Cranberry Apple Butter (Slow Cooker!)

Last Sunday, my sister and I took the kids out to Apple Hill. This "hill" is actually made up of over 50 family-run farms, including orchards, Christmas tree farms, and vineyards. The drive up there is so beautiful and relaxing on a Fall day, passing through an historic Gold Rush town and into the Sierra foothills of El Dorado County. When I was a kid, my elementary school used to organize field trips to the pumpkin patches and You-Pick ranches, and my family would go to cut down our tree for Christmas. Apple Hill brings back nothing but fun childhood memories, so it was exciting to bring my niece and nephew along for their very first trip!

It was also the perfect excuse to haul home a few pounds of apples and to make something delicious out of them! I was ready to enjoy the Autumn harvest! :)

Our first stop was Abel's Apple Acres. Unfortunately, at this point in the year, many of the pick-your-own orchards are closed for the season. So, my sister and I found another way to entertain the kids. I'd say that pony rides did the trick...(SO. FLUFFYYY.)

Jon ad Jacquelyn are both huge animal lovers, so this was definitely a treat for them!

Lunch, however, was definitely a treat for the grown ups. The kids had a grilled cheese and corn dog, while my sister and I shared a couple of sandwiches. The food stand here is called Terri's Country Cuisine & we happily ordered their popular Pulled Pork Sandwich. With just enough sauce to make it moist but not so much to make a soggy mess, it was tangy, smoky, and plenty satisfying. We also liked the soft roll that it was served on!

My sister and I both agreed, though, that the Chicken Apple Walnut Sandwich was the best thing that we ordered. For some reason, I was expecting a type of sausage, so I was a little surprised when I saw chicken salad. It was still amazing. Packed with dill, zesty pickles, and fresh celery, this sandwich had a lot of good stuff going on. There were nice big chunks of apple and diced chicken, and the real richness wasn't in the mayo (thankfully, not a ton of that) was in the buttery walnuts! (Which are also sold whole, in their shell just a few steps away!)

But, you can't come to Apple Hill without buying pie! Many of the growers have their own shops and bakeries. You can find things like freshly pressed cider, freshly baked breads, pastries, caramel apples, homemade fudge, and...pie. Glorious pie. The line at Abel's is usually pretty long, so you know they're doing something right...

We bought a slice of Cherry Apple for "now" (crumbly streusel topping, juicy filling), and a whole Caramel Apple Pecan for "later." Yes. Caramel. Apple. Pecan. And yes. You always need to buy a "for later" pie.

Our last stop was Boa Vista Orchards to stock up on...drum roll please...apples! They always have a large selection to choose from and even have fresh vegetables. (FYI, Boa Vista also has their own bakery. Love their Blackberry Sour Cream Pie!)

After a gorgeous sunset drive through the winding hillside roads...and a stop for 3 tubs of ice cream...we were back at home and ready to sample our purchased goodies. We were in apple heaven, especially with the Apple-Blackberry Wine! As soon as my sister and I took our first sips, we both said, "Should've bought another bottle..." Mmm pie and wine.

Over the next couple of days, I thought about what to do with my apples. I credit Twitter-friend Heather for the best idea. She made a roasted turkey, brie, and ciabatta panini for lunch, and cranberry apple butter was one of her ingredients. Apple butter sounded like the perfect thing to use up pounds of apples!

I used a combination of Arkansas Black, Winesap, and Pink Lady. Each variety really does have their own unique flavor.

The Arkansas Black that I picked were slightly tart with a "green" crunch, the Winesap had a fruitier flavor like the classic bottled juice or cider, and the Pink Lady was crisp with the most sweetness.

The cranberries highlighted all of the little nuances in each apple. (And, let's face it, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. This would be ideal for Turkey Day!)

To add to the Fall-friendliness, I added orange, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cloves.(Singing "My Favorite Things" at the top of my lungs right about now...)

The wonderful/brilliant/awesome thing about making apple butter is that you can pile everything into a Crockpot.

Freshly squeezed orange juice, please...

Sprinkle on that spice magic...


The easy part is covering the pot with the lid and pressing a single button to set it on low heat. The hard part is waiting 8 hours to move on to the next step (aka resisting hovering over your Crockpot and just breathing). However, that's the beauty of a slow cooker. You can have it bubbling away on your countertop while you're off on your daily routine...No hovering required.

(*My batch was finally ready around 8 o'clock at night, so I apologize for the funky lighting in these photos.) Using a handheld immersion blender, I processed the apples and cranberries until they were completely smooth. Then, after leaving the lid slightly open, I let the apple butter cook for 2 more hours. During those last 2 hours, some of the liquid evaporates and thickens the butter.

What you end up with is a perfectly rich Cranberry Apple Butter. A tasty balance of sweet and tart, with a hint of spice! Store it in jars in the refrigerator or freeze in plastic air-tight containers to save for Thanksgiving! To serve, spread the butter on toast (solo or with cream cheese!) or mix it into your oatmeal! You could even add it to sandwiches or pair it with roasted meats.

So, this Fall, make a trip to Apple Hill with family and friends! Enjoy the food, enjoy the scenery...and don't forget to take a little bit of Apple Hill home with you. Make the memories last by turning your apple bounty into this luscious butter! :)

Cranberry Apple Butter (makes approximately 3 pints)

Print Recipe
4 lbs Apples, washed, cored and sliced (I used Arkansas Black, Winesap, and Pink Lady)
12 oz Fresh Cranberries, rinsed and drained
Juice of 1 Orange
1 packed cup Brown Sugar
1/2 - 1 cup White Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Cloves
1/8 tsp Fine Sea Salt
1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
  1. In a slow cooker, combine the apples, cranberries, orange juice & zest, sugars, and spices. Mix to coat the fruit well. 
  2. Cover and cook the mixture on low for 8 hours.
  3. Process the fruit with a hand-held immersion blender until completely smooth. (Or, transfer the mixture to a blender.) Stir in the vanilla extract.
  4. Continue to cook the mixture on low for an additional 1 1/2 - 2 hours, with the lid left ajar. The mixture will thicken as the liquid evaporates.
  5. Transfer the Cranberry Apple Butter to air tight containers, cool completely, then cover. Refrigerate.