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.

crab apples

crab apples

crab apples

I’m not sure of the difference between a wild apple and a crab apple, but for cooking I don’t think it matters. Around the farm we have wild apple trees bearing fruits that range in size from marbles to a small cultivated apple, with skins that ripen to shades of green, yellow and orange.  But no matter what colour the skin, they are all very sour so that no matter how enticing they look, the flesh within puckers my mouth and makes me screw up my eyes. I don’t know if these trees have sprung from discarded pips or were deliberately planted, but their proliferation around Lakes Field suggests that there may have been some sort of settlement there in ancient days. Who knows?

crab apple tree in the garden

In the garden we have two cultivated crab apple trees; the earliest to ripen (in foreground of the photo above) has oval shaped fruit that turns a warm orangey red when ripe while the other one has small round apples that turn yellow. There’s a carpet of crab apples under the tree and the desire to preserve the last days of summer overrides the logic that I don’t need rows of jams and jellies in the pantry.

I’ve made Spiced Crab Apples from Edible Wild Plants & Herbs by Pamela Michael, which will be ready to eat with cold meats in December. The crab apples are cooked whole in vinegar, sugar and spices, potted and left to mature for three months so that the spicy syrup is absorbed by the fruit giving a mouthful of almost candied fruit.

pectin made from crab apples

Another batch of crab apples has been used to make apple pectin using Celia’s recipe. I only made a small batch, using whole crab apples, which is now sitting in small pots in the freezer. For someone who has vowed not to overproduce jam this year, it seems strange to make pectin expressly for that purpose, but my theory is that I can use it next summer when my shelves will be bare and I need to restock.

crab apple jelly with tomato and chilli

Making use of two gluts in one preserve is perhaps the most satisfying, so Crab Apple, Tomato and Chilli Jelly ticks all the boxes. I use this jelly when a recipe calls for Sweet Chilli Sauce, though it doesn’t have the same strength as a commercial sauce so I have to make allowance for that. It gives a lift to gravy and makes a super quick dip by spooning over some cream cheese. I don’t see why it couldn’t be spread on toasted muffins, though I’ve never tried it. The Crab Apple, Tomato and Chilli Jelly recipe is below.

crab apples under the tree

We sat outside eating supper last night and watched the apples fall to the ground so now I’m trying to avert my eyes whenever I walk past the crab apple tree so I don’t see just how much is going to waste. We’ll use some of the apples when we make cider and the hens will peck at a few, but it looks as though I need to get out the wheelbarrow to move them to the compost heap so they can rot down to be used on the vegetable garden next year.

recipe for crab apple, tomato and chilli jelly

1.5 kg crab apples (or cooking apples)
1.5 kg ripe tomatoes
3 chilli peppers
1 red pepper
150 ml cider vinegar
Sugar with added pectin

Roughly chop the apples and tomatoes – don’t skin or core them.

Finely chop 2 of the chilli peppers.

Deseed and finely chop the red pepper.

Put all your chopped fruit and veg into the preserving pan with the vinegar and add enough water to almost cover them.

Bring to the boil and then simmer until the apples are pulpy and everything else is softened.

Tip into a jelly bag and leave to drip overnight.

Measure the juice and weigh out 500g of sugar for every 600ml of juice.  You need jam sugar with added pectin as the chilli peppers stop the jelly setting, apparently.

Warm the sugar and add to the pan along with the remaining chilli pepper that’s been deseeded and very finely chopped.

Bring to a rolling boil and heat until it reaches 104C (or test for setting).

Pot as usual.