Apple butter and pear butter is a spreadable topping, made essentially by reducing seasoned applesauce to a thick paste. When cooked until thick, pome fruits such as apples and pears reveal earthy, plum-like flavors that are heightened with warm spices and a touch of sugar or honey. There’s no butter in it; it spreads like butter. Hence, the name.
Compared to jam or jelly, fruit “butter” is a low-sugar option for spreadable fruit. The long-slow cooking and reduction of the fruit also increases its shelf life compared to applesauce. It’s an old-fashioned technique that is out of style in the 21st century. But it may be worth bringing it back to your household.
Fruit butter may be frozen or canned. Opened containers of fruit butter will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 months. Use fruit butter for toast or sandwiches, as a condiment for roasted meats, or swirl into plain yogurt..anywhere you want a fruity accent.
For more information about preserving apples and pears, plus many other food preservation methods for all types of foods, get the book The Home Preserving Bible by Carole Cancler.
Recipe for apple butter or pear butter
Tart or cooking varieties of apples and pears tend to produce light, fresh-tasting fruit butter, while sweet fruits create a more cloying spread. The color can range from light caramel to mahogany, depending on the fruit variety, amount of spices added, and other factors.
Makes 7 pints
- 5-1⁄4 lb. (16 medium) apples or pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
- 1-3⁄4 cups water apple juice (substitute 1/2 cup cider vinegar for some of the water or juice for an old-fashioned flavor, or 1/2 cup lemon juice for a brighter flavor)
- 2-1⁄2 cups granulated sugar, or to taste (may be reduced or eliminated entirely)
- 1-1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1⁄2 tsp. ground cloves
- In a large (6- to 8-quart), heavy stainless-steel or enamel pot, add apples and apple cider. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to cook until fruit is soft.
- Press fruit through a food mill or strainer, or purée in a food processor.
- Rinse the pot and return fruit pulp to it. Add sugar, cinnamon, and cloves to fruit pulp and stir until blended. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. (If you don’t have a heavy enamel pot, you may want to transfer your sauce to a slow cooker and cook on the low setting to reduce your sauce. The key to making fruit butter is long, slow cooking. I use a heavy Le Creuset pan, which works beautifully. Don’t let the cost alarm you, it lasts a lifetime or more and is the best pan for making not only fruit jam, but meat stews and braised dishes. Bar none.)
- Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil gently, adjusting heat as needed. Cook about 4 to 6 hours or more (yes, you read that right), or until thick, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. (If you are using a slow cooker, it will take longer, perhaps 8 to 12 hours.) Apple butter is done when it mounds on a spoon, or a spoonful on a plate does not weep clear liquid around the edge.
- Cool apple butter completely. Store in covered containers in the refrigerator up to 3 months. Freeze or can for longer storage.
How to freeze fruit butter
Chill thoroughly and pack into freezer-safe containers. Freeze up to 1 year. Once opened, refrigerate fruit butter and use within 3 months.
How to can fruit butter
Turn heat to low to keep fruit butter hot while filling jars. Fill hot jars, adjusting to 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe the jar rim with a clean, dampened paper towel. Secure the lid. Process half-pints or pints for 10 minutes (at 0 to 1,000 feet). Cool completely, test the seal, label, and store jars up to 1 year. Once opened, refrigerate fruit butter and use within 3 months.
If you are new to canning, read How to get started with the canning preservation method and download this free Tip Sheet for Home Food Canning.
How to make apple butter from applesauce
If you have already have applesauce instead of apples, use this recipe to make apple butter. Of course, it also works to make pear butter from pear sauce. For more information about making pome fruit sauces, read how to prepare applesauce, pear sauce, and quince paste.
Makes about 2 cups (1 pint or 2 half-pints)
- 1 quart of unsweetened applesauce, pear sauce, or quince sauce
- 3/4 cup apple juice or apple cider (substitute 1/4 cup cider vinegar for some of the juice for an old-fashioned flavor or 1/4 cup lemon juice for a brighter flavor)
- 2/3 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch ground cloves
- In a saucepan, stir together fruit sauce, apple juice, sugar, lemon juice or vinegar (if using), cinnamon, and cloves. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Reduce heat and continue to boil gently. Cook until thick. As mixture reduces and thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Fruit butter is done when it mounds on a spoon, or a spoonful on a plate does not weep clear liquid around the edge.
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