Caramel Apple Jam || Hitchhiking to Heaven

Caramel Apple Jam

Are you busy? These days, I am far busier than I would like to be, which is one reason I like this photo of caramel apple jam holding down my datebook. (I still use paper for that!) I had set the jar there so I wouldn’t forget to bring it to a friend in the morning, and the early light sneaked up on it. It looked so much more serene than I felt, and it reminded me that most things can be simplified, you know? One jar. One book. Light.

I learned some things about this recipe that might help you keep it simple, if you decide to make it. (And of course I think you should make it, because it’s wonderful — a real fall treat. As soon as Julia mentioned that it was her new favorite, I knew I’d be all over it. So thanks, Jules!) The original recipe can be found in Linda Ziedrich’s book, The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. Linda’s books are an essential part of any preserver’s kitchen, and I’m grateful that she gave me the green light to post this version of her beautiful jam here. My spin includes dark rum, vanilla bean, and a dash of sea salt.

Here’s what helped me:

Made-ahead sauce. You need 5 cups of applesauce to make a batch of this jam. It’s low-stress to sauce a bunch of apples (3 1/2 pounds per batch) ahead of time and stash the sauce in the fridge. Then, you can make the jam a day or two or three later; there’s no need for a marathon. Or, if you’ve already canned some unsweetened applesauce this fall, you can just pop the top and use that.

Not getting hurt. You’ll want to avoid the kind of splatter burns I got while making my first batches. I had never encountered such a violently explosive jam as this one was. There was a lot of hopping and hollering in the kitchen, and even two layers of splatter guards over the pot didn’t keep me from taking it in the eye several times. It was kind of awful, until Linda sorted me out: What you need to do is keep the heat on medium, at a steady but easy boil, stirring gently and almost constantly. It also helps to use a bigger pot than you might think you need. I had the perfect experience cooking the mixture in a wide-bottomed, 11-quart maslin pan. My 5-quart pot with higher heat and less frequent stirring was downright dangerous. Don’t do that to yourself.

The finished jam is thick but easily spreadable, and I can taste the added elements — a little caramel, a hint of vanilla and rum. The salt is there but barely. I was worried it wouldn’t be that different from a flavored applesauce, but it’s not like that at all. It’s rich, jammy, and worth the scars. (Which you won’t get, anyway. I know you won’t.)

Caramel Apple Jam

5 cups unsweetened applesauce (start with 3 1/2 pounds apples)
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons dark rum

1. If you don’t have applesauce on hand, make your sauce. Start by coring and slicing the apples (don’t peel ‘em) and cooking them over low heat until they’re soft. I usually add about 1/2 cup of water to the pot so they don’t stick or burn. Cover the pot while the apples are cooking; they should be ready in about 20 minutes. Put the cooked apples through a food mill (use the medium screen if you have a choice) and, voilà, sauce!

2. Prepare your jars and lids.

3. In a clean, dry jam pan (at least 7-quart size, if possible) combine 2 cups of the sugar, the water, and the lemon juice. Pour the sugar into the pan evenly, rather than as a big lump to one side or something like that, because you don’t get to stir or shake the pan for the next step, which is caramelizing the sugar.

4. Without disturbing the contents of the pan, bring the syrup to a boil and let it boil gently — adjusting the heat as needed — until it turns golden brown. Watch the mixture carefully and take it off the heat before it turns darker than you’d like. (I was totally intimidated by this step before I tried it, but it was no sweat. Really. Just take the caramelized sugar off the heat when it looks tawny and pretty.)

5. While the sugar is caramelizing, measure the additional 1 1/2 cups sugar and the sea salt into a small bowl. Then, split your vanilla bean lengthwise and, using your thumbnail, scrape the seeds from the bean into the sugar and salt. Combine well, then toss the pod into the sugar, too. Set the bowl aside.

