The first summer I started canning in earnest, I made a lot of jam. I used more than fifty pounds of sugar and filled hundreds of jars. Many of those half-pints became favors for my wedding, but even with all that giving away, I still had a whole lot of jam left to consume throughout the year.
As much as I liked having a full pantry, I came to realize that it was too darn much for the just one jam lover to manage (no matter how much I try to convince him of their virtues, my husband does not cotton to the sweet spreads). And with all that sugar, this girl just couldn’t live on jam alone. What was a newly obsessed canner to do?
I quickly discovered that the answer was to switch my allegiance from super sweetened jams to fruit butters. Fruit butters start life as fruit purees or sauces (no dairy products are involved). You cook them slowly over low heat, concentrating the sweetness of the fruit and creating a spreadable texture by evaporating out much of the water. In the end, they need only a touch of sweetener (sugar, honey or agave nectar all work). On occasion, I also add a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg.
The most commercially available fruit butter out there is made from apples, but I’ve found that any number of fruits make excellent butters. This time of year, I stock up on end-of-summer fruits like peaches, plums and nectarines and slow cook them until thick. As we head into autumn, I’ll transform a mountain of pears into just a few jars. And when summer returns again, I’ll make butters from strawberries, blueberries and apricots.
I use my stash of fruit butters in a number of ways. For breakfast, you’ll often find me stirring a dollop of apple butter into a bowl of oatmeal. Around lunchtime, a quick dish of yogurt, pear butter and granola is regular favorite (it tastes like pear cobbler to me). When I make an Asian stir-fry for dinner, I’ll often open a jar of plum butter to add texture and a sweet/tart flavor. I also frequently add fruit butters to baked goods in place of the dairy butter and have a favorite granola recipe that uses apple butter instead of both the oil and the sweetener.
The one trick to making good fruit butter is long, slow, even cooking. I’ve found that it works best in either a crock-pot or the oven. I particularly like the crock-pot, because I can run errands while it works. I feel a little less comfortable dashing out when the oven’s on. You can also make them on your stovetop, though plan on scheduling a handful of kitchen activities to run concurrently, as you’ll be tethered to the kitchen for some time.
The best test to determine whether your fruit butter is done is an old technique called the mounding test. The way it works is that you scoop some of your cooked butter into a nice, deep soup spoon. If it sits high in the bowl of the spoon, it passes the mounding test. If it runs to the edges of the spoon and sits low in the bowl, it’s not yet done. One nice thing about fruit butters is that there’s no tricky set point to achieve, you just keep cooking it until it reaches your desired thickness.
Basic Crock-Pot Fruit Butter
This recipe works for peaches, nectarines, plums, pears and apples. You can also use a combination of several different fruits, if you’ve got a number of odds and ends to use.
- 5 to 6 pounds fruit
- 1 to 2 cups sugar, as needed
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Chop fruit (if using peaches or apples, peel prior to chopping). Place chopped fruit in a crock-pot, put lid on the pot and cook on high for one hour.
When that first hour has elapsed, use an immersion blender and break the fruit down into a rough puree. Reduce the heat to low. Place a chopstick across the rim of the crock-pot insert and replace the lid. The chopstick allows some an escape for the steam that will occur during cooking.
Continue to cook the pears down for an additional 4 to 5 hours, depending on how hot your crock-pot runs, checking so often to stir and make note of the amount it has reduced. When the volume in the pot has reduced by approximately half, it is done.
In the final hour of cooking, taste the pears and add some sugar (you could sub in honey or agave nectar as well). Use your judgment and taste buds to determine the correct sweetener level.
Add the lemon zest and juice and the spices and stir to combine. If you prefer a smoother butter, you can insert your immersion blender again and puree until silky. I often like a more textured butter and often leave it as is, but it is up to you.
If you choose to, you can process fruit butters in a boiling water bath for shelf stability. When fruit butter has reached a consistency that thick and spreadable, turn the slow cooker off and ladle the butter into hot pint or half pint jars. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a folded kitchen towel. When jars are cool, remove rings and test seals. If lids are firm and concave, seals are good. Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
Five Ingredient Fruit Butter Granola
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 3/4 cup raw pecans
- 3/4 cup toasted and salted pepitas
- 1 cup fruit butter
- 1/2 cup dried fruit
Combine the oats, nuts and fruit butter in a large bowl and stir to combine. Spread on a rimmed cookie sheet and place in a 325 degree oven.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring twice during baking.
When granola looks uniformly browned, remove pan from oven. Stir dried fruit into the warm granola. When it is fully cool, funnel into a jar or other airtight container. It will keep up to two weeks on the counter, longer in the freezer.