Crab apples are everywhere right now. And what a gift they are. They originated in Kazahkstan, Russia and China but found their way to the Continent along the Silk Road resulting in many cultivars before arriving in England. From there they were introduced to North America during the 18th century. They are hardy, drought resistant and have given us fruits for both culinary and medicinal uses. The malic and tartaric acids in crab apples have been used medicinally to counter the acid effects associated with gout and indigestion. As for culinary uses, they are as bountiful as the trees themselves.
Crab apple bark is often used as an addition to smoking foods adding a sweet, apple flavour. The fruit is sometimes canned whole for use as an accompaniment to roast pork or other meats. Crab apple liqueur is easily made by immersing 30 to 40 washed crab apples cut in halve in a liter of vodka and one cup of sugar. Put the jar in a dark place and stir regularly for 2 months. Voila. A beautiful liqueur to serve neat or over ice cream.
Crab apples are ideal for jelly making. The skins make for a delightful colour. I extracted the juice from crab apples using a jelly bag. Just wash the crab apples, cook in about 1 cup water per cup of apples for about 20 minutes until soft. Place in a jelly bag or sieve lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Let the juice naturally extract. Don’t press the fruit or it will make a cloudy juice. Once the juice is extracted, make the jelly. Crab apples are very high in acid and pectin so no additional pectin is needed. If you are nervous about getting to the proper gel point, you can add one packet liquid pectin to four cups of juice and one tablespoon of lemon juice. Process according to manufacturers instructions. Jelly is water-bath processed for 10 minutes (adjusting for altitude) with an additional 5 minute rest before removing from the canner.
What is left in the jelly bag is the cooked apples. Don’t throw them away. They are excellent as an apple sauce or you can dehydrate to make a good old fashioned fruit leather. If you make the leather, sweeten with 1 – 2 TBSP corn syrup or honey but not sugar as it will crystalize. For 4 cups of pulp which has been put through a food mill to remove skins and seeds, add a tsp of corn starch which makes the leather pliable not brittle. I have a dehydrator so it takes about 12 hours at 125 degrees. Remove the leathers from a non-stick sheet and then put back in the dehydrator for about 2 more hours to remove tackiness. You can make the leathers in a low oven of 200 degrees. Some modern ovens even have a dehydrating setting but most do not so set the oven at the lowest possible warming setting. It will take about 10 0 12 hours. Once leathers are done (no soft or tacky spots), wrap in plastic warp or parchment. They should be stored in in a cool, dry place and will last a year. These are great treats for the pack-packs or for lunch bags.
The crab apples are still plentiful so take advantage of their many uses. Whether drying, canning, smoking or preserving, crab apples are wonderful for both culinary and medicinal uses. When nature provides free fruits, why not jump at the opportunity to enjoy!
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