This story is a component of the feature “Seasons of Preserves: Apple Butter,” which is part of a four-part series on preserving fruit at home called “L.A. in a Jar.”
Unlike the process of making stone fruit jam, you don’t need a big pot to cook the apple preserves. You can use one, but I advise using a large baking dish or roasting pan and cooking your apple butter in the oven. This is for one big reason and one smaller reason.
The big one is that it prevents you from making a mess all over your kitchen. If you’ve ever cooked tomato sauce, you know how volcanic pulpy liquids like pureed tomatoes can be. Pureed apples work in the same way, so to minimize the type of violent bubbling that can take place in a pot over a direct heat source, take it to the oven. The indirect oven heat allows the moisture in the apples to slowly evaporate, which means if you are delayed for a few minutes before checking on them, you won’t have a mess on your hands.
And the smaller, related reason is that it allows you to lazily check in on the apple butter once every 30 minutes or so to stir it instead of constantly standing over a bubbling pot, stirring hurriedly, which is necessary when making jam. This gives you more leniency on time when it comes to judging when the butter is done cooking.
Because making any type of preserves isn’t worth it unless you’re making a relatively large batch, always start with at least 3 to 4 pounds of fruit and cook it in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, preferably glass or ceramic. Whatever dish you use, make sure it has tall sides (at least 3 inches) because, even in the oven, the apple butter will splatter a bit once it gets really thick toward the end of cooking.
I like to use a large, long-handled, heat-proof silicone spatula or wooden spoon to stir the apple butter as it cooks. The long handle keeps my hand away from stinging-hot fruit juice, and the wide blade of the spatula scrapes the bottom of the pot efficiently, as well as the sides, where the apple butter will be concentrated and thicker.
As with stone fruit jams, using heat-proof gloves is a great idea, just to have some insurance when pouring the hot apple butter into your jars for storage.