Updated on 09.03.14

Homemade Gift Series #3: Caramel Apple Jam

Trent Hamm

How to Make Inexpensive and Delicious Homemade Caramel Apple Jam

A few weeks ago, my wife stopped by a roadside stand where an individual was selling apples. A lot of apples. My wife asked if there were any deals, and the seller told her that he would sell her 8 1/2 pounds of “seconds” (apples that had been dropped and needed to be used quickly) for $8. My wife jumped on the bargain and arrived home with a lot of apples in tow.


So what exactly do you do with eight and a half pounds of apples? You make something with them, of course.

Apple jam

We pulled out a recipe for “Caramel Apple Jam” from The Taste of Home Cookbook and modified it a bit, adding a bit of additional cinnamon kick to it (because we love cinnamon). Of course, delicious homemade canned treats are wonderful to give away to your friends and family, so we decided to can most of the apples in the form of caramel apple jam.

What You’ll Need


The first thing you need is jars. We picked up two dozen jars for canning the apple jam (and perhaps a later project). I really strongly recommend using new jars if you’re going to be giving them away as gifts (which was our plan).

Sarah shopped around and was able to find a dozen jars with lids and rings for $5.99 – about $0.50 per jar, lid, and ring set.

You also need a few pieces of equipment – things that can be reused if you begin to can things regularly.


You need a stirring spoon, which you probably already have. You also need tongs (with which to move the jars around) – I recommend picking up tongs made for canning. We’re also using a funnel (which makes pouring liquids into the jars much easier) and a little tool that helps us to quickly see how much breathing room we have at the top of a jar so that we don’t overfill (it’s the blue notched thing).

You can pick up this equipment at many department stores – often, the equipment you need here comes in a kit.

You’ll also need a large pot. We use a four gallon stock pot. You can also get a canning rack to sit the jars in while dipping them into boiling water, but we don’t use one. Instead, we just put a towel in the bottom of the large pot before we add the water. This towel provides a soft bottom upon which we merely sit the jars, keeping them from cracking (which is the purpose of the rack).


Here are the ingredients for the jam we made. You can basically substitute whatever jam or jelly recipe you like (in fact, we’ll probably present a second recipe later in this homemade gift series).

6 cups apples, diced and peeled (1/8 inch cubes, roughly – this takes about three pounds of whole apples)
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon butter
1 package (1.75 ounces) powdered fruit pectin
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg


What to Do Next

Peeling and dicing the apples is really easy if you have an apple peeler/corer/slicer, something we found at a yard sale a few years ago for $1. You just stick the apple on it, turn the handle (easy enough my three year old daughter can do it), and the device peels the apple, removes the core, and puts a big spiral slice in that apple.

After that, you just have to chop the apple in the opposite direction to get the nice small pieces you need for the jam.

Sterilizing lids

One thing you’ll need to do is boil the jars and lids to clean them. You can do this at any time in the process that’s convenient, as long as they’ve been boiled by the time you’re ready to put the jam in the jars.

Chopped apples

In a pan, combine the apples with the 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 teaspoon butter. Cook this over low heat for an hour or so, stirring regularly, until the apples are soft.

At first, it will seem impossible that these dry-seeming apples and this little bit of water will ever combine with all of that sugar to make any kind of liquid jam. What will happen is that slowly, the apples will begin to give off liquid and, as the apples get soft, you’ll have about as much liquid as apple in the pan.

Cooking the jam

When the apples are getting soft, you should get the boiling pot going. Put a towel on the bottom, then add water until your jars would be covered by two inches. Turn on the heat and get the water boiling!

Once the apples are nice and soft (use your own judgment – you don’t want them to be really crisp in the jam, after all, but some soft chunks are delicious), add the pectin, stir it in, then bring the whole mix up to a rolling boil.

Then, add the sugar. This is a fun part, because it all becomes a very thick liquid as you stir it. Bring it back to a rolling boil (and be careful here, it can splatter). Stir it constantly and let it boil for one minute.

Remove the jam from the heat, then add the jam to the jars with a spoon until there’s a quarter of an inch between the top of the jam and the top of the jar. Clean off the rim of the jar, put a lid on it, then put a ring on top of that, turning the ring until you just begin to feel resistance. Repeat until you’re out of jam (we made six jars, with a bit left over to have immediately on toast).

