Spiced Crab Apple Butter Recipe

Autumn recipe: Spiced Crab Apple Butter with Cinnamon & Nutmeg. Use as a spread for baked goods or serve with savory pork dishes
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Poking around in a hedge the other day I happily discovered some bright yellow crab apples [update: they actually they turned out to be Flowering Quince which are very similar and related]. I’d never seen them that colour before so I collected them from the branches and came home to do a bit of internet research. It turns out that there are a few varieties of yellow crab apples out there, all modern cultivars, and they are as excellent to cook with as their wilder cousins.

Some of the many varieties of Crab Apples
My small stash of crab apples [Flowering Quince] could have been made into many things but I settled on the idea of using them in a spiced butter, which can be spread over cakes or on warm scones or any number of goodies. The tartness of the apples paired with the deep rich sweetness of brown sugar gives it a fairly versatile flavour which I’d bet could even be used in savoury dishes such as a sauce for grilled pork or game.

The idea of making a spiced butter came from another scavenged item – The Countryside Cook Book by Gail Duff. While on one of my forays to the local amenity site, I came across this book piled up with a load of old encyclopedias and paperback novels. It was free for the taking and includes some wonderful information on wild food throughout the seasons as well as various recipes for their culinary and medicinal uses. I especially love the illustrations by Linda Garland and am tempted to make a poster out of them for my kitchen wall.

The Countryside Cook Book by Gail Duff
Crab apples are listed towards the back of the book in the ‘Autumn’ section along with quite a few ways to prepare them. Recipes for Crab Apple and Date Wine, Lamb with Crab Apple Stuffing, Crab Apple Crumble and Pork Chops with Crab Apple Crust sounded all very tempting but in the end I settled on Spiced Apple Butter. I adapted the recipe for the amount of crab apples I’d been able to find and the result of the below instructions is a full 450g jar. You can also just make out the original recipe if you open the below image to its full size. The final product is delicious gelatinous spread and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys sweet-and-sour or winter spices.


Makes one 450g (15oz) jar
500g (17oz) Crab Apples and/or Flowering Quince
410ml (14 fl.oz) Water
1 tsp Whole Cloves
Dash of Nutmeg…about 1/8 tsp
1.5″ stick of Cinnamon
245g (8oz) Dark Brown Sugar


1. Halve the crab apples and put them into a suitable sauce pan with the water, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Bring them to a boil and then reduce heat to keep a steady simmer on for about forty-five minutes or until it can be beaten into a thick pulp. Make sure to stir occasionally.

2. Put the pulp through a vegetable mill or fine sieve and measure the final weight of the resulting apple purée. Return it to the cleaned pan and stir in 350g (12oz) of dark brown sugar for every 450g(1lb) of apple purée. I ended up with 313g (10.5oz) of apple purée with my small batch so used 245g (8oz) of dark brown sugar.

3. Set the pan on a low heat and stir for the sugar to dissolve. Bring to a boil and keep boiling, stirring frequently, until the butter is very thick. If you draw a spoon through the mixture it should leave a path behind it. This can take up to an hour to achieve but mine only took about twenty-five minutes.

4. Put the butter into a warmed and sterilised preserving jar(s) and tighten the lid immediately. The butter will be ready to use as soon as it’s cool and can reasonably be stored as-is for up to a year. Since the recipe includes high-acid fruits, there isn’t a need for hot-water bathing or any further preservation.

If you have some crab apples and want to try this recipe, do give it a go! I’d also really recommend picking up Gail Duff’s book and having a flip through her other recipes. Be it hop, hawthorne or damson, she provides great ideas on serving it up in inventive and delicious ways.

