Previous generations grew crab apple trees as an edible, not just decorative, tree. People knew how to care for apple trees and nurtured these trees well to produce great abundance. The varieties that were planted grew bigger fruit that was a little less tart and crab apple recipes abounded to use them.
There is an old heritage crab apple tree in the village where I live. It bears well every other year and this was the year for it. So, I went to gather the fruits and as I approached the tree, all I could say was, “Wow.” The huge old tree was laden with fruit.
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The crab apples were large and beautifully colored. They almost resembled large Rainier cherries. I immediately had to eat one, of course, to see what their flavor was like. It was still tart but deliciously so. Unlike any crab apple I had ever eaten before, I finished the whole thing.
I thought to myself — what a wonderful gift to this village — this tree planted in a public spot, which produces such amazing abundance. I was so happy I had come to pick; so that all of these apples wouldn’t go to waste.
Crab Apple Recipes
Sweet and Sour Crab Apples
I guess it’s a sign of the times that it can be difficult to find crab apple recipes; no one thinks of crab apples as a usable fruit anymore. I did finally find a recipe that looked good in Putting Food By (Greene, Hertzberg & Vaughan 2010).
To begin, I picked out three pounds of crab apples with no dings or dark spots.
These spots can easily ruin a jar of food so they are to be avoided with vigilance.
Then I cleaned the apples and used my fingernail to rub off the blossom end of each.
The recipe said to use a large needle to poke the apples so that they wouldn’t explode when cooking. I did this as well, poking each with a big pin several times.
With my fruit prepared, I turned to the brine. I had to prepare a spice bag for the flavoring. I cut two layers of cheesecloth in a small square and put the spices in the center: cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and whole nutmeg cracked open. Then I used a little pieces of kitchen twine to tie it into a satchel.
This went into a pot with cider vinegar, water and sugar. I brought it to a boil and cooked three minutes before adding the apples.
The recipe said to add the crab apples and simmer about fifteen minutes. This is where I will alter the Putting Food By crab apple recipe a little. This is what happened when I followed the original instructions: mushy crab apples.
The skins on the crab apples burst after about five minutes in the brine and soon became a mushy mess. I decided to turn them into applesauce, which I’ll show later. The two things I thought went wrong with my first attempt at this crab apple recipe were: 1) maybe I didn’t prick the skins well enough and 2) they shouldn’t cook nearly so long in the brine.
So I began again. When I got to the step where I had pricked the apples with a pin, I used a large-tined fork instead. Then, when I put them in the brine, I kept it at a low simmer after adding them and only cooked them four to five minutes, keeping a close eye on when they began to soften slightly. I suppose this step could be very different based on how ripe your fruit was to begin with. If you have less ripe, harder fruit, it might need to cook longer.
This time my apples didn’t split and they looked beautiful when I scooped them out with a slotted spoon and packed the jars.
I poured the brine in over the apples, cleaned the rims and put on the lids and bands. They went into the hot water bath for 20 minutes. I have to admit that the heat of the canning process did make them split slightly again, but they are still lovely, and more importantly, their flavor is wonderful!
Sweet and Sour Crab Apples
(modified from Putting Food By)
- 3 pounds crab apples, cleaned, blossom end removed and pricked with a fork
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 3 dozen whole cloves
- 1 whole nutmeg, crushed slightly
- 3 cups apple cider vinegar
- 3 cups water
- 2-1/4 cups sugar
- Prepare your fruit.
- Make a spice bag with two layers of cheesecloth. Put the spices in it and tie it closed.
- In a large pot, combine the remaining ingredients to make the brine. Stir to dissolve the sugar then add the spice bag. Bring the brine to a boil and cook three minutes.
- Turning the brine down to a low simmer, add your apples. Keep a close eye on them, only letting them cook until they begin to soften slightly – about four to five minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon to scoop the apples into the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace.
- Pour the hot brine in over the apples, clean the rims and put on the lids and bands.
- Process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.
I mentioned earlier that I decided to make applesauce from my failed crab apple recipe for Sweet and Sour Crab Apples. This was a pretty easy process. I rinsed the mushy apples in a colander to remove a little of the brine.
Then I returned them to my pot and let them cook about ten minutes on medium heat until they really began to break down.
Then I got out my grandma’s old food mill and ran the mush through it a scoop at a time. The food mill is such a cool invention. It traps the solids on top and pushes the puree through small holes into the container below. My grandma’s isn’t the most efficient version, but it does get the job done.