Boiling jars

Take these closed jars and put them in the big pot of boiling water. Keep the water boiling and leave the jars in there for ten minutes, then pull them out. Put the jars on a towel with a couple inches free space around each jar. Let the jars sit for 24 hours to cool and make sure after the cooling that the lids are depressed (meaning if you push down in the middle, it doesn’t “click” – if it does, the jar needs to go).

And there you have it – wonderful jars of delicious apple jam!

Apple jam

I recommend writing the contents and the date on the top of the jar after they’re sealed, for future reference.

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  1. Alice says:

    Great post! I did some canning for the first time this year and found it a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll try this recipe for the apple season!

  2. Jackie says:

    Maybe this is a regional thing since I live in an apple state, but $1.06/lb for bruised apples is not a bargain, it’s a rip off. During Apple season, I get organic apples at the farmers market for less than 75c/lb and they sell bruised apples for 50c/lb. Even at the grocery store in the fall apples are always available less than $1/lb (not organic though).

  3. Diana says:

    were I live just bought apples at $1.77 a lb down from a cringeworthy $2.47. The apple state factor is huge.

  4. done that says:

    Ditto on the price thing. In a state where only crabapples and transparents grow, anything under $2 is a bargain. Also apples large enough and regular shaped that you can use that handy gadget with are great too. I have one but those two inch lopsided apples just don’t peel too well.

    Trent, I don’t agree that you have to have new jars. You do have to buy new lid/seals each time and you can buy ones that are pretty. Jars are jars.

  5. Erica says:

    Just popping in to comment: you needn’t toss out jars that haven’t processed properly (as in, the ones that click after the day of cool-off). You can either stick those jars in the fridge and use over the course of a week or two, or try reprocessing them (with a new lid, after checking that the rim of the glass jar isn’t the culprit). I double-checked this in my Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, too – no need to waste good jam that just didn’t get a good seal. :)

    I’m loving this gift series – I’m slowly getting through the vanilla extraction one. Thanks, Trent!

  6. Ruth says:

    I’ve been experimenting with jam this year and loving it. Tired of the over-sweetened stuff at the grocery store.

    A few tips/opinions –
    Trent said to boil the lids and the jars, but you DON’T want to boil the lids – put and keep them in hot-but-not-boiling water until you put them on the jars. Boiling them before putting them on the jar can make them less likely to seal.

    He also said that if it doesn’t seal “the jar needs to go” and I would add to that “into the fridge rather than the cabinet. The jam hasn’t spoiled, but it will not keep unrefrigerated. Unless it has been sitting out more than 2 hours, just keep it in the fridge (or freezer – this kind of jar is ok for the freezer) until used up.

    Although safe to eat for several years, it is best to consume the jam within 6 months because after that it may become discolored and runny.

  7. HebsFarm says:

    If you have one of those neato turkey fryer things, you can consider taking this whole project outdoors. I dislike canning in my house kitchen because everything gets covered with tomato splatter/ sugar spills etc., plus all the extra tools & gadgets are a hassle. In nice fall weather, it’s a treat to do this whole food processing thing outside on your picnic table, using your garden hose for a water source.

  8. Roberta says:

    This jam looks delicious.

  9. elledee says:

    I can often but never use as much sugar as recipes list. It might make a difference for this one, with the white/brown mix for the caramel flavor, but if you make berry jam, I always cut the sugar by at least a half, usually 2/3. It doesn’t always set, but I’d rather have runny jam that is more fruit than sugar.

  10. valleycat1 says:

    My husband also prefers making low-sugar versions of jellies & jams – there’s a pectin specifically for that. However, if you ration out 5 cups sugar over 6+ jars, with x servings (maybe 12? or more) per jar, there really isn’t that much sugar on that piece of toast.

    Even at the price they paid for the apples it’s a good deal, considering that size jar at the grocery probably retails at $3 or more.

  11. cv says:

    Does the butter really make a difference in the flavor and texture? It seems like such a small amount, and given how many friends I have who are vegan and/or allergic to milk products, I’d love to find a substitute or just leave it out entirely.

  12. Gretchen says:

    Seconds apples aren’t always dropped apples. Sometimes they are just smaller or otherwise not “perfect” looking. But always a great deal.

    I belive the purpose of the canning rack is also to prevent the jars from touching each other, therefore
    1. preventing breakage
    2. allowing water to circulate all the way around the jars.

  13. Gretchen says:

    The purpose of the butter is to cut down on foaming in the jam. It can be omitted.

