Crab apples have to be one of nature’s most beautiful fruits – with their rich colours and glorious sheen. And to gather them on a crisp October morning is a real seasonal joy. I’ve loved everything about cooking with these foraged beauties – their sweet smell with a hint of spice, their massed colour and their versatility. Here’s what I did with my basketful – two in one as the leftovers from the jelly are the only ingredient for the leathers. These recipes celebrate autumn and its crab apples in all their glory… 🙂
We harvested these windfalls from a couple of crab apple trees around the corner. I left the fruits on the tree as they looked stunning and provided a great source of food for birds. There were more than enough windfalls to fill my basket and leave a river of red still carpeting the grass when we left.
Once the apples were washed, halved, the bug infested ones removed and I’d weighed them (2.6kg), they were gently simmered in 5 pints of water with a thumb-sized piece of ginger and 6 cloves until soft which took about 2 hours. No setting agent is required due to the high levels of pectin already present in crab apples.
Then the mixture was strained overnight through a muslin bag strung on a coat-hanger to produce a large bottle of juice.
We added 450g of sugar per pint of strained liquid and boiled it, stirring constantly, until it thickened and wrinkled when placed on a cold plate and gently pushed with a finger. This took us about 25 minutes, but each jelly sets at a different rate.
The jelly was poured into sterilised jars. It is a glorious colour and has a distinctive taste with an aromatic apple flavour and floral overtones somewhere between rose and quince.
The leftover pulp was then strained through a sieve to remove the skins and cores. I sweetened it with a couple of dessertspoons of local runny honey which I mixed in – any sweetener could be used (or none) to taste, then spread it on a baking tray with a reusable baking sheet underneath the pulp.
The pulp was dried/heated at the bottom of a cool oven (about 60ºc) for around 7 hours or you could use a dehydrator. It is ready to cut into strips with scissors once the pulp has dried and can peel it off the baking tray in one big sheet. I love the waste not want not aspect to these recipes – and apart from the spices, honey and sugar it only cost us the price of the heat for cooking/drying. Frugal, seasonal and delicious – a real celebration of autumn joy!
I saw a friend’s crab apple jelly today and it was a lovely orange colour – different variety of apples to mine, I guess. I don’t know what variety my crabs were and I’d be interested to know if there are favourites for jelly and other recipes. What varieties have you used and what is the verdict? How do you use crab apples in the kitchen – I’d love to have more recipes to explore. Do leave me a comment about anything crab apple and autumn foraging related. I love sharing my growing and cooking stories and it’s really great when I get comments about other people’s experiences – I’m learning so much – thanks 🙂