What to do with all those crab apples!
Updated: Sep 14
When walking around the UK countryside in autumn you'll probably come across crab apple trees. After one nibble of these little beauties you'll probably think they are no use for anything as they are so bitter. But you'd be wrong! There are loads of recipes for crab apples, either as the main dish or as a sulk for jams and jellies. Here are a 5 suggestions to make the most of this delightful crab apple harvest.
1. Crab Apple Jelly:
Crab apple jelly is the classic way to use these fruits and show them off to the best potential. The tartness of crab apples makes for a flavourful jelly which goes well with warm buttery toast, hot cross buns or anything that needs a punch of taste.
Ingredients: Crab apples, sugar, water, lemon juice.
Instructions: Wash and quarter the crab apples, removing stems and blossom ends. Make sure to leave the core and seeds in though, as that's where a lot of the pectin is - this is what helps the jelly set. Simmer them with water until soft, then strain the juice and combine it with sugar and lemon juice. Boil until it reaches a jelly-like consistency. You can test it by dropping a little on a cold saucer - if, when you push it with a finger, it wrinkles, it's good to go. Otherwise let it boil for a wee minute longer.
2. Crab Apple Sauce:
Similar to applesauce, crab apple sauce is great as a side dish or topping for desserts.
Ingredients: Crab apples, sugar, cinnamon (optional).
Instructions: Halve and cook crab apples with sugar and cinnamon until soft, then blend or mash into a sauce.
3. Crab Apple Chutney:
Crab apple chutney is a flavorful condiment that pairs well with cheese, meats, and sandwiches. It's very handy to have in the cupboard and lasts well over winter if stored in a cool, dry place.
Ingredients: Crab apples, onions, brown sugar, vinegar, spices (e.g., ginger, cinnamon, cloves), raisins or sultanas.
Instructions: Cook all ingredients together until the mixture thickens, then store in sterilised jars. You can sterilise jars by putting them in a low oven for 15 minutes or so, or use Milton tablets if you don't want to put the oven on.
4. Crab Apple Pie:
Use crab apples as you would regular apples in a pie recipe. The tartness can be balanced with sugar.
Ingredients: Crab apples, sugar, cinnamon, pie crust. You can buy short crust pastry mix easily online (this saves a lot of effort and time!).
Instructions: Peel, core, and slice the crab apples. Toss with sugar and cinnamon, then fill a pie crust. Bake until golden brown.
5. Crab Apple Cider:
Crab apple cider can be a refreshing drink - if done correctly! You can ferment it into hard cider or make a non-alcoholic version. At the very worst, you might just end up with delicious crab apple cider vinegar!
Ingredients: Crab apples, sugar (for alcoholic cider), water, brewers yeast (for alcoholic cider).
Instructions: Crush the crab apples, add sugar and water (and yeast for alcoholic cider), then let it ferment in a clean container for several weeks. Whenever I brew, I use a fermentation bucket like this, which has a handle, sealable lid and a hole for a fermentation tube. This let's the gas escape so your tub doesn't blow up!
Remember to always forage responsibly and sustainably, respecting local regulations and the environment. Try not to do a clean sweep of a crab apple tree, but instead leave enough for other foragers and the wildlife. Crab apples are pretty common, so it's usually best to take some from a range of trees. You'll also get a lovely unique flavour by doing this too and all crap apples taste slightly different! You can make sure you ID crab apples correctly through one of my recommended foraging books, including River Cottage's John Wright's excellent foraging book for beginners.