I ended up with three pint jars of wonderfully pink apple sauce. I left one in the fridge to eat right away and froze the other two for later consumption. These, too, could be canned if you so desired. The flavor of the applesauce was nice without any additional spicing since the apples had been cooked with the spice bag containing nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves and had also retained a little of the sweetness from the brine. It was a happy accident that my first try at the Sweet and Sour Crab Apple recipe didn’t work out; I ended up with some great applesauce too.
Crab Apple Jelly
When I was looking through Putting Food By for the Sweet and Sour Crab Apple recipe, I happened upon a no-added-pectin jelly recipe as well. Since I had so many crab apples, I made some of this as well. It was a fairly easy process, which if you’re familiar with making how to make peach jam or jelly — or really any kind of jelly — you could easily tackle!
The first step, as usual with jelly, was to make an infusion with the apples. I put about 4.25 cups of them into my food processor with the shredding blade on it. This cut-up apple went into a large pot with three cups of water and onto the stovetop. I brought it to a boil then covered it, reduced the heat to a simmer, and let it cook 25 minutes.
I strained the pulp out and divided the remaining liquid into two pots. One I would make into plain Crab Apple Jelly and the other into Blueberry Crab Apple Jelly.
For the plain, I put the pot on the stove top. To this, I added two cups of sugar and brought it to a boil, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. I let it cook at a high boil just a few minutes, testing it often to see if it had gelled, by letting it roll off the spoon. When the viscosity changed so that they drops rolled together then off the spoon (instead of falling straight off in fast drips), I removed it from the heat, skimmed off the scum on top, and filled my jars. After cleaning the rims and apply the lids and bands, I finished them in a hot water bath for five minutes.
For the blueberry version, I also put the pot on the stove top with the crab apple infusion but I added a cup of blueberries. I let it cook about ten minutes on medium heat until the blueberries got mushy and released their juices. Then I ran the mixture through the strainer again to remove the blueberry skins and seeds. The rest of the process was the same as above: add sugar, boil, test for gel, fill and process jars.
Both jellies came out nicely, without any added pectin and adding the blueberries to part of it offers us more variety in our pantry without much added effort. Just the kind of recipe I like!
(Blueberry) Crab Apple Jelly
- 4-1/4 cups crab apples, cleaned and shredded in food processor
- 1-2 cups blueberries (optional)
- 3 cups water
- 4 cups sugar
- Clean and shred your apples. Put them in a large pot with the water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and let cook 25 minutes.
- Strain out the solids (great chicken treat!) and return liquid to large pot.
- If adding blueberries to some of your infusion, add them now. Cook over medium heat for about ten minutes. Strain out solids again and return liquid to pot. (Note- if you are making your whole batch as blueberry crab apple you can add blueberries at the beginning with the crab apples.)
- Turn heat up to high and stir in all the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook until you can see the change in viscosity when the liquid drips off of your spoon.
- Remove from heat and skim off any scum on top.
- Fill jars, leaving about 1/2″ headspace. Wipe rims clean, apply lids and bands and process for five minutes in a hot water bath.
Crab Apple Wine
Crab Apple Wine
- 5 pounds of crab apples, washed and halved
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- filtered water to fill a large stockpot
- 6 cups sugar
- pinch of yeast
- Wash apples and cut them in half. Put them in a large stock pot then add raisins and lemon juice. Fill the pot with filtered water so that it was almost full.
- Turned on the heat to high and when it begins to boil, add sugar. Turn down the heat and let it simmer about ten minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Remove from the heat, cover with a clean dish towel and leave overnight. In the morning, I add yeast, stir, and re-cover the pot.
- For three days, stir the pot once each day then re-covered it with the clean towel. You should see bubbles forming at the top to show fermentation has begun.
- After this period, strain out the solids and pour the remaining liquid into a sterilized carboy topped with an airlock to ferment for two months.
- When the liquid turns clear and the bubbling stops, you’re ready to bottle it.
For more on how to bottle your homemade wine, my dandelion wine recipe shows step-by-step how we got our wine into bottles, corked and labeled it.
There are so many crab apple recipes out there to try. I sure hope if you are blessed to have inherited a heritage crab apple tree in your yard or neighborhood that you won’t let its wealth of food be wasted. Let’s learn from times past and turn this classic fruit into a pantry staple again!