6. When the caramel is ready, add the applesauce and the rest of the sugar, vanilla bean and all. Turn the heat to medium-low and stir the mixture until the sugar and caramel completely dissolve. Then bring the jam to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes. This is the part where you need to monitor the temperature — reducing it if necessary — and stir the jam steadily enough to keep it from attacking you. You will know the jam is done when it thickens up and your stirring spoon very briefly leaves a clear track at the bottom of the pan.

7. Remove the jam from the heat, discard the vanilla bean, and stir in the rum. Ladle or pour the hot jam into your sterilized jars. Wipe the rims clean and add the lids. Process 10 minutes in a hot water-bath canner.

Makes 5-6 half-pint jars

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  • Reply laura h October 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Sounds great!

  • Reply Julia October 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Nice work! So glad that you could share this with everyone. I had passed over this recipe a number of times, until this fall. It’s a real winner. That picture up there is just beautiful.

    I experienced some splattering the other day on a large batch of saucey jam and I was thinking of you. Dang it hurt. I’m sorry you got that in the eye. Ouch!

    • Reply Shae October 27, 2011 at 7:56 am

      Thank you, Jules. As soon as you said “caramel apple jam” in your beautiful post about apples, I had a bug about it. I’m so glad I got to run with it. The eyes. Yes, that hurt!

  • Reply Handcrafted With Altitude October 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Dang it! I promised myself, after almost 300 jars of jams and butters, that I was going to take a break and focus on my fiber endeavors. I may have to squeeze in a batch of this. Just one batch…

    -the redhead-

    • Reply Shae October 27, 2011 at 7:53 am

      Don’t you hate when that happens? ;-)

  • Reply Dawn October 26, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I caught myself smiling while reading about the splattering – not in jest, but in camaraderie. One of my recent apple projects was roasted applesauce with caramelized sugar. Not only did I have the super thick applesauce erupting once it began to boil, but adding the screaming hot caramelized sugar caused an absolute explosion. (I’m still finding little drops of applesauce around the stove.) But this has me wondering if I can turn my caramel applesauce into jam . . .

    • Reply Shae November 16, 2011 at 3:59 pm

      Roasted applesauce with caramel sugar sounds fabulous — and not too different from caramel apple jam. I bet you could cook one right down into the other, but remember to suit up first. Long sleeves!

  • Reply Meg H. October 27, 2011 at 5:17 am

    I love these flavors and will be sure to hit the apple guy at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday. One question, the recipe calls to add the sugar, water and lemon juice; however, the list of ingredients does not have water. How much do you add? Thanks!

    • Reply Shae October 27, 2011 at 7:43 am

      Meg, thank you for being such a careful reader. The correct amount of water is 1/2 cup, and I’ve made the correction above.

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  • Reply MuddPie October 29, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    This recipe sounds lovely! I love caramel!
    But what can I substitute for the rum? Or can I just leave it out? I would love to make this for our Christmas baskets but have relatives who are very strict about alcohol.

    • Reply Shae October 29, 2011 at 11:48 pm

      Absolutely, Mudd, you can leave out the rum if you prefer.

  • Reply Meg H. October 31, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Made it this weekend – absolutely delicious! We were all eating it by the spoonful. My daughters can’t wait for me to make pancakes so they can put lots of this jam on them. Definitely a keeper – thanks, Shae!

    • Reply Shae October 31, 2011 at 10:26 am

      Hurray! I love a good success story. :-)

  • Reply Stephen November 1, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Kudos! The rum sounds heavenly! Your apple jam recipe is similar to the way we’ve made apple butter. Since we do vast quantities of it,however, we make it in a roasting pan in the oven overnight, in fall when we want the scent of apple & spice and some extra warmth in the house. We also make pear butter, which is in the canner right now: pear puree with sugar, powdered star anise, and cardamom.

    • Reply Shae November 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm

      Your pear butter sounds fabulous, Stephen. I would like to try that!

  • Reply Beti November 3, 2011 at 9:59 am

    The recipe sounds interesting. Our apple trees produced very well this year and I’ve been looking for ways to use them up. I made apple fruit leather, apple chutney, lavender apple jelly for myself and several jars of apple butter for Christmas presents for the family. I even made apple sauce for the first time this year – and experienced the hot lava burns you mentioned. How do the recipe creators expect me to keep it boiling _and_ fill the jars?! I feel like I need one of those silver suits that firefighters wear. Sheesh.

