Crab apple trees are often used as ornamental trees in gardens. The fruits are left to be eaten by wildlife or to drop naturally from the tree. But this seems a shame, since the fruits can be delicious and very useful if you use them in the right ways.
You may well, at some point in your life, have bitten into a crab apple. If you have done so, you are unlikely to have been impressed. The fruits are rarely palatable when eaten raw. But that does not mean that you should give up on them altogether. Once cooked or processed, they can be made into a range of absolutely delicious things.
Crab apples might not be as easy to eat as dessert apples that can be eaten straight from the tree, but you can still use them in a wide range of different ways. Here are a few recipe ideas to help you make the most of the crab apples in your garden, or elsewhere in your neighbourhood:
Crab Apple Syrup
The first and simplest idea is to make a crab apple syrup. This simply involves boiling and straining the stewed crab apples and then adding sugar or another sweetener, and any other herbs or spices to taste. You can use a crab apple syrup in a range of ways. Another idea is to drizzle it over ice cream or a range of desserts. You can add water and make a refreshing squash. Or you can use it as a glaze for a range of savoury recipes, from roasts to nut roasts and vegetarian bakes.
Crab Apple Jelly
Another ideas takes a simple crab apple syrup one step further and adds boiling time to activate the natural pectin in the apples and make a set jelly. Crab apple jelly tastes absolutely delicious and in fact, I find that using sour apples like crab apples (or other tart cooking apples) turns this from something that you just spread on toast to something much more flexible. Crab apple jelly is a great accompaniment for sweet and savoury dishes. It works very well with a cheese board, and can help you make some very impressive hors d’oeuvres.
Any apples at all, you can cook down with sugar or other sweeteners and spices and other seasoning to taste. Cook them for a long time to make a smooth and unctuous apple butter. Crab apples are no exception. This is like an apple sauce but you cook it down into a buttery and spreadable consistency which gives it an amazing depth of flavour. Yes, you can spread it on toast. But you can also use it in a range of baked goods, or even make a richly spiced version to enjoy with savoury dishes.
Crab Apple Fruit Leather
Make a smooth, blended paste of apple butter or sweetened stewed crab apples. Spread out in a thin layer onto a lined baking sheet. You can then place it in the oven to dry it out and make fruit leather – or a type of fruit roll up that you do not have to buy. Strips of this leather, rolled up in strips of greaseproof paper, make great lunch box snacks for kids, or just a treat for anyone to enjoy at any time. If you enjoy chewy sweets that are a little bit sweet and a little bit sour, then a crab apple fruit leather will likely be right up your street.
Toffee Crab Apples
Toffee apples are one of those things that we all remember having as kids. But do you remember how often you started but not finish them? Rather than having all the waste when you dip large apples into toffee, why not consider coating tiny little crab apples instead? That way, there is likely to be far less waste. Tart crab apples also work well with ultra sweet toffee, stopping the whole thing from becoming quite so overwhelmingly sweet. Let’s face it, kids don’t often eat much of the apple inside anyway, so why not use crab apples when these are in abundant supply?
Crab apples have an intense apple flavour. And they can lend that flavour to some spirit when steeped in the alcohol for a couple of months. You can add them to vodka or gin, for example, to make some great Christmas gifts. And you can also add spices like cinnamon, or other ingredients to the mix to suit individual tastes. You might also consider adding other fruits like blackberries too, to make your own mixes which are wonderful for seasonal cocktails over the festive period.
If you feel like being more adventurous, you might make your own alcoholic drinks from scratch. With the right equipment you could consider making, for example, a crab apple wine. This is a more complex project, and a longer term one since the wine will not mature and be ready for tasting for at least 6 months. But the results can be delicious if you follow the correct procedure and give the crab apple wine sufficient time to mature.
These are just a few of the things you could do with your crab apples, and there are certainly a number of other things to try. But the ideas above may have sparked some interest, and helped you see how you can turn sour crab apples from your garden or nearby woods or hedgerows into an extremely worthwhile yield. So be sure to harvest or forage crab apples this year, and explore some of the options above to make the most of their intense flavour this year.
Do you have any favourite crab apple recipes? Please do share them with us below to help others get some inspiration to make the most of these hedgerow and garden fruits.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.