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No, this does not contain any actual butter! I believe the name comes from the fact that you can spread it on toast just like butter–buttering with apples, as it were :-). More accurately, it is somewhere between apple sauce and jam or marmalade; you use it like jam (up to and including in a PB&J, if you like the flavors that way!), but it’s made of very very cooked apples, like applesauce. As a matter of fact, I will mark where you can stop in this recipe and have wonderfully tasty homemade applesauce.

Sean and I went apple picking, just for fun, earlier this fall. We’re both country kids stuck living in the suburbs (for the moment!) so we decided to get out where there was more open space and good fall harvest smells. We got some Gala and Jonamac apples for a really good price (about a dollar per pound), but then we needed to do something with them! Now, you are about to be treated to an aside on different types of apples. It matters. Trust me on this one.

Gala apples are an eating apple, and very very common in stores. They are the more flavorful of the standard eating apples available in your standard supermarket. They tend to sit next to the Red Delicious (which are anything but–nasty crunchy water that isn’t good for eating or cooking! You want crunchy water, just buy a watermelon). In the same eating category you have Golden Delicious (which actually are), a soft and sweet yellow apple that needs to be eaten pretty much as soon as it is ripe, so it tends to be stocked a little bit green in stores. Now, Granny Smith apples cross the eating/baking line regularly–they are firm and tart, and don’t break down too easily in pies and the like, so they’re great for baking. However, some people also really enjoy their particularly tart flavor for eating (Sean likes them with cheese, which I find yucky, but <shrug>). Just in case you’re wondering, some apples actually are so tart they can’t be easily eaten without help–crab apples are the exemplar of this. You can eat them, but you will be cooking them with much sweetener before it’s a fun and tasty experience. This is not necessary with most apples, however.

Other eating apples you’ll see in stores, especially, include Fuji, Jonagold (a hybrid of Jonathan and Golden Delicious, I believe), and Pink Lady (one of my personal favorites for a flavorful and crisp eating apple). Sometimes there are others, of course, especially if you live in an area that grows apples (I grew up in Washington State, hence my near-obsession with educating the world about the different types and uses of apples :D).

Now, baking apples come in many varieties, though many of them aren’t half bad for eating if you’re so inclined. Some of these “crossover” types, other than the Granny Smiths mentioned above, include Cameos and Braeburn (though Braeburn is stretching it–I really don’t eat them much). Braeburn is the most common baking apple to find in a store. Baking apples tend to have a slightly less crunchy, damp interior, making them firmer and less inclined to fall apart in pie and the like when you bake with them. They are often also more tart than many eating apples. The apples Sean and I picked were Jonamacs, a relatively recent hybrid of Jonathan and Macintosh apples. Both varieties are also good baking apples. It is worth mentioning that when I say “baking apple” I guess I mean “cooking apple,” because these are also the varieties better suited to making apple sauce and apple butter out of. You can make apple sauce out of Galas or similar eating apples, but it will be watery and have very little flavor (it’ll bear a distressing resemblance to store applesauce, at that).

So, there is the mini apple lecture :-). The other thing about making apple sauce or apple butter is that you need a chinois sieve. I have seen versions where people try and get around this by using a blender or just really really cooking things, but the texture just doesn’t come out right. If you’re going to really try getting in to making your own preserves and canning, you should acquire a chinois (also spelled chinoise) sieve. It may have another name, but I don’t know what it is. Some are stamped aluminum (mine is) and some are actual mesh. Either will work for apple sauce and butter. Mine, and my mother’s, both came from thrift stores. These tools were a lot more common a few decades back, when people canned their own produce more often, and they turn up in flea markets and thrift stores because the people cleaning out Grandma’s house after she passes on have no clue what the thing is or why you’d use it. You can get one today, but new they will run you about $25 – $40, as a general thing (Amazon does carry one). Mine cost me $8, however, which is just happier :-). They come in parts, with a stand, the pointy sieve, and a mortar. Here’s a picture of mine while we were using it to make apple butter (those are my husband’s hands :D):

You will notice in this recipe that you do not peel or core your apples. This may seem odd (“If I just peeled and cored them I wouldn’t need that funny sieve thing, right?”). Well, not quite. Pectin, which you will need to buy to add to jam recipes if you ever want to make that, actually comes from apples. Pectin is what makes the jam set up into that nice gelled consistency that is so very spreadable. The highest concentration of pectin in an apple is in the core and seeds, followed by the peel, and only then in the flesh of the apple. So, if you cook the apples without the cores or peels, you’ve lost most of the natural pectin (the existence of which in apples is why we don’t need to add any) and your apple sauce will be runnier and it’ll be much harder to get your apple butter to cook down (thicken) nicely. Thus, we leave the cores and peels in when we initially boil the apples, then get then out of their so they don’t make our food nasty! Note: Apple seeds do contain tiny trace amounts of cyanide, so when I make this I generally flick out any seeds that I nick with the knife when I cut the apple. Don’t worry if you miss some, though. You’d need pounds of seeds alone to even make a person sick. So, without further ado, here is the Apple Butter (but you can stop early and have apple sauce!) recipe.

