All About Fresh Fruit Butters

Reader Contribution by Renee Pottle

I love fruit butters. They are easy to make, in fact – they are almost foolproof. They allow for a little more creativity than many soft spread recipes. There is no worry about reaching the gelling point. If half way through the cooking process I decide to run an errand, I can just turn off the burner, cover the cooking fruit and pick up where I left off in an hour or so with no ill effects.

That said, there are a few considerations when making fruit butters:

They can take a long time to cook, up to an hour or more.
They must be stirred often to prevent scorching.

Some things are worth the time though. Fruit butter is one of those things.

What is Fruit Butter?

At its most basic, fruit butter is a combination of fruit puree and sugar, cooked until thick. Fruit butters can be made from almost any fruit, although apple and pear are the most commonly used fruits. Fruit butters are particularly well suited to added spices and other flavorings like vanilla or extracts. I have made several different combinations in the past like rosehip-apple butter, cherry-almond butter, spiced apricot-plum butter, delicious peach butter, and my new favorite, port-wine plum butter.

Fruit butter is also a good way to use up odds and ends of fruit by combining complimentary flavors. Plums can be pureed with nectarines, apples with cranberries, and rose hips with mango.

Since fruit butters are “cooked-down” instead of “set-up,” they don’t require as much sugar as most soft spreads. There is no concern about adding pectin or making sure that some of the fruit is under-ripe to attain a perfect gel. This makes fruit butter a good choice when you have a box of over-ripe fruit that has to be dealt with NOW. Fruit butters can also be cooked in larger batches than jams, jellies, and preserves, limited only by pot size and how long we want to stir the puree-sugar combination.

What Is The Difference Between Fruit Butter And Jam?

Soft fruit spreads are like cousins; similar but different.

Jam – combination of crushed or chopped fruit and sugar cooked until gelling point
Jelly – combination of fruit juice and sugar cooked until gelling point
Preserves – chopped fruit pieces preserved in sugar and cooked until gelling point
Conserves – combination of fruit and nuts or raisins and sugar cooked until gelling point
Marmalade – usually citrus fruit peel and pieces and sugar cooked until gelling point
Butter – combination of fruit puree and sugar cooked until thickened

Jams, jellies, preserves, conserves and marmalade must be made from fruits that are high in acid and pectin to reach the gelling point. Most fruits don’t have a suitable amount of both natural acid and pectin to set-up without a little help. That is why so many soft spread recipes include adding commercial pectin and/or lemon juice. Even long cooking jams without added pectin recommend using a combination of ripe and under-ripe fruit as under-ripe fruit is more acidic.

Acid and pectin levels are not something we have to worry about when making fruit butters though. Since we don’t want fruit butters to gel, we just want to cook enough liquid out of them to thicken, pectin level is not a consideration.

Acid level remains a consideration though if we are planning to can our fruit butter. Like any other canned soft spread, butters are processed with a water bath, which means the fruit must have a pH below 4.6. Don’t worry, most of our everyday fruits fall into this category. However, pumpkin or winter squash butter should be frozen or kept in the refrigerator. No safe processing time for pumpkin or squash butter has been determined.

How To Make Fruit Butter

As I mention above, making fruit butter is almost foolproof. I usually start with 3-4 lbs. of fruit.
Wash and chop fruit, removing pits. Peel the fruit if you wish, but it is not necessary for most fruits – pumpkins would be an exception here.
Add the chopped fruit to a large pot or Dutch oven. Add a little bit of water, just enough to keep the fruit from burning.
Cook over medium heat until the fruit is soft. Remove from heat.
Puree the cooked fruit using a blender or food processor. You can also push the fruit through a sieve or food mill if you wish, but I find this too much work.
Measure the fruit puree and return it to the cooking pot.
Add half as much sugar as puree. For example, if you have 8 cups of puree, add 4 cups of sugar.
Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often until mixture starts to thicken.
Add optional flavorings if desired. Flavorings can be adjusted to taste. Start with about 1 tsp of spices like cinnamon or ginger, or ½ tsp of extract like vanilla or almond, or 1 Tbsp of liqueur like brandy or Cognac, or ¼ cup of wine or cider.
Continue cooking and stirring until butter is thick and rounds up on a spoon.
Fill clean ½ pint canning jars, leaving ¼ inch headroom and using two-piece lids.
Process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes. Fruit butter also may be frozen instead of processed. Pumpkin, winter squash, or other vegetable butters MUST be frozen instead of processed.

Fruit Butter Made In A Slow Cooker Or Oven

Making fruit butter is a creative endeavor, but it isn’t a quick product. There are ways to reduce your stirring time though. Instead of returning the fruit puree to the cooking pot in step 5 above, add it to a slow cooker. Stir in the sugar and set the slow cooker on low for 10 – 12 hours. Add optional flavorings during the last hour or so of cooking. When the butter is thick, pick up and follow the above directions at step 10.

Alternatively, the fruit puree can be cooked in the oven instead of the stovetop. At step 6 above, pour the puree-sugar mixture into a shallow baking dish. Place in the oven and set the temperature at 275 degrees. Stir the mixture occasionally, adding optional ingredients during the final ½ hour. Fruit butters cooked in the oven may take as little as one hour to thicken, or as long as 6 hours, depending upon the fruit used. Once thickened, pick up and follow the above directions at step 10.

Safe Canning Practices

Fruit butters allow for a bit more flexibility than many canning projects. Do remember to follow basic canning safety rules though. Creative butters like pumpkin, squash, carrot, or sweet potato are not acidic enough to meet water bath canning guidelines and should be frozen, not processed in either a water bath or pressure canner. Adding fruit to any of the above, e.g. carrot-apple butter or apricot-squash butter does not make it an acidic product. These combination butters must still be frozen, not processed, for long-term storage.

Have you made any creative fruit butters? What is your favorite combination?