Shelf Stable pre-1900 Apple Butter

I’m all worked up about this project I did researching apple butter. I just won a contest for this project on instructables. Not just apple butter as we know it today, but as it was originally made, to be shelf stable without canning or refrigeration. After all, it predates canning jars and probably the concept of canning altogether. Not only was it shelf stable, but it was said to improve with age! One account said it had been known to keep for 25 years. Another says they only made it every 7 years in large quantities. Rather than rewrite everything here, I’m just going to post links to the blog posts and video I did on it all. I’d really like to hear back if anyone tries it. I’d also be interested if anyone makes it like this or any similar shelf stable fruit spread. As far as I can find so far, it’s a lost art. One quote from the late 1800’s called it “almost one of the lost arts.” it is not particularly difficult or time consuming with modern tools in small batches, but it does require juicing and a lot more apples than the apple butter that is common now. I plan to scale up next year if I can and make a large quantity if I can get enough apples. The stuff is delicious. I could go on and on, but here are the links:


Blog Post: In Pursuit of the Real Oldtime Apple Butter, Shelf Stable, Delicious and All Apples — SkillCult

It will only let me post two links as a new user. The third link is might actually be the coolest. It’s all the historic research I did compiled together in a blog post. There are links to it at the above links, or you can google —> historical research on shelf stable apple butter <—


I think the reason it died out is it takes days to make. Who has the patience in these times to stir something for days? I expect the more fresh taste of canned goods also caused apple butter to want. Its not completely dead though, the Amish still make it the old fashioned way.

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Can you type out the recipe. The same is said of gingerbread. After three weeks, it is at its peak. Great! Thanks!

Very nice Steven! My family has been making a similar apple butter for generations. It evolves over time and in different kitchens, but the end product is similar.
Yes we cheat and use sugar, but I really like the idea of reducing apple juice for the sweetener (Maybe a use for Muscat de Venus?).
My most recent batch, that is close to two years old now, was made as follows.
Chop the apples. I didn’t peel them, just cut them up with an apple corer/slicer. One of those hand held deals that you push down on the apple to cut it into slices and remove the core.
Cook the apples down to a thick sauce. I used an emersion blender to break them down all the way and incorporate the skins.
Sweeten and spice. Yes, yes, sugar.
Dehydrate. Spread the sauce into baking pans and cook in a low temp oven, 200ish I think, maybe lower. Stir every few hours to help the process. When done it is thick and glossy. Glossy being key.
Hot pack. Put the hot butter into sanitized (boiled) jars and use a modern lid. They will seal as they cool.

Using the oven to dehydrate the butter makes it much easier to finish it with out constant stirring and not risk burning it.

Will I claim it is safe that way? No, but hasn’t made someone sick in generations. If you are worried, can it (I mean the butter :smile: )


That’s good to hear that it has survived somewhere. It takes one long day by most accounts, although that doesn’t count pressing cider. Average seemed to be start boiling early in the morning while cutting apples, add apples when half cooked down, stir until sometime late at night when it’s done. Oddly, the stirring over the fire part is the part that has often survived. Lots of people still do that part. Apparently it is more important to people than the integrity of the original product. Differences are essentially that they usually use less juice (often none) more sugar and don’t cook it down as far.

The stirring is primarily done to break up the apples into a smooth paste as far as I can tell. In a modern context, there are other ways to do that part. On the micro scale I was working on, there was very little work actually. No stirring to cook the cider down. Very little stirring after that until it starts to really thicken and no constant stirring until the end. I was actually very surprised how little stirring I did, I had expected a lot more. But, I broke up the apples with an immersion blender, and I have thick bottomed pots, which aren’t going to scorch nearly as easily as a thin copper over erratic and uneven heat.

That sounds great aphahn. I am really intrigued by the idea of making it in oven. A friend suggested the same as she makes her quince paste that way. One of the old accounts recommends it as well, as being less work. It’s also more wholesome than cooking in a toxic copper pot. Actually, I think there was another one that mentioned a ceramic crock that was used over open fires for the same reason. I’ll keep an eye out for the glossy thing. The really big question to me is certainly what consistency should it be to be very shelf stable and figuring out something to actually tell people seems challenging. I’m sure that stuff is way beyond minimum acidity to prevent botulism and I don’t think there’s a lot else to really worry about.

What is your impression of Muscat de Venus in general? It seems really sweet! Otherwise, I wanted to love it, but didn’t end up really wanting to eat many of them out of hand. Still, it is a very intriguing apple. I feel similarly about Vixen. Sometimes I think it’s amazing, but it’s mostly still not the apple I’m going to go out and grab to eat. Like I really want to like it more than I do and feel like I should. Although I have to say that the very end of the season vixens this year seemed more intriguing. I actually grafted over most of my Muscat De Venus tree, which I’m still now sure wasn’t a mistake! Apple butter made with any of that group, including Wickson would probably be awesome though. What a unique group of apples. I’ve used wickson for a while in breeding, but I’d definitely like to throw Vixen in the mix and probably muscat de venus too. Amberoso is less intense than vixen and MdV. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

My feeling from the stuff I read was that a ratio of about 1 to 1 or 1 to .75 of juice to whole apples is about the desired ratio. I think erring on the side of more juice is going to make a more stable product if anything. Use ripe sweet apples. Add sugar if apples are not very sweet.

