Liddie’s Traditional New Mexican Dishes: Apple Butter

      Video showing how to prepare Apple Butter. Video by Liddie Martinez

Española Valley

Apples arrived in the Española Valley with the Spanish in the 17th Century and quickly became part of the culinary scene along the Rio Grande Valley. Apple orchards in Alcalde, Velarde and Embudo could be the first orchards planted in the United States. Our apple farmers have seen booms and busts in the many centuries that they have been producing these beauties and I highly recommend a drive through these communities to procure your apples directly from the growers at local fruit stands if it’s possible. It is a lovely drive and a nice opportunity to teach our kids where our food comes from.

My family did not have an apple orchard when I was a kid but, as we have discussed before, bartering was in full force and every year baskets and boxes of apples arrived in the fall after the first low dip in temperatures. Much of our time with Grandma during that season was spent judging apples. The best apples were placed in baskets on our kitchen table to be eaten fresh and, if we were fortunate to have many of these, we wrapped them individually in newspaper and stored them in crates in our root cellar. 

Apples that were bruised or had a worm were peeled and cored and made into orejones (called ears due to their shape), apple slices that were dried on screens and stored to make pastelitos for the holidays. Apple peels were boiled to make juice that then became jelly and apples that were past their prime or mushy were cleaned up and made into apple butter.

Apple butter is still made much in the same way my grandmother and great-grandmother made it back in the day but we have tools in our kitchens now that has cut the labor required so much that everyone should try making apple butter at least once. Use your food processor to chop the apples finely – this helps them break down well when cooking and use a crock pot so you don’t have to stand guard all day stirring at your stove to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot and scorching. Just place in your crock pot on high for an hour and then on low overnight. You will wake to the wonderful spiced scent and apple butter on toast is a delicious addition to your morning coffee.

Once the butter is puréed smooth and is golden brown, canning is easy and the jars make beautiful gifts for friends, family and neighbors.


5 lbs. apples

4 cups apple juice or water

6 cups sugar

1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

¾ tsp. ground cloves

¾ tsp. ground allspice

3 Tbsps. Lemon Juice

Cold Water for Bath

Prepare a large pan of cold water with lemon juice. This will be used to place peeled and cored apples to they don’t discolor while the rest of the apples are peeled.

Peel and core apples and place them in the lemon water. Finely chop apples in food processor in 2-3 batches and place processed apples in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add apple juice and/or water, cover pot.  Bring to a boil then add sugar and spices. When it reaches boiling point a second time, reduce flame to a simmer and leave uncovered. Cook for 3 hours stirring occasionally. Transfer to Crock Pot.

Set Crock pot on high and cook for one hour covered, then reduce heat to low setting and tip cover so moisture can escape. Cook overnight on low for about 6 hours. Unplug and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes.

Transfer apples to food processor and puree until smooth in batches.

To Can: fill sterilized jars with apple butter leaving ½” head space and seal with sterilized lids. Carefully place sealed jars in large canner of boiling water and cover. When water comes back up to boil, process jars in hot water bath for 12 minutes. Use jar lifter to safely remove jars from boiling water and place on kitchen towel on counter to cool. Leave undisturbed for 24 hours before storing in cool, dark place.

If you choose not to can, apple butter should be refrigerated and used within 3 weeks.

Makes 6 pints

Editor’s note: Liddie Martinez is the author of the popular Chile Line Cookbook: Historic Recipes of Northern New Mexico, which is available online at

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