  14. Tressa says:

    I, too, LOVED this post. I’m loving this whole series. I especially loved the pic of your adorable 3 year old daughter. I used to can everything we raised in our garden, but we are empty nesters now and just quit most all canning, but you are inspiring me to get back to some of it…at least the jams and jellies. Many years ago I canned like 3 batches of grape jelly and since the grapes were so sweet that year I only used half of the sugar the sure gel recipe called for…and I had really runny jelly. It would have been hard to even use it. My next door neighbor was an old hand at canning and she came over and we dumped all of the 36 or so jars back in the pot and added the rest of the sugar that had been called for and re-cooked it and used new lids and re-jarred it and it turned out beautifully. I had been in a real panic and she saved the day. I love your blog…keep up the good work!!!

  15. Rebecca says:

    trent lives in Iowa, there are tons of apples to be found right now. I would call an orchard the day after a wind or rain storm. If you gather your own, you can get windfalls for 25cents a pound, or even for free!

  16. Rachel says:

    Apples (non-organic) are $1.97/ lb. here.

  17. kristine says:

    I am on LI, and I pay .69 a pound for macintosh, locally grown, this time of year. If I want organic I pay about a buck. But I do not feel it necessary to pay for organic when I am discarding the skins, and even some pulp underneath. I have the same apple/peeler/corer/slicer-love it! They last about 3 years with heavy use.

    Applesauce is also a great gift. Just take a huge stockpot, add about an inch of water, and throw in your peeled mac apples. Put it on low, stir every half hour, and in about 4 hours you have the best nothing-but-apples applesauce you will ever eat! The longer it simmers, the sweeter it gets. No sugar needed! Cinnamon optional. It reduces a ton; if you fill it to the brim, you get half a stockpot.

    A couple of years ago I get great rubber sealed jars with a raised apple motif at the dollar store for this. A huge hit!

  18. Courtney says:

    @#15 Rebecca: Windfall apples are not safe for human consumption. Deer, cattle, and other animals eat the apples and in the process, they step all over them and poop on them. This fecal contamination can be very dangerous to humans, which is why you should never eat windfall apples or use them to make cider.

  19. AnnJo says:

    Apple has a lot of natural pectin. I’ve made various jams (blueberry, plum, apricot), and just cooked them long enough to thicken without pectin and they’ve turned out fine. I would think with apples you wouldn’t need the pectin, which is really the most expensive non-reusable part of this project except for the apples. Any experts out there who could tell us?

  20. Rebecca says:

    courtney, apples just fallen from the tree are no dirtier than those dropped on the ground, picked up and brushed off, many are sold at farmers markets and grocery stores around the US. And as far as I know, a large producer of apple cider in WI uses fresh windfalls to make most of their cider.

  21. Jules says:

    OM NOM NOM :-d

    But do you really need pectin? I wasl always under the impression that apples had a lot of natural pectin, and that adding extra pectin would make your jelly really hard. We have a batch of grape jelly that is inedible thanks to that miscalculation (I mean, it’s edible, but you can’t spread it).

  22. michael bash says:

    A friend once said, “I never met a jar I didn’t like.” Soak off the label and put through the dishwasher – dry & store. A prime jam jar is from Bonne Mamon preserves. Don’t know if this brand exists in the USA, but it’s perfect – red-white checked lid with no advertising, i.e. they want you to use them again. Frugal.

  23. Hugin says:

    Great tips. Unfortunately I’m not good at baking myself and I usually make a mess of everything when I try. I will hand over the responsibility to my girlfriend and hope for the best :)

  24. deRuiter says:

    Substitute apple cider or any juice for the water for even more flavor. Used jars are fine for gift giving, they don’t wear out and you can get used jelly jars for $2./ dozen if you haunt yard sales and Craigslist. Don’t boil the lids, the boiling is what activates the seal. Regular (non canning) jars are not so good as the rubber inner seal in the lid may not reseal a second time. This is why with “ball” type jars, you use the jars over and over, and buy new round lids (not new rings, the rings you use over and over.) If you are using regular store pectin (liquid or powder) you can NOT successfully reduce the amount of sugar. The pectin must have the specified amount of pectin to jell. You can make the jelly or jam the old fashioned, long cooked way, using the “sheeting test” on a cold plate to take test the jell, but the longer cooking may destroy more vitamins, I don’t know. One writer above mentione a special pectin for low sugar jams and jellies, that’s a new one to me, has anyone else tried it?

