Over the years, I’ve followed many different recipes for fruit butters and preserves. At first I always measured the exact amounts listed, fretting over whether or not I’d added enough lemon or sugar and constantly worrying that it would go bad or mold on me. But what I discovered is that fruit preserves are incredibly forgiving.
Fruit butters and preserves allow for a certain amount of creativity in their spice-and-sugar content. The one caveat being that the less sugar you use, the shorter its refrigerator life span will be before mold tends to pop up. This is because sugars act as a natural preservative, which is why you see roughly a 1:1 ratio of fruit and sugar in many recipes. (For example, 1 cup fruit for every 1 cup sugar.)
But sugars aren’t the only preserving ingredient you can use. Ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger and lemon juice also protect against spoilage. And you don’t even need a canner to create delicious, long-lasting fruit butters and preserves—I have found much success using a Crock-Pot. Best of all, they can keep in the freezer for up to a year, allowing you to take them out as needed.
Simple Fruit Preserves Recipe
• 5 pounds fruit
• 4 cups sugar
Yes, it truly is that simple! You can even add complimentary spices to this simple recipe and personalize it to suit your tastes.
So What Kind of Fruit Can I Use?
I tend to use whatever’s in season, especially if I can get them in bulk. Fruits such as apples, pears and peaches are easily found this way. When they’re in abundance, I also use fruits from my backyard such as strawberries, cherries and plums.
• Apples and plums are fantastic alongside cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and cloves.
• Pears are lovely with orange peel, nutmeg and small amounts of pineapple.
• Strawberries, cherries and peaches are great with a bit of lemon juice and zest.
When using these fruit additions, I suggest adding 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of your chosen powdered spices or extracts. Citrus peels can be quite potent, so if you don’t want it to overtake the taste of the fruit, use 1 tablespoon or less. Start with less, as you can always add more of these ingredients later on—the cooking process in the Crock-Pot is quite long.
What about Pectin?
Pectin is what holds preserves together, creating that final sticky product. But you don’t need to buy packets of pectin in order to achieve that binding affect. Some fruits, such as apples, plums and blackberries, naturally contain high amounts of pectin, as do citrus fruit peels. But fruits such as strawberries, cherries, peaches and pears don’t contain nearly as much pectin. So adding lemon peel, half an apple or a handful of just-ripe blackberries into the Crock-Pot can assist in providing that much-needed pectin. You can also use unripe (or underripe) berries alongside your ripe ones for extra pectin. I do this with strawberries and cherries, and the end result is perfect.
Can I Use Less or More Sugar Than Suggested?
Yes! I personally add 1 cup fruit for every 3/4 cup sugar. But you can change this up for a tarter or sweeter taste. Just remember that sugar acts as a preservative and not using enough can affect the refrigerator life span of your preserves.
How to Make Butters and Preserves
1. Cut fruit into chunks; core and pit them if necessary. If using peaches, peel off skins. Roughly measure how many cups of fruit you are placing into the Crock-Pot to better assist in your sugar measurements.
2. Once all the fruit is chopped up and ready, add your sugars and spices. Stir it all together and place the lid on top. Turn the Crock-Pot on high for 1 hour. After this time has lapsed, turn the heat to low.
• For apples, pears, peaches and plums, you will need 8 hours of cooking on low.
• For cherries or strawberries, you will only need 3 hours of cooking on low.
3. During this time, periodically stir and taste the contents to see if you want to add spices such as lemon, cinnamon or vanilla. After it’s been cooking for the designated time, turn up the heat to high and take the lid off. The contents will bubble and thicken during this step, so you’ll want to check in every 15 minutes to better control the fruit’s consistency.
If you want your preserves looser, 1 hour is all you need; if you want it thicker, you might need closer to 90 minutes. Do not cook on high without a lid for more than two hours.
4. Finally, purée the preserves. I personally use an immersion blender, but any blender or food processer will do. Place the final product in freezer-safe containers, label with the date, and voilà! You now have fruit butters and preserves that will last up to a year in the freezer!
Note: I’ve had my fruit butters and preserves last in the refrigerator for a year without molding, but always check before eating. If there’s even a little bit of mold anywhere inside the container, dump the contents.
Photos by Leslie Diane
I hope you enjoy the recipe! Please feel free to leave comments below!
With a background in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and a minor in English, Leslie Diane is currently studying at Prairie Wise Herbal School in Leavenworth, Kansas, with a goal of becoming a Master Herbalist. She is an avid gardener and a maker of tinctures, teas and baked goods. An aspiring author as well, she weaves tales of fantasy along with scarves, baby and pet blankets, and shawls on her table loom.