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What is Apple Butter?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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Apple butter is essentially a thicker and spicier version of applesauce, traditionally made by slow-cooking sliced or pureed apples in copper kettles for up to 12 hours or more. The apples are constantly stirred with long paddles. The heat causes the fruit's natural sugars to caramelize, thus giving apple butter its distinctive deep brown color.

The spicy flavor of this spread comes from the addition of traditional apple pie spices such as nutmeg, cloves and especially cinnamon. Commercially produced apple butter is generally available in grocery stores, but the traditional homemade variety is usually canned in jars for personal consumption or sold at local farmers' markets, craft shows and festivals.

Apple butter does not contain any dairy products, but derives its name from the buttery texture of the finished apple preserves. In fact, some people use it as a condiment or spread for sandwiches, in the same way others might use mayonnaise or mustard. The preserves are said to be especially good on ham or pork sandwiches, since many traditional Pennsylvania Dutch or German recipes combine apples and pork-based meats. Even if it is not used specifically as a sandwich spread, it is also popular as a topping for pancakes, biscuits and buttered toast.

The tradition of apple butter is thought to have been brought to the United States by Germans who settled in Pennsylvania. The so-called "Pennsylvania Dutch", a corruption of Deutsch, or German, were very pragmatic by nature, and realized they needed a way to preserve their food during the winter months. Since apples were plentiful during the fall season, they first began preserving the fruit as apple jam or applesauce. The canned applesauce did not have the shelf life they had hoped for, however, so a slow-cooking process was developed. The extra cooking time turned the applesauce into a more stable product, and the added spices also aided in the preservation process.

Duplicating the traditional apple butter making process in modern times has proven to be a challenge, however. Some historical societies and other traditionalists still hold sessions where it is made, using volunteers to stir the pots in shifts and also maintain the fires to provide the heat. Decent apple preserves can also be made in an electric slow cooker at home. Applesauce blended to a very fine consistency can be placed in a slow cooker along with the traditional cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. This mixture should be allowed to reduce for at least 12 hours, with a slight gap in the lid to allow steam to escape. Specific recipes for converting applesauce into butter are available in a number of cookbooks and cooking websites.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By SarahSon — On Jul 13, 2011

Apple butter is easy to make and a great way to use up any apples that may not be the best for eating. When I visit the apple orchard in the fall I always buy enough apples so I can make apple butter and apple butter jam. They taste so good on a warm piece of toast.

Just allow yourself some time when making it. The most time consuming part is washing, peeling, and cutting the apples. I have an apple peeler gadget that I use that makes that process go much quicker.

By CellMania — On Nov 05, 2010

@carrotisland: This recipe is for crock pot apple butter and it is super easy. You need about 3 pounds of apples (peeled, cored, and sliced), 3 cups of sugar, 1 tsp. nutmeg, 2 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. allspice, ½ tsp. cloves, a dash of salt, and either ¾ cup water or apple cider.

Fill your crockpot with the apples. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until it is evenly mixed. Cover and then cook on low setting all night. You want to let it cook until it is a thick consistency.

If your apple butter turns out too runny, remove the lid and let it cook on high for a while. It should thicken up some. You can store it in the fridge for up to 6 weeks.

By CarrotIsland — On Nov 05, 2010

Is apple butter easy to make?

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick

As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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