That's funny. Crabapples are those tiny little apples that you find on those trees that bloom so profusely in the spring and put on such a great show. Crabapples (Malus) are the most stunning of spring flowering trees for your landscape. Many of them are small in stature and can be beautiful throughout the changing seasons (spring flowers, fall fruit, textured bark and craggy branches in winter).
Crabapple trees are probably the best apple pollenator you can put in your home apple orchard, every orchard should have one. Yes, they can be a bit messy and a pain to clean up after every year but you will have a much better harvest of your large apples if you plant at least one of these. I am planning my planting of heritage apples for next spring and a Whitney Crab Apple will be among the lot. Crabapples are great for pollinating regular apple trees; their pollen does not affect the taste of the larger apples. The small to medium size trees are perfect for smaller spaces, used for privacy screens, even growing under power lines. The fruit is useful to wildlife, including many songbirds.
Are they good for you? SURE! Brazilian researchers place apple second only to cranberries in phenolic content and antioxidant activity, so crabapples would also fall into that category. In other research, when several fruits were tested ‘in vitro’ on human liver-cancer cells, apple rated third in antiproliferation activity. They concluded that “dietary cancer prevention is proposed to provide a new alternative biomarker for future epidemiological studies in dietary cancer prevention and health promotion.”
‘Antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of common fruits.’ Sun J, et al. Dept. of Food Science, Cornell Uv., Ithaca, New York, USA. J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Dec 4; 50(25):7449-54
Perhaps it's the mess they make that gave them the term "Crab"apple, but more likely it's their bitter, tart flavor that caused them to get the name. I remember crabsapples pickled and served every year on my Grandmother Shavlik's Thanksgiving table and I've spred my toast with lots of Crabapple Jelly. We've even been known to throw a few into our apple cider blend for that added spicy tang. Unfortunately, you need to have a tree growing in your yard, or know someone who does, because they are an old-fashioned fruit and you can't find them in stores. I sincerely hope that they come into fashion again, because I see lots of possibilities for this fruit beyond jelly and spiced or pickled crabapples-- chutney, pies, sauce, fillings, juice....
The following recipe is adapted from a blog by Stark Brothers Nurseries.
Canned (Pickled) CrabapplesPreparation Time: 2¼ hours
Yield: Approximately 6 pints
- 3 pounds crabapples
- 2½ cups honey
- 2½ cups pure apple cider vinegar
- 2½ cups water
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds
- 3 sticks cinnamon, each broken in 2 or 3 pieces
- Wash the crabapples (discard those that are blemished), wipe clean the blossom ends, and leave the stem intact but trimmed short.
- Prick the crabapples in 2 or 3 places with a fine skewer and place half in a large kettle. Cover with the honey, vinegar, and water. Stir all together.
- Tie the spices in cheesecloth and add to the crabapples in the kettle.
- Cover the kettle and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the apples are tender but not falling apart.
- Remove the crab apples from the hot syrup and put aside. Repeat with the remaining half of the crabapples.
- When all the crabapples have been cooked, remove the kettle from the heat and return the first batch to the hot syrup.
- Allow the apples to cool in the syrup.
- Drain the crabapples, discard the spices, return the syrup to the pan, and bring to the boil.
- Pack the crab apples into pint or quart jars, cover with the boiling syrup to within ¼ inch of the tops, and screw on the lids.
- Process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath.