Apple Pie Filling {For Canning or Freezing}

Have I ever told you how much I love fall time?  I love fall. And about this time every year I start getting antsy for it.  So it was a super great move for me to make this recipe because it was better than any candle, Scentsy bar, or scented oil I own.  The smell of fresh cut apples simmering in cinnamon and nutmeg?  Heaven.  I just ignored the fact that it was 96° outside.  You can make this recipe to can in jars (read our Introduction to Canning and Preserving by clicking here) or pop batches in your freezer.  It’s fun to have on hand for quick desserts like apple pie, apple crisp, apple turnovers, and it’s great on waffles, pancakes and ice cream too.  It also makes a super cute gift for the holidays or for a hostess gift or new neighbor gift, etc.

You’re going to ask me for those labels, aren’t you?  I’ll get on that.  One day.  Before Christmas.  Maybe.

*A note about thickeners:  I spent a better part of a Wednesday pulling my hair out and cursing driving around town in search of, and making phone call after phone call trying to get information about thickeners!  A huge thanks to my friend/canning mentor Britanie for helping me figure out what the heck to use; I must have texted her 47 times this week.  Thanks to her, and my new BFF at the extension office, I can sort of pretend I know what I’m talking about around here.   It can be confusing because I noticed recipes call for different things depending on when they were written, and I know the #1 rule of canning is to not make substitutions or changes to a recipe that has been tested for canning.  I noticed a lot of older recipes call for corn starch, which is not recommended by the USDA for safe canning.  Then I found lots of recipes calling for ClearJel, but I couldn’t find ClearJel anywhere.  I finally got a hold of someone at my local extension service (I seriously love those people!) and she explained that the only products that have been verified after testing are Ultra Gel and Thick Gel.  Ultra Gel is just a modified corn starch that’s safe and effective for use in canning (as well as tons of other things).  She said ClearJel is the same thing as Ultra Gel, it’s just changed names.  I found Ultra Gel in several local canning supply stores, so if you find a well stocked location you should be able to easily find it.  You should also be able to find it at cooking stores.  If not, then you can order it on-line, but that’s what you should be using.  It’s not the same thing as the little boxes of “Sure-Gel” you get to make jam.  If you are a Boise/Meridian local, I bought mine at Karcher Ranch Market in Nampa.  And I’ve been told in Utah it’s at Orson Gygi.  I hope that’s helpful to someone else since it took me a while to figure out!

So in order to make this yummy filling, you’ll need a bunch of apples; obviously.  Make sure they are crisp, and tart works best- like Granny Smiths, but really any crisp apple is just fine.  Feel free to use a mix!

You can use an apple-corer-slicer-thingy (which by the way always reminds me of a medieval torture device.  Not that I am in any way an expert in medieval torture devices)  or do them by hand.  If you’re not doing a huge batch, it really doesn’t take too long to peel them.  To keep your apples looking purdy, toss them into a bowl as you cut filled with either water with lemon juice or water with ascorbic acid (which sounds like a not-so-medieval torture device…)  Just a note- you’ll want to slice more apples than you think you need because they reduce a bit when blanched and you’ll measure them after blanching.

When they’re all sliced up, you’ll give them a douse in boiling water; only about a minute will do it.

Remove the apples from the pot and set them in a big strainer if you have one and just cover to keep warm.  I use one of these pasta pots that has a strainer that fits inside; it works perfectly.

Now for the sweet, sticky, full-of-fall deliciousness.  Mix your sugar, Ultra Gel, and spices, in a large sauce pot.

Whisk them together with some apple juice and some water,

And heat it until it’s thick and bubbly.  The Ultra Gel works so fast that by the time the sauce simmers, it should be about done.

As soon as your sauce is hot and bubbly, add the apples back in

and stir them until they’re heated through again.  Man I wish you all had smell-o-screens.  Someone needs to invent that.  This will smell so so good.

Use a funnel to ladle the hot mixture into your clean jars

Make sure you get every last drop of the ooey gooey syrup

Pie.  In a Jar.

Slowly move your spatula around in the jar to remove air bubbles and make sure you have one inch of headspace (the amount of space from the top of your filling to the top of your jar).  Wipe off the jar rim so it’s nice and clean and then place your jar lids on top.  Remember, your lids should have been soaking in simmering water, and your jars should be clean and warm.

Secure with the bands and process in a water bath for the time allotted.  Let cool completely at room temperature.

So fun.

A quart jar should be enough to fill one standard pie.  Just dump in a pie crust and you’re good to go!  As I mentioned it’s also really yummy over pancakes, waffles and ice cream. You can fill crescent or puff pastry dough and make apple turnovers, or do as I did below and have an apple crisp made in the time it takes to whip up a quick crumb topping (I just used have of the crumb mixture from this Crumb-Topped Apple Pie recipe).  There’s really no wrong way to eat a jar of apple pie filling.  Unless you don’t eat it at all; that would be wrong.  As noted in the comments- you can even put the pie filling in a pie crust and put the entire un-baked pie into your freezer and have ready-to-go fresh pies stocked up!

I love it when recipes are scaled way down- you could even try this out and just do one jar if you’re new and canning is intimidating.  Or two jars if you find yourself ready to can a huge batch at 10pm only to realize you only have 2 jars left.  Me? Never.

Handy chart from the National Center for Food Preservation

Have you all enjoyed canning week?  I know I did; I learned a lot!  I can’t thank my friends enough for answering all of my questions as I went along- I’m kind of a canning newbie too!  Stay tuned in about a month or so when I have tomatoes coming out of my ears.  There will probably be more canning projects then!

woman in denim shirt holding a salad bowl
Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. I swear you read my mind; I’ve been really curious to learn how to can or freeze pie apples this year. As much as my mother tried, I have never learned how to can. Time to try it out.
    I have a question though, what is the difference between Clear Jel and Instant Clear Jel? Does it matter which one for canning pie filling? Or does one work better for different temperatures? Thanks

    1. Clear Jel is a product like traditional corn starch which requires being brought up to a boil in order to thicken fully. Instant Clear Jel will thicken instantly whether the product is hot or cold, though it works slightly better in cooler products. You can use either, but for a cooked and canned filling normal Clear Jel, Ultra Gel or Thick Gel work better as they are more stable against the heat of canning and the sitting time on a shelf and disperse better through out the product. If you are going to freeze the results, then using Instant Clear Jel isn’t a problem. 🙂 This type of process works really well to make cherry pie filling and peach pie filling as well.

  2. I was wondering if there is any Canadians out there? Wondering where in Canada we can get the thickner? This recipe sounds wonderul and I have a tree full of apples to use!

  3. In Utah you can find Ultra Gel and often Thick Gel at Bosch Kitchen stores, Maceys, Harmon’s, most Lin’s, Dan’s and Dicks, Dixie Nutrition some Whole Foods and soon in A Fresh Markets. There are a lot of Bosch stores in Idaho, Oregon and Washington which also carry the products. 🙂 In Idaho Ultra Gel is usually sold in a big blue pouch and in Utah often in a white 1 pound container, though those will switch over to pouches soon as well. Thick Gel will either be in yellow pouches or the white containers and usually come in 2 pound increments.

  4. I’ve loved your canning week!!! I’m also a newbie to canning and these recipes have certainly inspired me to try them!

  5. Thanks for this post out local Pick your Own Orchard opens in 2 weeks! I’ve been using Clear Jel for years, glad to know that the name changed to Ultra Gel. I’m having trouble finding it at my local Co-ops, they’ve changed to a product called Thermflo. Can anyone tell me what the difference is and can I use it the same as Clear/Ultra Gel?