    I _still_ have probably 20 pounds of apples to contend with. I thought of caramel apple jam/jelly/butter and happily found your site! I’m looking forward to trying the recipe – with appropriate protective gear!

    • Reply Shae November 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      Yes, I have thought a silicone suit might be a good idea for some of the thicker apple or pear recipes, but I did find that regulating the temperature and steadily stirring nicely controlled the spitting. If you try the recipe, I hope you’ll let me know how it goes.

  • Reply Hannah November 3, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Yummy!!! I’ve got my cans processing as we speak. I substituted the rum with cognac, because that’s what I had around, and woah. This is an awesome grown-up version of a caramel apple if there ever was one. Can’t wait to mix this into my morning oatmeal. Thanks for the great recipe!

    • Reply Shae November 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm

      Hannah, cognac sounds great. Thanks for contributing the idea!

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  • Reply Deb November 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    I have now made 2 batches of this with different apples. One was uber sweet so I adjusted the sugar/lemon for the second batch (1/2 cup less sugar and double the lemon). Didn’t have rum so used Tuaca in both. I thought this was lovely on toast then last night I put a couple spoonfuls over my vanilla ice cream. WOW! I may have to hide the rest so nobody else eats it! Thank you.

    • Reply Shae November 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm

      This jam is pretty sweet, and I’m also interested in trying a batch with less sugar. Next time I’ll pull back by 1/2 cup, as you did, so I can compare. Also, I’ve never had Tuaca and just had to look it up — vanilla citrus liqueur? Sounds perfect for this recipe!

  • Reply Emily November 8, 2011 at 6:52 am

    It’s beautiful and delicious! I heeded the warning and used a tall stock pot to jam in, wearing tall potholders to protect the hands, and stirring with a long handled wooden spoon-no burns! I can barely wait to dig in, it smells fabulous! My new favorite to eat by the spoonful! Thanks for posting.

    • Reply Shae November 16, 2011 at 4:09 pm

      Hurray! I’m so glad it worked out well for you, Emily.

  • Reply Cheryl November 10, 2011 at 6:20 am

    JUST bottled my first batch… OMGOODNESS….this is my all time favorite jam! Was so easy to make up. Thank you…..for your talent in creating it…and mostly for your generosity in sharing this recipe….Off to do up the dishes & start my next batch. BTW…AWESOME idea about leaving the applesauce a bit chunky…..those apple bits just make the jam look so wonderful in the jars. :-)

    • Reply Shae November 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm

      Wow, it doesn’t get any better than “all time favorite”! I’ll have to try a chunky version — that sounds lovely.

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  • Reply Kathy November 12, 2011 at 10:31 am

    This is great! I made a double batch of this since I had so many apples and I love caramel. I think that I may make a caramel applesauce and not add the second batch of sugar and not cook down so much. It would make a great treat!

    • Reply Shae November 16, 2011 at 4:12 pm

      Check out Dawn’s comment, above, about roasted applesauce with caramelized sugar. Doesn’t that sound great? I love that this recipe can take on different personalities, depending on how much sweetener you add and how long you cook it.

  • Reply Annie November 16, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Mmmm, sounds so yummy. I am planning to make applesauce this afternoon, so will leave some out to make this jam. Can’t wait to try it.

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  • Reply Casey DelliCarpini November 19, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    Could I use a mix of granulated sugar and light brown sugar, do you think? I’m almost out of sugar and trying to avoid going to the store…

    • Reply Shae November 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      Hi Casey: It might change the manner in which the jam sets, but I don’t think you could go too wrong. If I were going to try it, I’d just take care to control the temperature — being careful not to scorch — and cook it down to a consistency that feels right. Report back, if you give it a go?

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  • Reply Amanda December 19, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    So yummy! Just made them today and they came out great – set really well! My only warning is to really watch the caramel! I let it darken probably 30 sec-1 min longer than I could have and it has a hint of a burnt taste to it. Lesson learned for next time! Can’t wait to try again.

