Sunday Recipe: Harvest Season Fruit Butter

Never ever let the seasonal overabundance go to waste. 

If you have an active garden, or a prolific fruit tree, you know this point in the season. You have solidly transitioned from being proud of your few edibles, to being amazed by the abundance, to being overwhelmed by the many pounds of food awaiting your preservation.

My “burden” this year is too many tomatoes; six varieties of heirloom have loved taking over what used to be the back lawn. We’ve sauced, we’ve frozen, we’ve dehydrated. The summer has been full of cucumber salads and squash curries, chocolate zucchini bundt cake for breakfast and chard with dinner.

Outside of my own garden, I have enjoyed the abundance of local orchards thanks to volunteering with the Portland Fruit Tree Project. From any given harvest party, half of the food will go to an emergency food pantry, with the remainder shared across all volunteers and the tree owner. It’s a satisfying, tangibly-productive way to spend an evening, and it’s delightful to bicycle home with two panniers bursting with delicious, ripe, food.

Complication: your bags are not filled with the shiny, perfect apples and pears you see in the produce section of the local grocery store. You’re probably not carrying the charismatic-looking Best of Farmer’s Market winner. In reality, you have real, local fruit, full of imperfections; a fungus on the skin or a bruise here and there. It might have an insect visitor – past, present, both.

It is incredibly delicious. And it is fall-off-the-tree ripe right now.

And you have 27 pounds of it.

And you have a household of two.

If you are faced with a similar “oppression” of abundance, get overly ambitious at the farmer’s market, or just decide that you want to make all of your “sparkle season” gifts this year – we have you covered.

This is less of a recipe than a general approach to the problem of “too much right now.” I’ve tried this with many varieties of apples and pears, and once or twice with plums. My last batch, the current house favorite, was Asian pears; the resulting product is smooth, rich, and incredibly sweet, like pear that has been stewed with vanilla beans.

Harvest Season Fruit Butter (or sauce)


  • An abundance of fruit of your choice (e.g. apples, pears)
  • Large pot / pot large enough to hold fruit
  • Water


  • Canning jars or other containers
  • Spoon
  • Spatula
  • Patience
  • Optional: crock pot, food mill


Clean fruit – wash and remove everything you don’t readily identify as “food.” (Insects and blemishes leave, I’ll let you make the call on bruises.) If you don’t have a food mill, skin and core fruit. Cut fruit into quarters, place in large sauce pot with a small amount of water on the bottom, an inch or so. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally so fruit doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pot. (Part of this stirring may involve fruit-mashing. Go with it.)

Eventually, the fruit will soften into a somewhat chunky sauce. If using a food mill, run the sauce through, stopping to clear mill of skins/seeds on occasion. If you are feeling cavalier, or lack food mill, break up remaining chunks of fruit with a spoon until you’re happy with the consistency. (If you really like chunky applesauce, quit early.)

You can stop here and preserve the sauce (can, freeze, or eat quickly). I tend to prefer fruit butters over sauces, for the richer flavor and better adherence to toast (and spoons).

To make a fruit butter, cook more liquid out of the sauce. You can do this in an uncovered crock pot or sauce pot on the stove; stir patiently to make sure it doesn’t burn to the bottom. I prefer to spread the sauce in 9″x13″ casserole dishes, turn the oven on low (150-200F), and go to bed. In the morning, stir and preserve the fruit butter, saving some for your toast topping.

Want more food inspiration? Check out the rest of our Sunday Recipe series.