    1. Thermflo is a newer generation of the non instant Clear Jel. You can use it in place of Clear Gel or Ultra Gel if you are cooking the product. It will not work in instant applications though, and your amounts may have to be adjusted slightly so the product isn’t overly thick. It will tend to thicken more than Clear Jel or Ultra Gel for the same measurement. It’s a cool product though. 🙂

  6. If I just want to make this as an eat-now apple dessert (plain or with ice cream), does that change the recipe? Do I still need the thickener, or can it be tasty and a good consistency without, if I’m eating it right then? I’ve never seen apples boiled – I’m used to stirring them over low heat FOREVER, so this seems like a neat method if it can be done without the gel? Thanks!

    1. You can blanch your apples like she did here, or if you really want to cheat and make it fast toss the slices in a microwave safe bowl with about 1/4 cup of apple juice. Cover with plastic wrap and nuke for 3-5 minutes on high. Toss them around and if they’re not soft enough another few minutes. Totally cheater way to soften apples really fast. You’ll still need the thickener, or some thickener, if you want it as an eat now dessert unless you increase the number of apples greatly and decrease the liquid. It’ll taste the same with or without thickener, but because you’re not boiling the apples in the apple juice to pull the natural apple pectin there’s nothing there to cause the juices to thicken and set.

      Good luck. 🙂

  7. I’m really excited to try this out. I was at a relief society activity last night on canning and a friend told me about your blog and that I could get some help here. I think I’m in LOVE! Thanks so much for your work!

  8. For our Utah friends, you can buy Ultra Gel at Orsn Gygi’s. I have also seen it in the Alison’s Pantry catalog

    1. Actually, check your Associated Food Stores- Maceys, Dan’s, etc. They should have some in the canning section. The Bosch kitchen stores carry them too.

      1. Thanks for the shopping tip for Utah … although now I’m sure there will be a run on it after this post 🙂 Thanks Sara for the step-by-step, hoping to have enough apples off the apple trees we planted last year to use this in the fall … I’ve never tried canning, but it’s been on my list of things to do one day.

        Can this be used for other fruits or would you just stick with the apples?
        Thank You Thank You!!

    2. Just called and they only sell instant ClearJel. Is there a difference between instant and regular?

  9. I will more then likely go with the freezer version, I live overseas and trying to find all the “tools” needed would be difficult. My question is “At what point would I put the filling into the freezer bag?” I would hate for it to be so hot it burns the bag.

    1. Just let it cool to room temp and you’re good! You only need it hot when you’re canning.

  10. Yumm, I hope I can get my hands on some apples this year, but I am looking for canning ideas for pears. I’ve got 20 lbs of pears coming in a couple of weeks.

  11. I would love your label too. {I know…we are all takers here} Any chance you could link it so I can print it? Thanks!

    1. It’s not even formatted for printing, in fact I don’t think I even saved it! I just whipped it up real quick on my computer. But I will definitely work something up to add to the post!

      1. Thank you so much for the recipe! My friend and I just made 20 quarts, and would LOVE your label, or something equally cute that we can use for Christmas gifts. Pleeeeeaaaasse??? Thanks again!

  12. WOOHOO! Ultra Gel is my favorite product, and not just because my best friend’s family makes it. I can’t cook without it anymore. I sprinkle it in anything I think might be a little too watery- sauces, gravies, soups, etc. I also put it in baked goods and it keeps things from crumbling AND keeps them moist. I am SO GLAD to see Ultra Gel here!

  13. In smaller communities you can get clear jel at the county extention agency. Also, I substitute Splenda for the sugar and it works great. Last fall I made 75 lbs of apple pie filling and by Christmas it was all gone. This year I’m going to try peach, too.

  14. How ironic! Just last night I was searching the web for a delicious apple pie filling! Not even kidding!! I’m now on the hunt for apples:) What I had in mind was making topping for some homemade funnel cakes. Hot cinnamon-apple topping with a scoop of icecream! Now we’re talkin’!

  15. I know everyone is wanting the printable but Beth Proudfoot has a darling “Hello Fall” printable that would be darling on the outside of the bottle as well.