Cook juice down about half ( think if we use blenders and such, it can be cooked down further before adding apples)

Add apples and cook well.

Old school, stir constantly to make apples into a smooth paste, adding apple gradually.

New school, just add apples, cook and grind up somehow.

Stir enough to prevent burning or caramelization.

Add spices near the end if desired, but certainly optional. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger?

Cook till it starts to really stick to itself in the pan and behave more like caramel. Start testing when it seems to behave differently.

Test on a cold plate. It is much stiffer when cool! I made mine just barely spreadable and it seems like it will be stable, though only time will tell.

Pack hot before it cools and stiffens up. Smooth off the top flat with a butter knife. I put paper or baking parchment directly over the top of the butter and then covered with brown paper tied down tightly to keep bugs out.

The most intriguing accounts mention storage in the garret which is the attic. My guess is that the warmer dried air would keep the apple butter from gradually accumulating moisture by adsorption since all the sugar is very hydroscopic. Can’t say for sure though without just making eating and storing if for years.

Not all the recipes are the same, but that is probably a good place to start. I think there is probably a lot of leeway as long as there is enough concentrated sugars and the moisture content is low enough.

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This kind of apple butter in Russia is called marmelade . I’ve never done it myself, but it was sold in the stores. My mom used to make cookies, she wrapped a piece of pastry dough around the cube of marmelade and baked it. Marmalade was quite dense and solid and it did not melted in the oven.


Skill, I see you’ve made many other interesting videos. Nice quality. Great hair, too :slight_smile:

That is very interesting about the Russian apple butter Antmary. Was it spreadable at all, or more like say cheese? I imagine there were quite a few traditional preparations of this general type around the world at one time. After all, necessity dictates form and there used to be no canning jars. I’m going to see if I can track down some of that marmalade to order. Thanks!

Thanks Rob, I’m just getting warmed up. I’ll be doing quite a few more fruit related videos, mostly convincing people to put more varieties on their fruit trees, getting beginners grafting and inciting citizens to breed apples.

Sounds Great! Thanks

I dont know if anyone else has mentioned it Mary but I just love your tidbits about old skills from Russia that you post occasionally. Excellent stuff.

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Great blog @SkillCult.

You mention that copper pots are toxic and perhaps even the tinned ones. Almost all copper (and even some cast iron) cooking surfaces were tinned in the old days. My 1950’s vintage gas cook stove has a tinned cast iron griddle on it (tinned no doubt to keep it from rusting and make it a bit more non-stick). The only exception I’ve heard about is egg whites were beaten in bare copper bowls, because the copper reaction would make the whites beat better/easier; but nothing was cooked in bare copper.

As long as the tinning is done with pure tin (NOT a lead-tin or other alloy) then it should be safe for cooking. Certainly a whole lot better than a bare copper surface when used with acidic food such as cider/apples.

One can still buy pure tin for re-tinning pots and pans. I will need to be re-doing my stove griddle soon, as it has worn thru the tin in spots.

Thanks for the input on that Steve. I’m not really clear on the toxicity of tin, but I know that not everyone agrees that it is safe. I mean they still stick mercury in people’s mouths too. I did read some stuff on copper that made it sound like they were cooking in straight copper. One thing I remember said to scrub it as clean as possible and still discard anything stuck directly to the pan. I know that traveling tinkerers used to re-tin copper stuff for people as part of their service. Anyway, we have stainless now, yay!

Thank you, for support Eric.

We had both types of apple butter. The spreadable one (povidlo) was sold in cans and the solid one (marmalade) was sold in chunks like cheese. I do believe that it is still possible to buy it in Russian stores occasionally. Apricots and plums also make good marmalade. And I believe that persimmons might be good for it as well.


Interesting. I just tried to make some with straight persimmon, no sugar or juice. It is amazing, just like spreading rich pumpkin pie filling on your toast! But, I don’t think it will keep without refrigeration. It was getting hard to manage in the pan at the end. I think if I dehydrated it in an oven, I might be able to get the moisture low enough that it would keep, but not sure it’s sweet enough either. Sure tastes great.

I enjoyed your video and completely agree with your general philosophy on apple breeding and growing.

Apple cider jelly is also shelf stable for a really long time. There’s a place in Vermont that still makes it the old fashioned way, and I bought a huge jar of it after they told me you can leave it on the table for 25 years and it’ll be fine. It was a very large jar but it did not last 25 years, so we were unable to test that claim.

Just wanted to do a shout out to SkillCult. Came across your blog and YouTube videos yesterday. Was going to post them here but see you already did. Just wanted to say I like your videos as they are packed full of info without being overly long. Nice blog too. I’m going to try the apple butter this fall - probably will have to do with bought apples as I am not yet into production but I am crossing my fingers this year. Your frankentree has inspired me to toss on some grafts this spring too.