Slowly simmered apple butter, sweet with sugar and spices, is a taste of the fall harvest you can enjoy all year long. It’s thick, luscious, and creamy – a real treat. (Skip to recipe.)

apple butter on toast

The Canadian Food Experience Project (October)

The Canadian Food Experience Project began June 7, 2013. As we, the participants, share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice. Please join us. This month’s topic is:

Preserving: Our Canadian Food Tradition 

sweet and spicy apple butter

Oh, what is it about that aroma of sweet apples simmering and cinnamonyy-clovey-gingery spices wafting through the air that makes us long instantly for the cocooning effects of deepest autumn and early winter? Only last week I was whining and lamenting the waning of summer, and here I am now, revelling in crisp fall days, and even loving the cold and soggy ones, and thrilling to the days that wake us up to see thick frosts blanketing the ground. Those frosts are sparklingly beautiful but so deadly to my lovingly tended garden.

How fickle am I?

Fall thrills me. I think I must have been a squirrel in a previous life, because I get a deep satisfaction from all the harvesting and preserving. Gathering my nuts (and other edibles) for the fall makes me giddy. (No snickering, please.)

a ripe apple for the picking

I think preparing for the winter fills a more primitive need in us, a need we no longer call upon with the ease of our modern shopping and conveniences. Maybe mine comes from being raised by parents that lived through a war, a depression and a childhood as refugees, to be followed by relocating to a new foreign country. That kind of a life made them deeply appreciate everything they have and never waste a thing, no matter how small. And of course, that thriftiness was drilled into me and my sisters growing up on the farm.

When I was growing up, we washed and reused our plastic sandwich wrap and saved every bit of twist tie or string. I don’t go quite that far anymore, but I do love to preserve and can the bounty of our garden. My mom is an amazing cook and a master canner and preserver. She taught me well. When I was a teenager helping her endlessly peel and cut and stir and pack the over 800 jars of preserves she put up every fall, I didn’t quite appreciate the thrill of it all. (There may have even been some moody teenage opposition involved.) My teenage self would never have believed that I’d some day be as crazy as I thought my mom was at the time.

mom helping me cut apples for apple butter

Mom helping me cut apples for the apple butter

mom cutting apples for the apple butter

her hands were flyin’

It’s hard to describe the satisfaction of standing there and looking at the rows of colourful jars of fruits and pickles and juices and condiments lining the basement shelves – all made by me! I do recommend it for a real boost on those days you think you haven’t done much lately. Those jars are visible proof of industriousness.

sweet and spicy apple butter

In the past, preserving food in some way or other has been crucial to the survival of all people living in colder climates and those living far from urban centers. Food was dried, or salted, or stored in fat, or salt or vinegar brine. Whether it was fermented or cured or smoked or pickled, people found tasty ways to keep food to sustain their families in the long winter months.

Nowadays, we don’t need to rely on those methods as the only way to have decent food in the winter. Nowadays, our reasons for canning are less for survival than they are for preserving fresh garden flavours, or avoiding highly processed store-bought food, or saving money by ‘putting up’ foraged or homegrown food, or wanting to reconnect with a simpler time by preserving the traditions of our ancestors.

Or merely for the pleasure of looking at those rows of gleaming jars.

sweet and spicy apple butter

We have a bounty of apples this year, even though some of them are pock-marked from the two hailstorms we had earlier this summer. Some of our apple varieties are so sweet and crisp it’s hard not to eat myself to a tummy-ache when I am out there. After a good frost, they seem to be even sweeter and tangier, if that’s possible. I made 24 pints of applesauce yesterday – and didn’t need to add a granule of sugar to it. Last week I made a triple batch of my mom’s apple butter recipe, using 18 cups of apple puree . . . and the trees still have pails of apples to offer up to us.