Apple Butter


  • 5 lbs cooking apples (I used Jonamac and Jonathan in combination, with one Granny Smith thrown in. Mixing different types yields better results, but be careful with the very tart Granny Smiths–one is enough for variety)
  • 1 cup apple juice or apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup agave nectar (to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice


1. Cut the apples into quarters (sixths if they’re large, that is, about the size of a store bought Granny Smith) without peeling or coring them. Put them into a 5.5 or 6 quart pot that has a lid that fits well. The apples should just fill up the pot (maybe even be a tiny bit domed up).

2. Add the 1 cup of apple juice and the 1 TBS of lemon juice to the apples. Cover and bring to a boil. Note: the juice will not come anywhere near to covering the apples, and it doesn’t need to. It’ll boil up the sides some, and a lot more liquid will be release from the apples while cooking. Boil until the apples are soft and just begin to fall apart, about 20 minutes.

3. Ladle the mixture into the chinois sieve set over a bowl and press through with the mortar until only peels and core bits remain in the sieve. You can clean it out periodically if you build up too many peels. You’ll have to do it a bit at a time until you’ve done all the apples–they won’t all fit at once!

4. Wipe out the boiling pot once empty and return the puree from the sieve to the pot. Mix together to evenly distribute all the fluids and flavor. If you stop here, you have homemade applesauce, which can be eaten now or canned for later as you prefer.

5. Add the agave nectar, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice to the apple puree. Turn the burner back on to a medium-low heat and stir everything in. Cook over this low heat until thickened, stirring constantly. It will burn easily if left unattended. The mixture is thick and getting thicker, so it will bubble and pop. Stirring it for the hour to two hours necessary to thicken it enough (it depends on how warm your burner is) can be a pain, so it is best if there are two or three stirrers taking turns. It’s more fun with company too :-).

6. The apple butter is done when a mounded teaspoonful set on a saucer doesn’t “leak” juice around the edge (there may be a tiny bit of fluid condensation around the edge just because it was hot and went of a cool saucer) and the mound doesn’t spread out/loose shape. At this point you turn off the heat and you can can it immediately. Canning procedure is outlined below. It is also great to eat now–enjoy!

Canning Procedure

This process follows for most anything you’ll want to can, though the jar size varies depending on what you used and how much you’re doing at once! For apple sauce and apple butter (especially apple butter) I recommend 1/2 pint sized jars because you don’t want to open them and then leave them in the fridge too long. It’ll go bad and you’ll have lost all that tasty food!


  • 1 largeish canning pot (about 12 quarts or bigger) with a canning rack in it (they come this way at Wal Mart or wherever) The jars absolutely may not sit directly on the bottom of the pot!
  • 12 1/2 pint jars (one batch of apple sauce usually fills about 7, one batch of apple butter fills about 5)
  • 12 lids and 12 rings for the jars (these usually come with them, but if you’re reusing jars you’ll need to buy new lids)
  • Dishwasher
  • Small pot
  • Water


1. Sterilize the jars and lids. Jars may be run through the dishwasher (soap is not necessary, as the heat sterilizes, but if you’re putting them in with other dishes, soap won’t hurt), but make sure you have a heated dry cycle turned on. You can also boil them to sterilize them (the old fashioned way) but it’s more difficult and often longer. To sterilize lids and rings, put them in the small pot, cover with water, and boil for a few minutes. Some folks hold that soap hurts the seal on the lids, so it’s best to just boil them (I’ve never had much of a problem in the dishwasher, though).

2. Fill the jars with the food in question, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch empty space at the top (called “head space”). Tap the jars on the counter to help fill in any air bubbles down in the apple butter (apple sauce usually doesn’t have air bubbles as it is more squishy).

3. Center lids on the top and secure with the rings. Close up all the jars.

4. Put them in the canning rack, which should be sitting inside the canning pot on the bottom. Do not stack–they must fit in a single layer or you’ll just need to do more than one round. Fill the pot with enough water that you have a few inches of water above the highest jar lid.

5. Put the pot with jars on the stove, cover, and wait for it to boil. This’ll take a while–it’s a lot of water! Once it is boiling, boil 10 minutes, then shut off the heat.

6. Remove jars carefully from hot water (you can pull the rack up all at once and set it on the edges of the pot so that you don’t have to fish in the hot water), move the jars carefully to a towel, and let them sit, upright, for 24 hours. Do not poke at them, move them, or disturb them during this time. You will hear the seals on the lids “pop down” as they cool, and once they have cooled completely, all the jars should be sealed. The sealing noise is like the noise you hear when you open a store jar that has a metal lid, a high “pop.” Just like an opened jar of store jam, if the lid makes that popping noise when you press the center of the lid down, then it isn’t sealed, and that jar needs to be refrigerated and eaten soon. However, they should have all sealed and then you can move them to storage after 24 hours. They’ll keep a long time–I don’t know how long, as we always go through them all within a year!