Another family walk proves fruitful … while we were out exploring the other night, I happened to spot a group of crabapple trees that I had never noticed before. They’re on public land (so they’re fair game), and the fruit on a couple of the trees is close to ripe. Looks like I’ll be making crabapple jelly, crabapple bread and all other manner of crabapple goodness over the next few months.
My parents had a crabapple tree when I was growing up, but we never did anything with it. I can’t wait to experiment with this new-to-me fruit (I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes).
How to Identify a Crab Apple Tree:
Crabapples are in season late summer into fall (August-October), and they’re fairly to identify. Here’s what to look for:
- They have oval leaves that come to a point
- Leaves are light green in the spring, darker green in the summer, and turn a yellowish-orange or reddish-purple in the fall
- The edge of the leaves are serrated
- The backsides of younger leaves are hairy. Older leaves are hairless
- The leaves and fruit form in clusters
- Leaves alternate on the limb, rather than growing directly across from each other
- When the tree flowers in the spring, the blooms can be white, light pink, dark pink or purplish in color (depending on the variety)
- The fruit grows on long stems, much like a cherry. It will have a sepal on the end as it grows, but this sometimes falls off when the fruit is ripe
- The size of the fruit varies, but is between 1/4-inch and two inches. Anything bigger than that, and it’s considered an apple – not a crabapple
- Crabapples are medium-sized trees, and typically reach a max height of 15-30 feet (though dwarf varieties do exist)
When to Pick Crabapples:
Some crabapples turn red when they’re ripe, while others turn a yellowish-orange. The easiest way to tell if the crabapples from a particular tree are ripe is to cut a few open at the equator. If the seeds are brown, the fruit is ripe and ready for picking. Ripe crabapples will also have a bit of give when you squeeze them.
There are over 1,000 varieties of crabapples, and they each ripen at their own time. Start watching any trees that you find in August, but don’t be surprised if they aren’t ready until sometime in the fall.
Uses for Crabapples:
Crabapples are much more tart than regular apples, so you probably won’t enjoy eating them straight off the tree (though some people do). Use your crabapples to make crabapple butter, jelly, sauce, pickles and pie; toss them into bread or muffin batter; Freeze some to use in your Thanksgiving stuffing, or invent your own use for them.
Facts About Crabapples:
Crabapples are …
- closely related to apple trees
- loaded with pectin. Skip the store-bought pectin when you use them to make jelly because you won’t need it
- A good source of Vitamin C, potassium and manganese
It’s important to note that crabapple seeds contain cyanide (just like regular apple seeds), so it’s best to remove them before eating.
- Avoid picking in areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides
- Also avoid picking along busy roadways, where trees may have been contaminated by vehicle emissions
- Always seek permission before picking on private property
- If you aren’t 100% sure of what you’re picking, take a leaf and fruit sample to your local ag extension office for a positive identification