picking apples for making apple butter

picking a pail full of apples for sweet ‘n spicy apple butter

This is my mom’s recipe for apple butter, that I often helped her make when I was a teenager, and now my kids love it, too. It is absolutely wonderful slathered on warm, buttered toast. But it’s almost as good stirred into yogurt, or spread on a muffin, or on pancakes or rolled up in crepes. It’s really quite wonderful dolloped into tart shells and baked, or plopped onto squares of pie pastry, folded over and baked as handpies or apple turnovers. A jar of apple butter in your fridge is your guarantee of good eating to come.

sweet and spicy apple butter

How to Make Sweet and Spicy Apple Butter

I think the best applesauce or apple butter flavour comes when you use a combination of apple varieties. I usually try to use at least 3 different kinds of apples (and now I am finally lucky enough to have our own trees mature enough to produce wonderful apples).

a bowl full of apples

a bowl full of windfalls waiting to be apple butter

To make this apple butter, you first need apple puree, or unsweetened applesauce. You can do this one of two ways.

1.You can peel and core and slice the apples, then cook them until they are soft with a little bit of water – maybe a half cup of water for 10 to 12 cups of apple chunks. Bring them to a boil, then turn the heat down low, cover and simmer them until they are tender and falling apart. The time will really depend on what variety of apples you have and how big the chunks are. Poke them with a fork to see if they are soft and falling apart. Then puree them in a blender, or with an immersion blender directly in the pot.

2. You can cut the apples into quarters, or halves if they are small. Pull out the stem and cut a ‘v’ into the blossom end to remove the blossom. The little strands in the blossom get into the applesauce and don’t look so attractive. Leave the peels on and the cores in. Put the apples in a large pot with a little bit of water, maybe a half cup of water for 10 to 12 cups of apple chunks. Cook the apples until they are tender and falling apart, then pass them through the fine blade of a food mill. The skins and cores will be neatly left behind.

running the cooked apples through the food mill

Once you have the puree, it can be canned as applesauce, or measured and used to make this wonderful apple butter.

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Kitchen Frau Notes: This apple butter can also be preserved by freezing it in freezer containers or zip-top freezer bags. It will keep for up to a year in the freezer.

sweet and spicy apple butter spread on toast

 Sweet ‘n Spicy Apple Butter

  • 6 cups (1.45litres) puréed cooked apples
  • 1½ cups (300 g) cane sugar
  • juice and grated rind of 1 orange (organic if possible)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

stirring the applesauceMix everything together in a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven. It’s good to use a pot that is big enough to be no more than half full, to allow plenty of room to contain the plops and splatters as the apple butter cooks.

ingredients for the apple butter

ingredients for a triple batch

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until thick. This will take at least one hour, and if you’ve doubled or tripled the recipe, as I usually do, it can take 2 to 3 hours because the ratio of surface area to the amount of apple puree is less. Stir it often to prevent sticking or burning.

Simmer the apple butter until it has turned a deep caramel colour and is thick enough to spread.

This is a matter of taste, and also depends on the juiciness of your apples. I simmer it long enough so that I have about 4 cups, or a little more, left.

filling the jars with apple butter

filling the jars with apple butter

Place the apple butter into clean, sterilized half-pint jars. Wipe the rims and seal with sterilized lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. It can also be frozen in freezer-safe containers.

Makes about 4 cups, or 4 half-pint jars full.

When you pull a jar of this out in the winter, it is like spreading a whole lot of love on your toast.

spreading apple butter is like spreading a whole lot of love on your toast

Guten Appetit!


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View past Canadian Food Experience Project entries here:

June, 2013: My First Authentic Canadian Food Memory: Buttery Sauteed Mushrooms with Spruce Tips and Chives

July, 2103: A Regional Canadian Food: Saskatoon Roll or Saskatoon Cobbler and How to Freeze Saskatoon Berries

August, 2013:  A Canadian Food Hero in Northern Alberta, and Pickled Beets and Creamed Vegetables

September, 2013: My Cherished Canadian Recipe: Evans Sour Cherries in Brandy


apple butter on toast