Fruit Butters (Peaches, Pears and Apples)

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As a kid, I was fascinated by the lives of long-dead historical figures. I devoured those blue-bound “When They Were Young” biographies, absorbing the childhood details of Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony and Clara Barton. I was a particular fan of Betsy Ross, in part because I’d taken the walking tour through her cramped colonial home in Philadelphia’s historic district (later, when we were back in California, I delightedly wore the Quaker sunbonnet my grandmother bought me at the museum gift shop).

One aspect that I found particularly entrancing in these “biographies” (looking back, I realize that these volumes were probably far more fiction than fact) was the way in which food preparation was detailed (this is also why I read and re-read all the Little House books).

There’s one scene in the Betsy Ross book that has always stuck with me, in which she (as a seven or eight year old) is given the task of tending the apple butter, as it slowly cooks over an open fire. She uses a wooden paddle to scrape the scum off the top of the butter and a long wooden stirrer, with which to ensure that the butter doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot. I found this description, of a little girl being tasked with such responsibility, so very appealing. As a child of similar age, I longed to participate in the activities of food preparation, and to have a hand in making things from scratch.

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However, in those days, our applesauce came from a jar and the only thing we spread on bread was strawberry jam from a large, blue plastic bucket (the one with a white handle and lid). It wasn’t until my family moved to Oregon a few years later, and we found ourselves in a new/old house with gnarled old apple trees down at the very back of the property, did we even attempt to make apple butter (there is little in the world that tastes better than apple butter made from antique, windfall apples).

These days, homemade fruit butters are an integral part of my summer and fall preserving routine. After the jump, you’ll find my general fruit butter technique, it’s not a specific recipe, but instead a flexible approach that can expand or contract, depending on how much fruit you have. I also have a half pint jar of pear butter to give away. If you want it, leave a comment by Friday, September 18th at 11:59 p.m.

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I tend to make fruit butters in a two (or more) day process. Starting with the whole peaches, pears or apples, I simply cut them into chunks (the apples get peeled, but I leave the skins on the peaches and pears) and cook them down into sauce with a little bit of water. When they can be squished with the flat side of a wooden spoon, I puree them with an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender (working carefully in batches) or a food mill to create a smooth sauce from the cooked fruit.

Now you begin to cook the sauce down into butter. This can take anywhere from three to five hours on the stove top at its lowest setting, depending on the amount of butter you’re making, the width of your pot (wider pot means more space for evaporation) and the level of heat that you cook over. This is best done on a lazy Sunday afternoon, so that you can give it a stir every 15 or 20 minutes. If you have a splatter shield, the kind typically used for frying, I’d use it here, as fruit butters can get a bit sputtery while cooking down.

Alternately, if you don’t have that kind of time, you can put your fruit sauce into a slow cooker and let is slowly cook down overnight or while you’re at work (I don’t recommend letting it go in the slow cooker for more than eight hours, so if you’ve got a long commute, you might not want to do it during your workday). You can also make the sauce one day, refrigerate it overnight and then cook it down into the butter the following day (or even a few days down the line).

While it cooks down, I like to add 3-4 teaspoons of cinnamon, about half a freshly grated nutmeg, some ground cloves and several cups of honey and/or sugar. The amount of sweetener is up to you, although you should add some, as it helps with the preservation of your finished product. I typically start with two cups and then taste, adding more if necessary. However, because you’ve concentrated the natural sweetness of the fruit, you shouldn’t need to much sugar or honey. I also will add the juice of 1-2 lemons, if I find that it needs a punch of acidity. Keep tasting, as it’s the best way to find a balance of spices and sweetness that works for you.

Once the butter is thick, seasoned and spreadable, get your jars out. I find that my typical batch makes 5-6 pints of butter, but your mileage will vary. Pour the hot fruit butter into clean jars, wipe rims, apply lids/rings and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes (starting the time when the water returns to a boil). When the time is up, remove the jars from the water and let them cool on a towel-lined countertop. When the jars are cool to the touch, check the seals by removing the rings and lifting the jars by the edges of the lid. A good seal means that the lid will hold fast.

Label your jars of fruit butter with the variety and the date. Store in a cool, dark place for up to six months.

