Does Apple Butter Contain Any Actual Butter?

Fall and apples go together like peanut butter and jelly, like orange juice and champagne, like cinnamon and sugar. Apples, those versatile fruits that we love so much, are for the most part harvested in the late summer and early fall, according to the American Farm Bureau for Agriculture, with principal apple-growing states such as Washington packing nearly 5 billion pounds of fruit into boxes during an average season (via KREM).

It makes sense, then, that so many fall and winter treats feature apples shining in all their glory, showing off their crisp tartness in salads such a harvest salad co-starring pecans and blue cheese, and their soft sweetness in a myriad of cool-weather desserts, from a classic apple crisp to a double-crusted Dutch apple pie. And in the chillier months, jars of a condiment we rarely see at other times of the year also fill supermarket shelves: apple butter. And in spite of its name, no, this thick, spreadable treat isn't found in your grocer's dairy section.

Apple butter isn't related to butter at all

As you peruse supermarket shelves and farmers market stands in the fall and winter, you'll likely notice jars upon jars of a thick, dark brown, sweet condiment: apple butter. A tasty spread that's as delicious crowning a slice of toast as it is accompanying a wedge of sharp cheddar on a cheese plate (via Greatist), apple butter typically contains just a few ingredients, among them apples, sugar, and spices such as cardamom or cinnamon.

Despite its misleading name, apple butter does not, in fact, contain any butter (nor does peanut butter). Butter instead refers to the thick, spreadable texture of the cinnamony condiment, which comes from cooking the apples long and slow so the sugars caramelize and turn that signature deep brown. It's basically a very concentrated form of applesauce, reduced to the point that it goes all thick and jammy. The jarring of the butter has been closing out apple seasons for centuries in order to enjoy the fruit in the months between one harvest season and the next (via The Laurel of Asheville).

Making apple butter at home

If you've got a hankering for apple butter but prefer to go the DIY route, this spreadable treat is super simple to make at home, and not dissimilar to the process of making applesauce. Our recipe for honey apple butter calls for cooking two pounds of chopped, peeled apples with honey, brown sugar, and apple cider in a large pot; cover the apples as they cook, so they'll release even more juices in which to simmer. After about 1½ hours, the soft apples should be transferred to a food processor, puréed until smooth, and cooked down for an additional half hour with ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Once poured into an airtight container and cooled, the apple butter will thicken further, and will last up to three months in the fridge.

If you really love apples and want to create a butter that will last a lot longer — up to two years in the pantry, according to Stark Bro's — you can follow a simple recipe for home-canned apple butter, which will require the use of a hot water canner (via Ball Mason Jars). You'll have a delicious apple treat — no cream or milk required.