  • Reply Sarah Thomson April 14, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Oh man, that looks good… Sugar addict –must go now :-)

  • Reply Amy May 1, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I remember making applesauce with my grandmother as a little girl. I’m determined to try it as my first canning project (and now I have to add this jam as my second). I don’t have food mill though. Can anybody recommend one?

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  • Reply Amy September 7, 2012 at 12:27 am

    I made this tonight and it really is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing, I was eating the “left overs” out of the pot with a spoon. I put it in tiny little jars so I can give it to everyone for Christmas… but I made a couple bigger jars for me to keep! I love it! Not sure I caramelized it long enough but it was a nice pretty color and I was scared to death to let it boil in the end so I ended up stirring it quite a bit to avoid splatters. Hopefully it sets up even better. I love rum, but I am not sure everyone will, I might have to try this again without it sometime. Thanks again!

    • Reply Shae September 8, 2012 at 9:28 am

      Thanks, Amy, for letting me know that it worked out! A nice thing about this recipe is that it’s pretty flexible — rum, no rum, deeply caramelized or less so. I love it, but the next time I make it I think I will experiment with reducing the sugar a bit. (As the year went on, it turned out one of my favorite things to do with this jam was mix a jar into a batch of granola before roasting it. Just sayin.)

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  • Reply Lisa September 21, 2012 at 7:13 am


    I just made a batch of this today (having already made 10 jars of normal applesauce this morning!). I had loads of apples left so used 1.5 times the amount of apples to the caramel/sugar recipe. Its not too sweet and a nice dark colour (my caramel turned quite dark after averting my eyes for a minute). I also left some chunky bits in and am pretty happy with the result.

    You are right about it erupting. My applesauce had just been cooked so was still hot when I added the caramel – it spluttered but didn’t hit the ceiling so I’m wondering if adding the caramel to the hot sauce helped? I also found taking the pan off the heat, leaving it for 30 secs before taking the lid off to stir avoided injury.

    Also wondering what people are using this for? I was thinking of mixing it with some yoghurt or muesli for breakfast or spreading it on toast, adding as a filling to a sponge cake, with fruit scones and cream. Any other suggestions?

    cheers from England!

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  • Reply Carrie October 26, 2012 at 11:57 am

    So glad I found this. I’ve been in a caramel and apple devouring frenzy! Combining the two in a jam? Perfect! Thank you for sharing.

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  • Reply Kate June 26, 2014 at 4:52 am

    I just used my last 5 cup batch of frozen applesauce for this. I’ve made this jam now 4 times, it is so easy and everybody just loves it!

    • Reply Shae June 27, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Kate, it makes me happy to hear this. Thanks so much for taking a moment to let me know!

  • Reply sara October 20, 2014 at 4:21 am

    Can I add the rum while it’s cooking so I get the flavor but not the alcohol content? Also, what kind of apples did you use? I picked golden delicious yesterday at the farm and was hoping to use those. Can’t wait!

    • Reply Shae October 21, 2014 at 10:41 am

      Hi Sara: Sure, you can add the rum early, but you might get a little less flavor from it. I’ve made this with golden delicious apples before. Worked great!

  • Reply sara October 21, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Tastes delicious! It needed to cook an awfully long time to thicken. It looks good, but I would’ve cooked it longer had my newborn not needed to eat (I had already held her off for a while so it was time to just end my apple process). Will probably try again when the baby is older :) Thanks for a great recipe!

  • Reply nikki November 3, 2015 at 8:00 am

    How can I make it thicker . I boiled it for 10 mins but it wouldn’t thickin

    • Reply Shae November 3, 2015 at 9:13 am

      Hi Nikki: The time it takes to cook a preserve depends on so many things: how much moisture there is in your mixture, the size of your pan, the temp of your stovetop, and even the weather! You just have to keep cooking it down, being careful not to scorch it, until it’s the thickness you want. Good luck!

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