  25. Beth says:

    This looks delicious! I love the taste of caramel and apple!

  26. Georgia says:

    Low sugar/no sugar pectins have been around for years. I used to do a lot of jelly, etc canning. I am diabetic so this has been a godsend for me.
    Also, everyone else is right, you don’t need new jars. you can get fancy lids by themselves or you can decorate them yourself.

  27. Courtney says:

    @Rebecca: I hope the cider company that uses windfall apples pasteurizes. If not, yuck. We have dozens of apple trees and the ground beneath them is covered with deer tracks and deer poop this time of year. I wouldn’t eat anything that had been exposed to that, but to each his or her own, I guess.

  28. Cheryl says:

    If you use a Foley mill, you don’t need to peel or core.

  29. Ajtacka says:

    @Courtney: Perhaps the cider company that uses windfall apples protects their orchard from deer in some way? I would imagine that if they plan on using windfall apples they wouldn’t want deer eating them anyway. (btw, we are talking about apple juice, right? Not alcoholic cider?)

  30. Jane says:

    My local grocery store had apples for 49 cents a pound recently. And I only live a state or so over from Trent in Missouri. I imagine this time of year you can find them much cheaper than $1 a pound.

  31. elledee says:

    You CAN successfully reduce the amount of sugar… True, the jelly/jam doesn’t “jell” without a huge amount of sugar, but it still tastes fine. If you are spreading it over toast, I’d rather it be a little runnier than reminiscent of a piece of jello. And, like I said, I’d rather it be more fruit than sugar. I just can’t justify putting 5 cups of sugar in 6 jars of jam. For a typical jam jar, that means one third of it is sugar. Not natural, found in the apple sugar, refined added sugar.

    I’ve used the low/no sugar pectin as well with fine results.

    I would point out also that, like others have said, the jar doesn’t have to go. Just put it in the fridge or freezer…there’s nothing wrong the jam; it’s just that the jar didn’t seal.

  32. Carole says:

    I like this homemade gift series. It’s also nice that you and your wife are so supportive of each other. The nitpickers wear me out.

  33. 8sml says:

    I’ve heard the tip about using a towel in the bottom of the pot instead of a canning rack, but whenever I try (I’ve tried a few towel thicknesses), the towel floats. Even with jars holding it down, the edges float up and the jars fall over. I ended up making a rack by wiring together a number of jar rings, which has worked well but took a lot more work than putting a towel in a pot.

    What am I doing wrong that I can’t keep that towel in the bottom of the pot?

  34. Shanna says:

    Trent, your daughter is adorable!

  35. Karen says:

    Yum-O!!! I never canned before but might have to try this. Thanks

  36. carol mason says:

    Being so frugal, why don’t ;you start picking up

    jars at yard sales and second hand stores?

  37. Lisa says:

    Thanks Trent. Not sure if I am up for this but I might try. I wanted to comment. We have had one of those apple peelers since my kids were little and they had a special name for the apples I would give them after using that peeler: Slinky Apples!

  38. Terese says:

    We just finished canning 28 quarts of applesauce this weekend. We combine Melrose and JonaGold apples and use a Victorian strainer. I think it’s the same as a Foley mill. We live near Amish country in Ohio and paid $4 per bushel from an orchard. the apples were fallen apples. We wash the apples, quarter them, boil 10 minutes, and then put them through the mill. The sauce comes out one end and the skins and seeds the other end. [The best invention ever.] My sister says our’s is the only applesauce her teenage son will eat.

  39. Maureen says:

    I tried to make the jam but it doesn’t tell you when to add the nutmeg and cin?

  40. Looks delicious! I’m on a canning kick today! :)

  41. K says:

    I have a corer/peeler/slicer but it didn’t work very well for me. And I only got 3 jars of jam from this recipe. Haven’t tasted it yet but hope it’s good! My first time canning.

  42. Cheryl says:

    #37 K How did it come out? I’d love to hear some reports from folks who have already made this recipe!

  43. Lynette says:

    I would love to try this with the Low Sugar Sure Jell. Has anyone? And if you did, how much sugar did you end up using?

  44. Jennifer H. says:

    I’ve made three batches of this so far! We’ve consumed a few of the jars, and hopefully there will be enough left by the time Christmas gets here to give to friends and family. Thanks for the recipe! It jells a bit harder than I’d like — maybe because of the natural pectin in the apples?

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