    1. How have I never been to that blog before?? Thanks for giving me a new favorite Kim!

  16. Canning it sounds great, but I’m pretty new to canning. I think I’ll try the freezer version first. The apples don’t get mushy after freezing them?

    1. Well we’re talking about cooked fruit, so it’s supposed to be kind of “mushy” 🙂 But no, not gross mushy, just normal-soft-pie-filling soft.

  17. I made the peach bbq sauce yesterday and this one looks good too. Where did you buy the ultra gel? I am here in Meridian and I could not find it at Walmart or Winco. Thanks,

    1. Elaine, I bought mine at Karcher Ranch Market. It’s in Nampa off Karcher road just right past the movie theater/Outback steakhouse, etc. They have tons of different sizes and that large bag in my picture was like $7-8 bucks. Here’s a map if you’re not sure where it is:

      1. Thanks! I just happen to be going to the newly remodeled Nampa Winco (it is awesome) and the market is just across the road. I will run in and get some.

  18. Hurray for Ultra Gel already in my pantry (love Maceys!). What kind of device (medieval or otherwise) do you use to measure the apples? I have one that can measure up to 8 cups so maybe fill that about three times?
    Your label is so purdy! hint, hint, hint.

    1. I just use regular ol’ measuring cups. If you’re using a large 8 cup one, just level out the apples and you should be just fine.

  19. We love home canned pie filling!

    If anyone is having problems finding Clearjel or Ultra jel in your area, then check with candy/cake decorating supply companies. That is where I get mine here in MN as you cannont find it in the grocery stores.

    You can also put the pies together, with the crust, and freeze them like that so it is ready to bake when you want it. Although dumping the pie contents into a crust isn’t so tough either.

  20. You have inspired me to try canning! I have only one concern and its regarding the sugar. I’ve cut out processed sugars for health reasons and you are understandably adament on not changing recipes for canning. That being said, I can’t eat what I’ve canned if I don’t change it. Bummer! So, is there an impact if I use honey, agave or stevia instead of granulated sugar? Thanks so much for the inspiration!

      1. Aww, Sara! I work for Extension in Mississippi! I’m so glad your local office has been helpful. Melie, here’s a publication our office put out that might be helpful to you. It was last updated in 2007 and has been reviewed within the last 2 years so should be up-to-date:
        Hope that helps!

    1. If you’re using standard pectin it relies on the fruit to pectin to sugar to acid ratio, so canning without sugar makes for a runny product. If you’re using Clear Gel, Ultra Gel or Thick Gel then you can reduce your sugar or change it over to products like stevia, Splenda or agave without losing the quality of your product or risking getting sick. Make sure you still put your acid in there so you don’t encourage nasty molds or other bugs! 🙂

  21. Okay, so I got the mini-canning kit yesterday so I could give canning my first try over the weekend. Now I can’t figure out which one to do first, the peach BBQ or the apples?!?! 🙂 Again, thanks so much for these posts; I’m really looking forward to giving this a go.

    You gals rock.

  22. I never would have thought to freeze pie filling, what a great idea to get ready for fall!

  23. I really want to start canning and was wondering if you would do a salsa canning post! i can’t stand that jarred stuff in the store and would love to have some good salsa on hand all the time!

    1. Yes, definitely planning on it; I’m just waiting for my tomatoes to be ripe!

      1. HOORAY!! I’d love the salsa recipe too! I planted a “salsa” garden this year- tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and onion. Can’t wait!

      2. OOOO! looking forward to seeing that recipe! I have lots of recipes for canning salsa but am always looking for new ones! Thanks for all the amazing recipes. You guys are great!

  24. Approximately how many apples (count or pounds) equals 6 quarts? I can smell it already. Tomorrow I start the hunt for Ultra Gel or Clear Jel.

    1. It depends on the size of your apples, but usually one apple yields about one cup fresh, but these will decrease in volume a little when blanched. So I’d say for every quart jar you’ll probably want 4-6 apples.