crab apples

crab apples collected from Lakes Field

A selection of crab apples picked up from Lakes Field this morning. The hedge around the field contains several crab apple trees and I often wonder why they grow there and nowhere else on the farm. Perhaps they were part of a homestead at one time for certainly old maps show buildings further down the track from the main farm or maybe the trees have sprung from apple cores thrown away by labourers years ago as they worked in the fields. Who knows?

At this time of year, the apples drop from the tree and litter the ground underneath. The tiny green crab apples look particularly unappealing and even though the larger ones with their orange blushed skins look as though they might provide a sweet mouthful of flesh, experience tell me that it isn’t so. They are all very sharp. Although they might not be suitable for the fruit bowl, there’s still plenty to do with crab apples.

spiced crab apples

Top of my list every year is to make Sweet Spiced Crab Apples. Collect about 500g crab apples, wash them but don’t peel or core them, cut large ones in half and put them in a pan with vinegar and sugar at a rate of 1 part vinegar: 3 parts crab apple: 3 parts sugar with some ground ginger, cloves and cinnamon stick. Stir to dissolve the sugar, simmer until the apples are just soft but still in one piece and then transfer the apples to jars, leaving the liquid in the pan. Remove the clove and cinnamon stick, boil the syrup until it’s reduced by about half and then pour over the apples and seal the jars. Keep the crab apples for a couple of months before you use them, by which time the apples will have absorbed the syrup to make an almost candied fruit. You can see from the photo above that while the 2014 crab apples on the right are still whole, the 2013 apples have swollen with the syrup. We eat these with cold meats.

I usually make crab apple, tomato and chilli jelly but my tomatoes have come to a premature halt (apparently that’s what happens if you forget to water the plants in the greenhouse) but if you have a surplus of tomatoes and are wondering what to do with them, you could try the jelly recipe.

We mix crab apples with our eating and cooking apples to make a slightly tarter mix for cider making and last year I made a batch of crab apple pectin, which has been very useful for jam making this year. I’m toying with the idea of making Crab Apple Butter as I imagine that spreading toast with a spiced, fruity butter would be rather delicious. The problem is that as we don’t eat much jam or sweet spreads, I’m not sure it will all get used and I don’t want it to sit on the shelf gathering dust beside the elderly jars of Blackcurrant with Lavender Jam. I know what you’re thinking. Blackcurrant with lavender. Why? I thought it was an inspired combination but I was wrong and I should really just throw it out. But you never know, one day it may taste wonderful. Maybe not.

Do you make Apple Butter? Does it have another use apart from a spread? Please, do tell.

29 thoughts on “crab apples

  1. I make apple butter every year from my grandmother’s recipe which is very spicy. We use it primarily as a spread on bread, but I’ve seen it as a meat glaze, mixed in with pumpkin puree for pies, in cakes and ice creams.

  2. Maybe you could gift the crab apple butter to someone?

    I made my first crab apple jelly this year – tastes fab and now I am thinking of getting my own crab apple tree.

  3. Hi Anne- Kate from Australia here. I love the taste of crabapples too. We have a few of the trees which bear the bright red fruit, and I make crabapple sparkles from them each year using the same basic recipe for rhubarb “champagne” . The other things I have done is make crab apple brandy – just an infusion, but it works really well. Plan this year for a glaze for our roasted Aylesbury ducks!!

    1. I’ve never heard of rhubarb ‘champagne’ but I presume it’s the same as the elderflower ‘champagne’ we make. Am about to investigate further – thanks for the tip Kate.

  4. I adore crab apple jelly and have made a batch with rosehips just because I can’t resist making it even though the shelves are still full of last year’s jellies. It’s scones or muffins for every tea time all the way from now on in through the winter – what a tragedy! I love the sound of your blackcurrant jelly with lavender and i can entirely see why the combination appealed. I’d want to say, hold your throwing-out-hand – there will be a perfect destination for it, I’m sure. Do you make cider vinegar with your apples, crab or otherwise? You can use it to wash your hair apparently partnered with bicarbonate of soda. I was suspicious of this wheeze when I read about it but it actually works! I’ve been trying it out! I know, cranky or what, but cheap as chips and very satisfyingly home-made. Much better than my homemade shampoo soap bars which turned out to be very drying. Have a lovely weekend, Anne! E x

    1. How awful – scones and muffins all winter! I’ve been trying to give away the blackcurrant with lavender for a couple of years without success. I shall use what I can in bakewell tarts and then may accept defeat. I have made cider vinegar with the apples but never tried using it as shampoo – will have to look into that.

  5. I’ve only made crab apple & chilli jelly and crab apple & plum jelly so far, but love your ideas. Great pic at the top too.

  6. I am loving your artistic photos Anne! I have no experience with crab apples but your recipes sound delicious. We don’t use many sweet spreads either although I have just recently made a batch of tiny jam tarts. Happy cooking x

  7. More lovely foraging Anne – I’m so envious! Though we did just plant a peach tree yesterday… so in a few years I’ll be able to go out and forage in my front garden (not quite the same as a farm, but exciting all the same!)
    My apricot and lavender jam definitely improved over time (in fact I’m now wishing I made more), so I’m sure there’s still hope for your blackcurrant/lavender version! 🙂

  8. Growing up, we had a crab apple tree at the end of our driveway. We watched it fruit and litter the ground. We did nothing with it. But I’ve always wondered about crab apples and their purpose… reading this brought back such memories!
    So basically, they’re not good for eating straight away but delicious is as you’ve demonstrated here. I’m sure with the success of your spiced version (whole) they would make a lovely apple butter as well. I say go for it- small batch so at least you’ll satisfy your curiosity. I’ve made apple butter only once myself, and find that the leftovers are very good in muffins. It adds just the right flavor.
    PS- crab apple pectin is a brilliant idea 🙂

  9. I’m liking the idea of spiced crab apples … the crab apple tree we found up in the hills turns out to have some of the sourest crab apples I’ve ever encountered, perhaps it would be a good choice for those.

  10. I remember how busy my mother would be this time of year with all of her canning. Vegetables from the garden & plenty of crab apple jelly. She never made any crab apple butter but it sounds like it would be outstanding. I’m not much for canning myself – mostly because I’m afraid that I’ll give someone botulism. Some things are best left in experienced hands.

  11. My son was asking what crabapples were the other day. He had a curious combination image of crabs and regular apples 🙂
    (and love the picture again Anne…gorgeous.)

  12. Hee hee! Blackcurrant and Lavender sounds ummmmm intriguing?! I once made cucumber pickles and forgot to add the sugar but an American friend of mine ADORED it! She said it was just like her Granny’s recipe! All you need to do is find someone with a Granny that made Blackcurrant and Lavender Jam! Lovely post as always 🙂 PS I’ve just planted some crabapples – the bright red ones. I’m hoping they’ll also be useful to display in a vase???

    1. I’ll keep an eye out for a suitable person! The red crab apples will make a fabulous display in a vase. I try to arrange crab apples and blackberries but never quite pull it off. One day…

  13. I really like your first photo – I bet it was fun to arrange. 🙂 I don’t have any crab apple trees but I’m now wishing I had. They remind me of Brambly Hedge books, plus I also want to make some of the divine sounding Spiced Sweet Crab Apples. x

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