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141 Responses to Fruit Butters (Peaches, Pears and Apples)

  1. 101
    Steph says:

    Your site is amazing. I’ve learned so much from reading here. I made your skillet jam (peach) the other night and it came out fantastic. Nothing but peaches honey and a little lemon juice.

    I’m also going to try the refrigerator pickles tomorrow.

    I still have chopped peaches left… about 7 cups worth… how much of the spices and honey should I add (for peach butter)?

    Thank you!!

    • 101.1
      marisa says:

      Steph, there’s no formula I can give you for adding spices and honey. Cook the peaches down into butter and then taste it. Add honey and the spices until it tastes good to you. Sometimes you also need a bit of lemon juice to balance all the flavors.

  2. 102
    andrea says:

    marisa, I am *grateful* for your site. I’ve been canning for a few years now (jams, pickles, tomatoes), and somewhere I read (quite possibly in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving) that one should only use “published recipes” or something to that effect. Then I read your lovely “some of this, some of that, the amount of sweetener is up to you” style directions and I wonder if the Ball Book is really just looking out for newbie canners to not stuff just anything in a jar, or are the ratios of the ingredients really critical for successful food preservation? Thanks!! And thank you for fielding so many canning questions!!

  3. 103
    Katy says:

    I’m on my second batch of peach butter and I’m shocked at how long it’s taking to cook down! My first batch cooked on nearly the lowest burner heat for about 8 hours before I gave up and canned it. It was beginning to get sticky like jam. I’m almost to 8 hours with my second batch. It’s just nowhere near “mounding up on a spoon” or leaving a trail when I pass a spoon across the bottom of the pan. I used nearly 4 quarts of mashed peaches and around 4 cups of sugar. They were quite juicy, but this is getting ridiculous! What am I doing wrong?

    • 103.1
      Caroline says:

      When I make fruit butters, I usually do about 18-24 hours in the crockpot. It just takes a long time. Maybe your burner is lower.

  4. 104
    Amber says:

    Love these tips! I cooked down a batch of apple pear butter today for six hours and it was heavenly. One of my jars was still warm when I cracked it open to put on biscuits for dinner. Thanks for your wonderful site!

  5. 105

    [...] is the original post on making fruit butters from Food In Jars.  I’ve summarized it below and added a few of my own ideas but check out her [...]

  6. 106
    Carol Hughes says:

    Came across your blog and really enjoy it! I make apple, peach, pear and plum butter from the fruit off our trees (we grow mulberry, pear, apple, peach, plum, cherry, high bush cranberry, strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, gooseberry, boisenberry, blackberry, raspberry and loads of grapes). I enjoy experimenting and making different combinations -one favorite is mulberry/raspberry. I decided to try making chocolate apple butter and it is a big favorite. Instead of using spices I put cocoa in the pot. I have also added cherry flavoring and orange flavoring with the chocolate. I love seeing the watermelon jelly recipe (I think my hubby will love that!). I have childhood memories of my grandmother “putting up” food, be it canning, freezing or drying. I learned to make apple butter at the age of 9. The lady who taught me was 90 years to the day older than me. I called her Grandma Bales though she was not related, and I loved her dearly. At 99 Grandma Bales made apple butter on a wood stove and used a hand pump to pump the water. Keep cooking!

  7. 107
    Cat says:

    This is what I want to try as my first canning project. So, of course, I have a question or 2 (hope they’re not dumb)…When you say cook the fruit down into sauce with a little bit of water, is it obvious when it has reached that point? How much is a little bit? And, lastly, I thought that canning pretty much made foods shelf stable indefinitely? Is 6 months the absolute limit? Thank you so much for your site. I am very excited to try a number of your recipes (lemon curd, yumm!). Thanks in advance, Cat

  8. 108
    Ivriniel says:

    Last fall I made apple butter in my Grade 1 classroom in my crockpot, using a recipe I found on Cooking Light.

    I’m allergic to raw apples (heat destroys the protein I’m allergic to), but the CSA we belonged to at the time had an orchard and we were getting part of our share as apples, so I needed a way to use them up. This turned it into a fun, teachable moment. And for the next month or so we had apple butter to put on our melba toast at snack time.

  9. 109

    [...] for a good Peach recipe to try my hand at canning – not sure if I should try this jam or butter, both from the fantastic blog, Food in Jars, and cookbook by the same [...]