Stewing the halved crab apples and spices

After about thirty-five minutes of stewing

Sieving the mixture through a basic food mill

The resulting apple sauce

Mixing the apple sauce with the brown sugar

The sugar turns the sauce into a rich dark brown

The butter is now ready for potting

Autumn recipe: Spiced Crab Apple Butter with Cinnamon & Nutmeg. Use as a spread for baked goods or serve with savory pork dishes
Autumn recipe: Spiced Crab Apple Butter with Cinnamon & Nutmeg. Use as a spread for baked goods or serve with savory pork dishes


  1. I will be trying this recipe next year for sure! My rose garden is planted in a large (field) with apple trees scattered through it. Thank you for the recipe….it looks yummy!

  2. Hi – thanks for the post. I have a tree in the garden that has these exact type of 'crab apple' – yellow, waxy skins, fragrant, but very sour and the exact look of seeds as in your pic. My tree is a flowering quince though.
    Just thought you may be interested to know.

    1. Haha! Actually, I found this out shortly after this post. I kept thinking the bush they were on in the hedge was different from an apple. Flowering Quince are related to apples and have similar flavour and pectin content to crab apples so I left this up. Thank you for pointing this out though :)

  3. I just made this, it's amazing! the jar is cooling right now :)
    I added some slices of fresh ginger and two large pinches of ground cardamom, and cut down on the cloves a little.
    I'm wondering, is that ratio- about 3:4 sugar:fruit one I can apply with other fruit?
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sounds delish with the cardamom and cloves! And when calculating your own recipes the ratio of sugar to fruit is generally correct but you also need to choose fruit based on pectin levels or it wont set.

  4. I've heard that preserves in the US are sometimes/always processed in a water bath due to the threat of Botulism. Botulism is far less a threat in the UK so pouring the jelly into sterilised jars and allowing the lid to seal into a vacuum while cooling down is perfectly fine and the contents will be good for at least a year. This method is of course only true for high foods preserved in vinegar or sugar.

  5. Joy – Haha! It's no matter if you keep coming back…a dessert on a screen is only zero calories ;)

    Jo – Apple Butter is more of an American preserve, which is why you might not have heard of it yet. It's a more rustic take on jam using dark sugar instead of white and using apple puree instead of apple juice. And I thought the same about the book – how could anyone toss it out? But I'm glad they did :)

  6. You're welcome Jennie :)

    Hi Sunnybrook! Pumpkin butter sounds delicious as well – shame about your apples though. And I think you're right about the copper kettle rule…it must be more of a tradition!

  7. In the rural areas of Virginia and I suppose other places, they cook apple butter in huge copper kettles, not sure why but it is part of making it for some people, they swear it has to be in a copper kettle. I think that large kettles were copper and lighter years ago so a tradition got started. I made pumpkin butter this year as the stink bugs have destroyed much of the apple crop, crab apples are a rare item in my area. Your apple butter looks to be a step above what I am used to!

  8. I've never heard of apple butter before, I bet it's delicious. The book looks very interesting too, and great that you picked it up for free.

  9. Wow, looking really yummy! Love you blog Tanya, and all the things you make. Just wonderful! Thank you for your lovely comments at my place, the mean a lot! Hugs,Minna :) p.s. I hope I could limit my mess to one room :)

  10. Thanks for commenting on my blog, this way I found yours. What a beautiful looking book! And for nothing! The recipe sounds lovely and I might try it with some of the sharper ordinary apples I've collected the other day.

  11. Thanks Elaine, I have just been given a ton of crab apples and was wondering what to do with them. Now I know and this is my weekend project ! x

  12. I haven't heard of apple butter before and it seems easy enough to make and a great idea. Love the idea of finding a great cookery book for free!

  13. Hi Arsenius – I'll bet your wife could whip up a fantastic apple butter! I'm not sure what kind of crab apples you'll have in your area but you could maybe try to get a hold of some of them to mix with the orchard apples? Conventional apple butter is really sweet but some crabbies will give it a proper kick :)

  14. I've had apple butter from a store but never any fresh made. I'll have to ask my wife if we can try it. In the part of the Blue Ridge mountains we live in, there are many apple orchards and this is the season.

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