If you start looking for crab apples in the Autumn, you will be amazed at how many you will find. A couple of years ago my friend Gilly gave me a large bag of pink crab apples from her mum’s garden and I made some rose-tinted crab apple jelly. This year I wanted to forage for them.
I visited my brother in Bath recently and we went looking for the yellow plum tree we discovered a couple of years ago. That year I collected bags and bags of yellow plums and turned most of them into jam. The ones I didn’t make jam with I chopped up and froze for crumbles and they lasted for ages.
This year we found the tree but were too late: one lonely looking plum on the ground was the only evidence they had ever existed. There was, however, a lot of horse manure under the tree. Not difficult to work out where they had all gone! Then we found the horse, munching away under a crab apple tree.
We collected crab apples and tried to find some blackberries, which turned out to be very thin on the ground. So my brother suggested a lane he often cycles up and off we went.
And what an amazing lane that turned out to be! In less than half a mile we had filled the rucksack (brought along specially for the purpose) with blackberries, elderberries, sloes and crab apples.
We had so many crab apples that when I got them home I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do with them all! Luckily they keep for a while so I didn’t have to set to work straight away. They come in various sizes – I had some really tiny ones and some that looked like small eating apples. The stalks and shape are slightly different from eating apples. They ressemble those of cherries so it is quite easy to tell that they are crab apples.
For some reason all the ones we found that day were green. We went for a pub lunch on the Sunday and the pub garden had several trees, with both yellow and red crab apples. If I hadn’t already found plenty I would have asked if I could gather up some of theirs. I will be bearing them in mind for next year though!
With my new found enthusiasm for making jellies I have been working my way through them. I have added them to blackberry jelly and made plain crab apple jelly, which has a really delicate apple flavour. This recipe I found in “Easy Jams, Chutneys and Preserves” by Val and John Harrison, and it really appealed. It would be great as an alternative to mint sauce with lamb, but both the vinegar and rosemary are very subtle so it could even be good on toast.
Crab apples are very easy to use as they only need chopping up: they do not need peeling or coring. If they did I doubt anyone would bother… As they cook they get very pulpy and seem very starchy. They are high in pectin so you can use them with fruits that are lower in pectin to make jellies. They really don’t look appetising but the juice extracted makes good jelly!
1.4kg crab apples
2 tablespoons rosemary leaves
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
450g sugar per 570ml of juice obtained
Rinse and quarter the crab apples.
Put into the pan with the water, rosemary and cider vinegar:
Simmer until the fruit is pulpy.
Pour into a jelly bag on a frame, or muslin tied to an upturned stool, and leave to strain overnight.
Measure the juice and heat in a pan.
The amount of sugar you need will depend on the amount of juice you end up with. Add 450g sugar for each 570ml of juice and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil and boil rapidly until it sets when tested, or reaches 104ºC which is setting point.
Remove any scum and pour into heated, sterilised jars.
I didn’t get a huge amount of jelly but given the quantity of crab apples I had, I wasn’t too worried. I didn’t press the bag at all when the juice was draining so had expected the jelly to be a little clearer. If anyone has any ideas as to why it still turned out a bit cloudy, please let me know!