Make the most of the late summer or early fall crabapple harvest with our Instant Pot Crabapple Butter! This crab apple butter is sweet and tart with a beautiful reddish pink color. We include an option for making regular crabapple sauce as well!
If you’ve ever come across the tart, jewel colored fruit from crabapple trees and wondered what you could do with them, one of my favorite recipes to make with them is crabapple butter.
Crabapple (or crab apple) trees are often ornamental with beautiful pink or white flowers in spring. But if you have a nice variety like dolgo, the flavorful pink apples are also great for things like jelly, applesauce, or apple butter.
It takes a while to make applesauce or apple butter with these, but it tastes delicious and the bright pink color of the apple puree is so fun!
This apple butter recipe is designed for tart crabapples specifically. This recipe requires different preparation steps and more sugar than a regular apple butter recipe, even one made with green apples.
If you have bigger or sweeter apples, try using our recipe for Instant Pot apple butter instead, we made that recipe using the green apples on our backyard tree and that one will work for regular green apples.
Our recipe is top 8 allergen free!
What are crabapples?
Crabapple (or also spelled crab apple) tree varieties are a small to medium sized tree that originated in colder climates in Asia and Russia and was brought to America in the 1700s. These trees grow well in cool areas and many varieties and hybrids have edible fruit that is great in recipes.
There are several varieties of crabapple tree, the ones we harvested to make our apple butter and sauce are the dolgo crabapple variety. They have brightly colored apples about 1 to 2 inches across and they are very tart but delicious and intensely flavored. Even the trees smell fragrant with crabapples!
Our local parks have quite a few of this variety of crabapples in the parks and anyone can come harvest them! It’s a great way to “forage” for fruit in local parks, and ours has a small orchard and herb garden as well for anyone to use.
Crabapples are a little bit like nature’s sour candy. You can eat them right off the tree if you don’t mind the tartness, and they are great for making bright pink applesauce or apple butter.
There are some crabapple varieties (like Prairiefire Crabapples) that produce tiny, dark red/purple, and pithy fruit that aren’t great for eating or making anything with. But they still have beautiful flowers for pollinators and the fruit is great for feeding birds or chickens.
Make sure that you’re picking the bigger and bright pink crabapples for this recipe and not the tiny dark red/purple ones!
How to make pressure cooker crab apple butter
The steps for making crabapple butter (or crabapple sauce) is different than making regular apple butter. Because of their smaller size, it’s impractical to try and cut the seeds out of crabapples before cooking, so we have to separate the seeds after cooking using a food mill or mesh strainer.
So there are more steps in this recipe than our other apple butter recipe and it takes longer to make this one due to the food milling/separating the skin and seeds. But the result is worth it!
Here are the steps for making this recipe (this is just an overview, the full recipe card is at the end of the post):
- Wash your crabapples thoroughly, remove the stems, cut off remaining blossom on the bottom end, and cut the apples in half.
- Cutting the apples in half serves 2 purposes: 1) it helps speed up the cooking, and 2) it helps to identify and cull the apples with hidden worms or rot. Sometimes worms go through the blossom end of the apple, hiding the worm hole, so cutting the apple in half will always show what’s ok inside even if the outside looks fine.
- Place the halved apples into your Instant Pot and add 1 cup of water.
- Close the lid and pressure cook for 10 minutes.
- Once the cooking is completely done, allow for natural pressure release for 30 to 40 minutes, then quick pressure release the remaining pressure.
- The apples will be quite soft, stir them up and it will look like coarse apple sauce.
- Push the cooked apples through a wire mesh strainer or a food mill to separate the puree from the skin and seeds. We used a wire mesh strainer, but a food mill would be faster and easier.
- Once the apple puree is separated from the seeds and apple skin, stir in the brown sugar and spices until it’s mixed well.
- From here, you can choose how you want to store your apple butter: if you want to freeze it, choose freezer safe jars or containers and leave space at the top of the jar to allow for expansion during freezing. For canning, follow these instructions for water bath canning. I usually just freeze ours since I haven’t take the time to learn canning yet, don’t judge 😉
Our batch of crabapple butter is pretty big, 12 cups of cut apples that cooks down and is separated into about 5 to 6 cups of puree. Our Instant Pot is an 8-quart one. You can cut this recipe in half if you have a smaller pressure cooker.
We ended up making 2 full batches with all the apples we picked. It didn’t seem like that many apples at first, but we filled 2 large colanders with apples and still tossed some after sorting and cutting them in half.
How to make crabapple sauce (or crab applesauce)
If you’d like to make this recipe into crabapple sauce instead of apple butter, just use the same amount of white sugar instead of brown sugar and skip the spices.
We like to use the Zulka morena sugar which is unbleached cane sugar for our “white” sugar. It’s more of a light blonde sugar since it’s not bleached pure white.
The photos of our crabapple sauce are made with the Zulka sugar. Your apple puree will look the same color as the applesauce before you add your brown sugar and spices which will deepen its color.
Can I reduce the sugar in this recipe?
Since crabapples are so tart, this recipe requires quite a bit more sugar than regular apple butter to make it sweet enough. I like a bit of tartness still in my crabapple butter, but you can adjust the amount of sugar in this recipe and increase it if it’s too tart for you.
If you want to reduce the amount of sugar in this recipe, you can replace some (or all) of the brown sugar with a sugar-free or low-sugar brown sugar alternative.
Since we haven’t tried this recipe with a brown sugar alternative, you’ll have to taste-test it to see how much is needed for your preferred sweetness level and taste/flavor.
Serve this apple butter with:
Instant Pot Crabapple Butter
- 12 cups halved crabapples (washed and with stems and blossom ends trimmed)
- 1 cup water
- 2 ½ to 3 cups packed brown sugar*
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon salt (optional, but salt helps enhance the flavors, this won't make your apple butter salty)
- Food mill or wire mesh strainer
- Start by preparing your apples: wash the apples well, pull off any stems and leaves, and cut off the blossom end. You don't need to peel or core the apples for this recipe.
- Cut the crabapples in half. This helps with cooking and also helps to find any apples that might have hidden worms.
- Place 12 cups of halved apples into the pressure cooker with 1 cup water and pressure cook on high for 10 minutes.
- Once the apples are done cooking, allow a natural pressure release for 30 minutes before quick releasing the remaining pressure. You will need to do a natural release first before a quick release.
- Open the Instant Pot and stir the apples, they will break down more as you stir.
- Once all the apples are done being pureed and separated from the seeds, you'll have about 5 to 6 cups of bright pink apple puree that is quite tart. Once it's mixed well, it will be moderately thick.
- To the apple puree, mix in the brown sugar, spices, and salt, then divide into freezable jars if you plan on freezing these instead of canning them (I freeze mine).
- If you are freezing your apple butter, scoop the apple butter into jars, leaving about 1 inch of space at the top of the jar, allow to cool to room temperature (covering with a light towel to prevent anything from getting into the jars while they cool), and put the lids on and put in the freezer.
- When you want to thaw your apple butter, just set it in the fridge to thaw overnight.
- If you want to can your apple butter, follow these water bath canning instructions to can your apple butter.
- For crabapple sauce instead of apple butter: skip the spices and stir in 2 ½ to 3 cups of unbleached white sugar instead of brown sugar (we use Zulka sugar) into the warm apple puree store as you would the apple butter.
Sarah Jane Parker is the founder, recipe creator, and photographer behind The Fit Cookie. She’s a food allergy mom and healthy living blogger based in Wyoming. Sarah is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Health Coach, Revolution Running certified running coach, and an ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist