Wandering around my new workplace, a dairy farm turned apple orchard turned school, I have been wondering how I can make use of the dozens of crabapple trees growing on the land. Crabapples are common throughout the United States, often found in neighborhoods and backyards, but like me, few people know all the uses for crabapples.
Crabapple trees are beautiful and covered in blossoms throughout the spring, with small apples developing in the late summer and fall. But crabapples are more than ornamental trees – they are edible as well!
Part of the Rosaceae, or rose family, and sharing the same genus (Malus) as apples, a crabapple is generally considered to be under 2 inches in size, while a “standard” apple is larger. Many crabapples are quite tart, but there are some sweet crabapple cultivars.
Growing crabapples in your garden or orchard is an excellent idea because they’re helpful with pollination. Honey bees and other pollinating insects love this tree. Planting one near your garden will help ensure your fruiting trees and vegetable plants will receive the pollination needed to set fruits.
If you have access to crabapple trees, here are some of the best uses for crabapples.
Are Crabapples Edible?
Yes! Crabapples are edible and a source of Vitamin C, soluble fiber, and antioxidants.
Some people assume that crabapples aren’t edible because they are primarily grown as ornamental, decorative trees. However, you can eat and use them just like standard apples. Just remember that crabapples can be extremely tart, so adjust the other ingredients in your recipe accordingly!
17 Uses for Crabapples
Don’t let all the crabapples in your yard or neighborhood go to waste! There are so many different ways to use crabapples. Here are some creative suggestions to get you started!
- Homemade Crabapple Pectin
Most jelly or jam recipes contain store-bought pectin to create the thickening needed. Pectin is a naturally occurring substance found in many berries, apples, and fruits, and when combined with sugar, it creates the thick, gel-like texture we expect in jellies and jams.
An alternative to commercial pectin is to make homemade crabapple pectin. Harvest underripe crabapples for this purpose. The more ripe a fruit is, the less pectin it contains.
Try making a batch of crabapple pectin when jelly season comes around and using that instead of the boxes from the store. It’s one easy way to cut the costs of your jelly and keep it natural.
- Crabapple Jelly
Crabapples are naturally full of pectin. Therefore, to make crabapple jelly, no additional pectin is required, just sugar to balance the tartness of the crabapple.
Some people liken the taste of crabapple jelly to apple peel jelly, but with a more potent flavor.
This recipe for homemade crabapple jelly from Grow a Good Life is a great one to follow. They suggest using 25% underripe crabapples and 75% ripe crabapples to ensure there is enough natural pectin for the jelly to set.
- Crabapple Jam
Not a fan of jelly? Try making jam instead! This delicious sounding recipe for crabapple jam adds fresh mint leaves and vanilla, with a consistency similar to apple butter.
- Crabapple Sauce
Skip the applesauce and make crabapple sauce instead. All you need is two ingredients: crabapples and your favorite sweetener.
My favorite method for making applesauce is to use a food mill to remove the work of peeling! Simply cut out any rotten spots and toss the crabapples in a slow cooker, or cook on the stove or wood stove in a pot with a bit of water added to prevent burning.
When the crabapples are soft, run the entire pot through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. Then the sauce goes back into the slow cooker with sugar/honey/alternative sweetener to taste, and let the mixture simmer down for several hours, or until it reaches your desired consistency.
- Crabapple Butter
After you make crabapple sauce, try thickening it down into crabapple butter! Add some cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves for a true taste of Autumn, and enjoy on a thick slice of homemade bread. Crabapple butter can also be canned to enjoy later.
Here are some simple instructions to follow if you want to use a slow cooker for crabapple butter.
- Crabapple Fruit Leather
Do your kids love fruit leather? It makes a quick, healthy, on-the go snack that you can easily make at home with a food dehydrator. If you have an abundance of crabapples, try making fruit leather.
The process of making crabapple fruit leather is quite simple once you’ve mastered crabapple sauce. Chris at Joybilee farm has a great recipe for crabapple fruit leather.
The basic process is to start with crabapple sauce that has been sweetened to taste. You simply spread the sauce on trays and put them into your dehydrator. If you don’t have a dehydrator, it’s possible to make fruit leather in the oven if you cook it on the lowest setting possible for several hours.
- Caramel Crab Apples
In Central Vermont, an annual fall outing is to the Tunbridge Fair. This is your classic harvest fair experience – livestock shows, carnival rides, and the usual fair food, including caramel apples.
Caramel apples are delicious, especially when coated with nuts or other treats, and make a special treat when made at home. A sweet variety of crab apple will make a smaller sized, kid-friendly caramel apple, perfect for a fall gathering or Halloween party.
This incredible homemade caramel crab apple recipe uses maple syrup and maple sugar to sweeten!
- Pickled Crabapples
Most people are comfortable pickling vegetables like beans and cucumbers, but fruit can be pickled too! Imagine a spicy pickled crabapple as a delicious addition to roasted chicken or placed on an appetizer tray.
When pickling anything, you want to pick the best quality fruit possible. Your pickled dish will only turn out as good as the quality used, so avoid crabapples with significant blemishes or bruising.
The recipe for spicy pickled crabapples starts by making a brine with apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and spices. This is a canning-safe recipe that needs to be processed in a boiling water canner.
- Crabapple Chutney
Chutney complements different dishes, especially poultry or pork dishes. You may change the spices in the recipe, or you might add other herbs like oregano or rosemary.
The best way to describe crabapple chutney is a chunky, savory, spiced version of applesauce. You add onions, garlic, cranberries, and so many other yummy ingredients. Everything is placed into a slow cooker and cooked on low for six hours, then mashed.
- Crabapple Syrup
This crabapple syrup elevates a simple fruit into a gourmet topping for breakfast foods, or a mix-in for winter cocktails. It only requires crabapples, sugar, and water.
- Crabapple Cider
Fall is not fall without homemade apple cider. Sweet crabapples can act as a substitute for standard apples, or you can blend standard apples with crabapples for a balanced flavor.
This recipe for crabapple cider uses only five ingredients and is a great use for a prolific crabapple tree!
- Crabapple Juice
If you don’t have a juicer or a cider press, this overnight crabapple juice recipe could be a fun way to make delicious juice. Remember that crabapples have varying levels of sweet/tart, so adjust the recipe as needed.
- Crabapple Liqueur
Liqueurs are great ways to preserve and enjoy seasonal harvests. One of my favorite homemade liqueurs, nocino, is made from black walnuts.
Crabapple liqueur is an easy recipe for beginners, and unlike making wine or hard cider, requires little equipment. However, you will want to plan ahead. Take a peek at this homemade crabapple liqueur recipe and double the batch for holiday gifts!
- Crabapple Hard Cider
We make a big batch of hard apple cider each year with apple drops from our neighborhood and a local orchard.
While it is important to have enough sweetness in your cider for fermentation to occur, adding crababbles to your apple blend will give you a more nuanced flavor. Some cider aficionados recommend 10-20% crabapples.
- Crabapple Crisp
Do you love apple crisp? It’s one of my favorite fall desserts because it’s quick and easy to make whenever you have extra apples. Crabapples work well too, either on their own, or blended with standard apples.
If you’re looking for an easy dessert on a cold evening, try this crabapple crisp recipe. If you’re using a mix of apples, taste to sweeten.
- Crabapple Strawberry Tart
Here’s another dessert idea using crabapples: Crabapple strawberry tart.
Pull some strawberries out of the freezer when crabapples are ripe, and let the sweetness of strawberries complement the tartness of the crabapples. Add in the flaky pastry crust, and you have the recipe for a divine dessert.
- Crabapple Pie
One of the best uses for crabapples is apple pie! Fun fact: A few crabapples species are native to North America, making crabapple pie a truly quintessentially American dessert!
Use your favorite pie recipe, and either substitute (remembering you may need to adjust the sweetening) or add in crabapples.
What is Your Favorite Use for Crabapples?
As you can see, crabapple fruits are edible and taste delicious when cooked into different recipes. Try a few of these different uses for crabapples this fall, and let me know your favorite!
Do you have a favorite use for crabapples that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!