I grew up on a farm in Manitoba, Canada with several fruit trees. A couple of them were crab apple trees (I’m not sure what type) and I always made crab apple butter with the fruit.
Have you ever tasted crab apples? It seems like most people have them as ornamentals, because the blossoms are stunning, but don’t use the fruit. They’re very tart compared to standard apples, and aren’t palatable raw. I consider them to be too sour for applesauce, too, but do they ever make good apple butter. The extended cooking time brings out some sweetness, as you’re essentially reducing applesauce for a few hours.
Regular apples work well for apple butter too, and can be subbed in this recipe. Apple butter is so luxurious and possibly the best thing to put on toast. It makes an especially nice plant-based option, because it’s almost creamy tasting. It also costs an arm and a leg to buy, but making it is cheap, albeit time consuming.
I love to eat apple butter just with toast or fresh bread, but also add it to apple crumble bars and vegan cinnamon rolls (as a filling, along with the cinnamon – so good). It’s an excellent jam substitute and might become your new favourite preserve – give it a try!
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Crab apples: if you don’t have access to crab apples or a significant amount of eating apples, you can sub store bought applesauce for this recipe and cook it down into butter.
- Honey: sub maple syrup or plain sugar for the honey if preferred. Coconut sugar will ruin the colour, so I don’t recommend it.
- Spices: change up the spices as preferred. Add other spices like nutmeg or cardamom in addition to the cinnamon, or leave it out altogether.
Step by Step
If you have crab apples, you should make use of them! This is an easy, mostly hands-off recipe that’s a bit time consuming but well worth it.
1. Cook the apples: wash the apples and cook until very soft, then press through a food mill to make applesauce.
2. Cook down: cook the applesauce over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it thickens into butter.
Making apple butter is a bit of a process, but don’t let it intimidate you. I promise that contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, it doesn’t need constant stirring. I stir it about every half hour for the first couple of hours, then a little more frequently once it starts to thicken considerably.
You can make it in a slow cooker if you want to, but keep in mind that it’ll take at least triple the amount of time that way. I much prefer making it in a wide, shallow pan so that a large amount is exposed to heat.
Apple butter can be preserved, either frozen or canned. I do a water bath method but since this hasn’t been tested in a lab, I can’t provide canning specifics. If you’re unfamiliar with canning, just freeze it if you want it to last longer.
Lemon juice preserves the colour more effectively and prevents the apples from browning.
How to Store
Storage: the apple butter will keep well, stored in a sterilised jar in the refrigerator, for at least two weeks. If the jar wasn’t cleaned, the preserve might form mould much sooner.
Freezing: freeze cooled apple butter in airtight container or small canning jars (they hold up as well to cold as they do to heat) and thaw in the refrigerator before serving.
Making the Apple Sauce
A food mill is best if you want to make things like applesauce and crushed tomatoes from scratch, especially if you’re planning on doing a significant amount of canning. Otherwise, if you’re making your applesauce from scratch for this recipe, there are a couple ways to go about it.
You can peel and core the apples, cook them down, and then puree in a blender before starting to cook it down. Or, you can throw everything in a pot, then press it through a sieve after it’s cooked.
Pressing through a sieve is better for both time and pectin quantity. Crab apples are next to impossible to peel/core as they’re so small, and both the peels and seeds add pectin to the sauce which means it thickens more quickly into butter.
- Wash carefully: since you’re not peeling the apples, it’s important to give them a good wash and remove any bits that might be caught around the stem.
- Sterilise your containers: this will make for the longest shelf life of your apple butter. The easiest way to sterilise canning jars is by using the oven method.
- Use a splash guard: the sauce will bubble up and splash, making a mess and potentially hurting someone, if it’s not covered with a guard. Don’t use a lid, you want the liquid to evaporate effectively.
- Use the finest attachment: crab apple seeds are small. Use the attachment with the smallest openings on your food mill for the best results.
More Recipes to Preserve Summer
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- 1.5 litres applesauce*
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 80 grams honey optional**
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon optional
- Add the applesauce to a large, wide based pan. Stir in the lemon juice.1.5 litres applesauce*, 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Cook for two hours over low heat, stirring well every half hour. Cover with a splatter guard if you have one, or with a lid tilted to let steam escape.
- After two hours it should be reduced significantly. Once it has thickened, stir every fifteen minutes or so. It will start sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Cook for another 30 minutes to an hour (see photo above for what it should look like in the pan). It will be darker and almost caramel-like in consistency. Taste at this point and see if a sweetener is needed, then add honey if desired. Stir in the cinnamon.80 grams honey, 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Remove from heat and store in sterilised jars in the refrigerator or freezer. This lasts a week or two when refrigerated, and several months in the freezer.
* For American cup measurements, please click the pink link text above the ingredient list that says ‘American’.
Nutrition is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate. If this information is important to you, please have it verified independently.
This post was first published in August 2015. It has been updated most recently as of January 2023.