starts to spin on the towel, they're tight enough!

Process for 15 minutes in your water bath. Turn off heat and let set for 5 minutes. Remove jars from water bath, and allow to set for 24 hours. Before storing, remove jar bands and check that all the seals have popped in.

Finished apple butter with jar rings removed, resting

If your jars have not sealed, it's okay. Your apple butter is still fine It just needs used within a few weeks. Store any that haven't popped in the refrigerator.

If this is your first time canning and you have questions check out The beginners guide to water bath canning from A modern Homestead. My friend Victoria breaks down canning in a way I never could! She can definitely help you out.

Tips for Apple Butter Success:

I usually use whatever apples I have excess of, but certain apples have stronger flavor that works better when cooking them. If you happen to be at a farmer's market or grocery store and you're picking the apples, choose apples that are known to be good saucing apples and maybe throw in one or two tart apples for a little kick of flavor.

If you choose to use apple juice the flavor will be milder than if you choose to use apple cider. I used apple juice in my last batch because I could not find cider yet. If you do this and want to add a bit to the can add 1/4 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. You can use water if you have neither juice or cider but again the flavor will be milder.

If you're looking at different apple butter recipes you'll notice some of them chop the apples with peels and cores intact. I don't use this method because I don't have a food mill to strain out the peels and such afterwards. If you do have a food mill you could use it instead of the blender, and you won't have to peel your apples.

You should be able to find everything you need for canning at the local grocery or big box store. I have the ball canning accessory set. It has a magnetic lid lifter, canning funnel and a jar lifter to grip and lift the jars in and out of the boiling water. These are pretty much the only tools you will need besides canning jars with lids.

Canning can be a bit intimidating at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Just be careful to follow recipes exactly (for food safety) and you'll be fine! The more you can your own produce, the more you'll see...nothing beats that homegrown flavor all year round!

Want to grow your own produce? Vegetables that are ready in under 60 days.


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