Growing up in a cold part of the country the only fruit that ever survived the frosts were crab apples and mulberries. It was so exciting picking the little apples and helping my mom make crab apple jelly and little apple pies. They obviously take a little more work to prepare but the rewards were definitely worth the extra effort.
What are Crab Apples?
Crab apples are really just miniature apples. There are about 900 varieties of crab apples available. Most have green leaves and white or pink blossoms, although some varieties have bronze leaves and dark pink blossoms. The fruits vary from variety to variety in size and color. The three main colors are yellow, orange/red and crimson. When it comes to size, crab apples fall into one of two categories: large fruit or small berry-like fruit. Crab apples can range in size from the size of a pea up to 2 inches in diameter.
Can You Eat Crab Apples?
Yes, crab apples are edible! Although most crab apple trees are grown for their beautiful flowers and ornamental appeal, you can definitely eat crab apples.
All crab apple varieties are edible but not all varieties are palatable. Some varieties are extremely sour are best cooked in some way but other varieties, such as Centennial, Chestnut and Wickson are delicious. These three are large fruit crab apple varieties and work well for cooking and eating.
What Do Crab Apples Taste like?
Crab apples taste like regular apples. But just as you get many varieties of regular apples, each of which has its unique flavor, you also get many crab apples. The taste of crab apples ranges from sweet to sour and from crunchy and juicy to rather floury.
The ‘crab’ in crab apple means ‘sour’ but the fruits do not need to taste sour to be classified as a crab apple. It is their size that determines their category.
Any apple that is less than two inches across is a crab apple.
Some crab apples are very sour while others taste very like regular apples. Larger varieties are often sweeter than smaller varieties. Some are crisp and juicy while others have a rather spongy texture.
Crab Apple vs Regular Apple – What’s the Difference?
The main difference between crab apples and regular apples is their size. Any apple with a diameter of 2 inches or less is categorized as a crab apple.
How to Prepare Crab Apples for Cooking
Large crab apples can be peeled and cored before using in recipes like apple pie. Though with smaller crab apples peeling and coring can be very difficult or near impossible. But don’t fret. You do not need to peel or core crab apples for most recipes.
Make sure you have removed all the leaves and stalks. Give them a good rinse and they’re ready to be used.
If you are using commercially grown crab apples or if you spray your own tree with chemicals you can add a little dishwashing liquid to the water when washing them. Give them a good rub and swirl in the soapy water before rinsing them well in clean water.
The soap helps to break down the waxy layer on the apples that hold onto the harmful chemicals. This is particularly important with crab apples as the skins are cooked into the dish.
Crab apples, and particularly their seeds and skins, are very high in pectin. When making jams and jellies it’s beneficial to leave the cores in and skins on even if you are using a bigger fruit variety.
Most recipes work best if you halve or quarter (depending on the size) the apples before cooking. This allows the pectin to be released more easily.
Can You Eat Crab Apples Straight off the Tree?
Yes and No. Some crab apple varieties, such as Chestnut, Dolgo, Centennial, Whitney and Ker, are delicious eaten straight off the tree. Other varieties are too sour for most people’s tastes. Most of the bigger crap apple fruit varieties are palatable and good to eat raw.
How to Eat Crab Apples
Some varieties of crab apples can be plucked off the tree and enjoyed immediately as you would a regular apple.
Though some varieties are a little too tart for most people’s taste and need a little work done to them before they can be considered delicious. Crab apples can be made into jellies, jams, butters, and sauces or they can be pickled.
Crab Apple Jelly
Smaller, more sour crab apples are perfect for making jellies. The use of sugar cuts through the tartness of the fruit but the jelly retains the full tang and flavor of the fruit.
Crab apple jelly is ideal for serving with rich meats.
Crab Apple Jam
Again, the high sugar content of jam makes smaller and more sour crab apples perfect for this job.
For the jam to take on the sticky texture plenty of sugar is needed. A strong flavored fruit is best used to stand up to all the sugar.
Crab apples make the most delicious jam to be enjoyed on sandwiches, scones and toast.
Crab Apple Butter
The sweet-tart flavor of crab apple butter is a delicious twist on apple butter.
Apple butter is so useful and versatile in the kitchen. It can complement sweet treats like pancakes, waffles, and cupcakes. It can be stirred into oatmeal or spread on toast for breakfast.
When cooking roast pork, pork chops, or chicken just brush a little (or a lot) of crab apple butter on near the end of the cooking time. It will make the meat moist and give it a delicious fruity tang.
Crab Apple Sauce
Crab apple sauce has a lot less sugar than crab apple jam or jelly. The sauce is tart and fruity and nearly as sticky.
It is great served with meats, stirred into cakes, or used as an ice-cream topping.
Crab apple sauce can also be used as a substitute for oil in muffins and other baked goods.
Pickled Crab Apples
Pickled crab apples taste delicious and look attractive. They can be added to a cheese board to add color and something a little different.
How Can You Tell if Crab Apples are Ripe?
Crab apples are generally ready to harvest in late Fall but before any hard freeze. Most varieties will change color for example to yellow, red/orange or crimson.
One way to check your crab apples are ready is to halve them and look at the seeds. You will know they are ripe when the seeds have matured to brown color, while the outside of the fruit is still firm and crisp.
If you take a bite of the crab apple, you should be able to easily bite it.
Preserving Crab Apples
Every crab apple tree produces bucket loads of fruit so it is sometimes a little daunting to know what to do with them all.
They can be pickled and bottled in a variety of ways. You can turn them into jam or jelly or sauce. Crab apples can also be cooked and dried into fruit rolls.
If you have run out of time to work your crab apples, don’t let them waste. Simply pop them in the freezer until you have time to spend some time in the kitchen again.
Before freezing, remove leaves and stems. Rinse them well. If you have time, you can halve them but this is not necessary. It just makes it easier when it comes time to cook them later.
Dry them off and place them in a zip lock bag in the freezer. When you remove them from the freezer later, they will not retain their crisp texture but will become a bit mushy as they thaw. This is not a problem as you are going to cook them into a mush anyway.
Recipes Using Crab Apples
Crab apple jelly is probably the most common use of crab apples. This Crab Apple Jelly Recipe from BBC Good Food is particularly delicious.
If you have the patience this Crab Apple Wine is a lovely light drink that can be enjoyed on a summer evening or by the fire.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation brings us this simple, yet delicious, Spiced Crab Apple Recipe.
Crab Apple Butter is probably even more delicious than regular apple butter due to the crab apple’s intense flavor. This recipe from Champagne Tastes is simple and delicious.
If you have a bigger fruit variety you can try these delicious Crab Apple Fritters by Dinner with Julie. If you really like that apple flavor you can replace the icing topping with crab apple butter. Delicious!
Fruit roll, otherwise known as fruit leather is a great way to preserve and use your crab apples. Fruit roll is a healthy snack to pop into the kids lunch boxes or take on a picnic. Joybilee Farm shows us how to make Crab Apple Fruit Leather.
This Crab Apple Syrup by Edible is a delicious twist on regular syrup and is delicious on pancakes, waffles, scones, or toast.
These Crab Apple Muffins by A Hundred Years Ago are moist and divine. With a dash of crab apple butter a spoon of crab apple syrup, they are out of this world.
Pickled Young Crab Apples from Forager Chef in an interesting twist uses unripe crab apples for this recipe. They are perfect to accompany a Pork dish which the Forager Chef also provides a recipe for.
Crab apple trees are not just ornamental trees but also produce a tasty harvest of apples. And as we have seen, crab apples are both edible and delicious. So if you are lucky enough to grow your own crab apple tree, why not try them out with one of these recipes?
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