Cooking Tips

Overdid It at the Orchard? Turn Your Bounty Into Apple Butter

Capitalize on a big apple picking haul and make apple butter—a concentrated, complex-tasting spread that is ideal for serving with pastries, cheese, or on a sandwich.

Published Oct. 19, 2023.

Autumn means golden leaves, crisp air, and, for many, the tradition of apple picking. But as you return home, your bags brimming with a medley of apple varieties, the question often arises: What the heck do I do with all this fruit? 

While pies, tarts, and cakes are always on the menu, another terrific way to put your haul to use is making apple butter.

Apple butter encapsulates the essence of fall and there’s something undeniably cozy about the process of making it. 

Learn more about this spread and how to turn your freshly picked apples into a delicious, long-lasting treat.  

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What is Apple Butter? 

This glossy, tawny-colored spread is a more complex alternative to ultra-sweet jams and preserves. It dates back to the Middle Ages and was likely introduced to this country by people of German descent, including the Pennsylvania Dutch. 

It’s made in a similar fashion to applesauce, by piling loads of cut apples into a pot with spices, a bit of sugar, and some water so the apples don’t burn before they release their juices.

With apple sauce, the fruit may be softened enough after just 15 minutes of cooking, but with apple butter, you keep going for hours, until the apples break down into an almost creamy consistency and their sugars have caramelized, creating intense flavor.

Meanwhile, the scent of simmering apples has filled your home, creating an atmosphere that's as comforting as a blanket on a cold day.

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Secrets to Ultra-Apply Apple Butter

When Executive Editor Christie Morrison set out to make apple butter, she wanted to recreate all the things she loved about her mother’s apple sauce, but in a more concentrated form. That meant a spread with few embellishments that focused on maximizing apple flavor.  

  • Use two types of apples. Almost any apple can be used for apple butter, but we used two varieties—Fuji for its sweet, honey-like notes and McIntosh for classic apple taste. 
  • Cook the apples with the skins. Apple skin is full of flavor and aroma compounds that make the apple butter taste far more fruity. 
  • Amp up the apple. Many recipes use water to jumpstart the cooking, but we turned to apple cider and a full cup of Calvados. 
  • Skip the spices. Spices like cinnamon and cloves can obscure fruity taste. We left spices out entirely, and used just lemon juice and a little salt to sharpen the spread’s flavors.
  • Sweeten with some brown sugar. Brown sugar adds caramelly notes that amplify those from the apples.
A saucepan full of reduced apple butter with a silicone spatula stirring it.
TIP: It takes about an hour and a half for the butter to cook down; you will know it’s ready when it has darkened to a rich brown color and thickened enough to leave a solid trail behind the path of the spoon or spatula.

How to Make Apple Butter

1. Combine apples, cider, and Calvados (or applejack) in large Dutch oven and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until apples are very soft, about 30 minutes.

2. Working in batches, transfer apples to food mill and process. Discard skins and transfer puree to now-empty Dutch oven. Stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is browned and thickened and rubber spatula or wooden spoon leaves distinct trail when dragged across bottom of pot, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

3. Transfer apple butter to jar with tight-fitting lid and let cool completely before covering and refrigerating. Apple butter can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.

How to Enjoy Apple Butter

Apple butter isn't just for eating on toast. Its velvety consistency and robust taste enhance a plethora of dishes, both savory and sweet. It can be swirled into oatmeal, dolloped on pancakes, paired with cheeses, or even used as a base for marinades and sauces. Our recipe can be refrigerated for up to 1 month or frozen in an airtight container.


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