  10. 110
    Lorraine says:

    I looked at many ways of making apple butter and finally settled on yours. I like that you are open to less or no sugar. I also liked your methodology.

  11. 111

    This is EXACTLY what I was looking for! Thanks for another awesome post!! :)

  12. 112

    [...] for the apple butter, the recipe is based off of Food in Jar’s fruit butter techniques, using some of my favorite spices. It’s a wonderful thing to have on hand for toast, yogurt [...]

  13. 113
    Emily says:

    Hi – Wondering how I could use apple cider in lieu of sugar or honey?!

    • 113.1
      Marisa says:

      Emily, if you used cider to sweeten, you’d need to add it at the very beginning of cooking, because the whole point of a fruit butter is to cook all the liquid out of the fruit to concentrate its sweetness. So you wouldn’t want to add a bunch of liquid at the end, when you’d just finished cooking it down.

  14. 114

    [...] has come to put up more products on the preserves shelf. I want to use pears and apples to make fruit butters. This summer I made a fantastic lemon rhubarb butter based on yet another recipe from Food in Jars [...]

  15. 115

    [...] done so yet. This year may be the year! Lookout Christmas Gifts! I found a great tutorial at “Food In Jars” and can’t wait to try [...]

  16. 116
    Diane says:

    Thank you for the great tutorial! I featured it, along with some other apple recipes (http://mylifeasrobinswife.com/2012/11/12/the-alley-of-apple-awesomeness/) on my blog today. I can’t wait to try your recipe!

    Blessings! Diane from My Life as Robin’s Wife.

  17. 117
    Emily says:

    I made my second batch of apple butter, and am concerned because the butter is browning around the few air bubbles I was unable to get out. The butter on the top of the jar touching the headspace is also becoming a darker brown. The seals seem solid. Should I be concerned?

  18. 118

    […] livre. Nada revive e relaxa como uma natureza pouco. Mas o que fazer? Como cerca de caminhadas em Rouge Park ou snowshoeing em Cypress Mountain ? N?o se esque?a de embalar uma garrafa t?rmica de cidra de […]

  19. 119

    […] that the Ball® recipe calls for half as much sugar as purée + lemon juice. I was using Marisa’s guidance and she uses much less sugar and no lemon juice. I figured I was OK but I wanted to be […]

  20. 120
    Sherry Hartt says:

    I grew up with fresh vegetables all year long and canning was important. Even though we gave much of it away, still, my dad was the gardener and he had the 3 of us to be his “spies”. We would spy for him for bugs and such as well as looking out for growing vegetables that were ready to be picked! What fun we had!
    As an adult I have been canning in small batches, mostly when I can beg from friends who have trees and bushes that they let the birds eat…I want the birds to share with me! I am looking forward to trying the pear butter recipes…my friend Sharon has a pear tree that breaks branches from so much fruit and the only one who gets to eat them is the backyard mule…this time I will be sharing with the neighborhood “ass”, but I’m not proud!
    Happy Canning and thanks so much. :)

  21. 121
    sarah says:

    Hello! WOW just found your website, this looks so yummy! I want to try it, can I get a copy of the complete recipe, how much fruit you use ect?

  22. 122
    Shari dotson says:

    Do you write for a living? If not, you should. I found your intro soothing and easy to follow. I usually skip the intro on recipes that I look up online. Yours was economical, interesting, and inviting. You write well.

  23. 123

    […] are intimidated by making jam. If canning isn’t up your alley, consider making compotes or fruit butter instead and just freezing them. It’s as easy as cooking down fruit, adding a little sweetener […]

  24. 124
    Cary says:

    Hi Marisa, I know you said that this isn’t a recipe, but can you give me a rough idea of the amount of fruit you use for your quantities of spice / lemon juice / sweetener recommended above? Thanks.

  25. 125

    […] of spices, if you ask me. I wanted something a little more sophisticated, so I started with Marisa’s basic fruit butter recipe & improvised from […]

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. T-minus 351: link roundup « Ashley & Tim in Wisconsin - September 17, 2009

    [...] Fruit Butters: Peaches, Pears, and Apples. We’re planning on going apple picking this weekend, and I’m loving the search for some great apple canning recipes. I’d like to use Tim’s grandma’s recipe, but this discussion of how fruit butters are made in general is a great resource. [...]

  2. Food in Jars » Canning Catch-up - October 25, 2009

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