Slightly bitter apple preserves


Whether you are picking them from your own trees or at orchards, getting bushels of them in CSA boxes, or just buying them at your local market, you may possibly be swamped by apples at this time of year. Who can resist those cheeky little things after all? I live in an area with a lot of apple orchards, and seeing the little red or greenish-red fruit bobbling on branches just does something to me, and I end up buying bags and bags of it. A lot of them just get eaten out of hand, but cooked apples are also great, of course.

I love to make all kinds of jams and chutneys and preserves, but I think these apple preserves are my favorite, and they are a great way of dealing with a glut of the fruit. These preserves have a slightly bitter taste to them under the sweet-tartness, which comes from the whole lemons that are thrown in as well as the fact that it's cooked for a long time until it starts to caramelize a bit. I like this marmelade-like bitterness, but if marmelade is not your thing don't chuck in the whole lemons, but just use the peel.

I prefer to use eating apples rather than very sour cooking apples for this, since they disintegrate faster and you need a bit less sugar. It can also be interesting to use a mixture of different kinds of apples.

This goes very well with plain yogurt, as well as on hot buttered bread. If you put it up in smallish jars, they make great gifts to take along when you are invited somewhere.

Since jam-making does take its time, this is designated as a Weekend Project. Incidentally, the smell that will fill your kitchen during the cooking of this is heavenly.

Slightly bitter apple preserves

The amount of sugar and other ingredients depends on how much cut-up fruit you have. It's best to use a scale for this, since cup-measurements are inaccurate (not everyone cuts their apples up the same size after all).

You don't need pectin, since the apples themselves and the lemon peel have a lot of it, and you do cook this for a few hours to allow it to caramelize.

I usually make about 2 kg (4-5 lb or so) of apple at a time, but scale up or down according to what you feel comfortable with. If you do scale it up, you may need a bit more sugar, and if you make just a bit, you may need a bit less.

  • For every 1 lb /450g of peeled, cut up apple -
  • 11-13oz / about 320g-370g sugar - more if you have sour apples, less if you have sweet
  • 1 whole lemon, organic/unwaxed

Equipment needed: a large, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive (stainless steel or enameled cast iron work great) pot.

Peel and cut up the apple first, removing any bruised/brown bits. A vegetable peeler is the best for peeling a ton of apples, unless you have one of those apple-peeler gadgets or are a wizard with your paring knife. Weigh the apples at this point.

Cut the lemon(s) in half and juice them. Keep the squeezed halves.

Put the apple chunks, sugar and lemon juice in the pot and mix. Leave it for about 30 minutes until the apples exude their juice and the sugar starts to melt. Turn on the heat, and bring up to a boil while mixing.

Once it is bubbling, toss in the lemon peel halves. (If you don't like the bitterish marmelade taste, don't put in the lemon halves but just peel off some of the outer peel, leaving behind the white pith, and put that in.)

Turn the heat down to low and simmer for at least 4 hours, if not more. I have a ceramic-top electric/halogen type stove, so I feel safe in leaving this to simmer overnight on low heat, but if you have gas and feel uncomfortable with that you can try putting it in a lowish (280°F/140°C) oven too. The objective is a amber-colored, jammy, slightly caramelized mixture.

In the meantime, prepare your canning jars following the instructions here.

Once you have cooked the preserves to your satisfaction, take out the lemon halves and put the jam in the canning jars. If you've made just 1 lb. worth or less, you can just store it covered in the refrigerator, and use it up within a couple of weeks.


  • Cook for less time, without the lemon peel, for a fresher-tasting apple jam. In this case you want to cut up the apples very small.
  • Add a cinnamon stick or two in while cooking.
  • Add two de-seeded and chopped up habanero peppers for an interesting spicy jam.

Other things to do with your apples

Filed under:  preserves and pickles weekend project fall

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This makes me really miss the homemade preserves my grandmothers used to make. Hunter Cashdollar

These sound great...I can't get enough of apples this fall. Thanks for the link!

Thank you for the bitter apple recipe... I'm just about to try it.
I have done pure apple jam, apple and ginger jam, apple and berry jam, apple and plum jam... wanted something different to use this year's glut of apples.

Just made my first batch. DELICIOUS.