Foraging for Crabapples

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Foraging for Crabapples

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 Crabapple Tree:

Crabapple Tree Leaves

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)

Crabapples - Unripe

When to Pick Crabapples:

Crabapple Tree

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:

Crabapple Clusters

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.


Foraging Rules:

  • 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

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  1. Just discovered one of my trees is a crabapple!! Looking forward to using the fruit this year!! Thanks for info!!

      1. Yeah I can’t wait. I discovered a crab apple tree in the park. Weequahic Park in Newark New Jersey. The apples look ready for picking. They’re golden yellow. The tree is filled with apples. I want to make some jelly or jam.

  2. Thank you for information about how unhealthy the seeds are! We got our home almost two years ago. Last year almost all the fruit bearing trees were mostly barren; the spring weather must have decreased the crops. This year we are making jams/jellies for gifts. We have used the mulberries and blackberries on the property extensively. I am excited to use the crab apples also.
    My berries are a bright pinkish red. The seeds are fuchsia, very brilliant, like the flowers in the spring. So they are not ripe yet. My husband put braces under the branches, they are so laden with fruit.
    I am so thankful to have found you, and will be happy to share ideas with you also.
    A green grower,

  3. I’ve really enjoyed foraging with my kiddos this year and have put up lots of jarred goodies: crabapple butter, jelly, wild plums, etc. I can’t get enough of it. Your website is a treasure, thank you! Wish we were neighbors, I’d show you a hidden find that I just discovered: a good stand of cherry plum trees, on public land. Bliss! Let’s be friends!

  4. We recntly moved to Coweta County and we have 3 apppled trees in the yard but can’t tell if they all 3 are crabapples, because one is almost 3 inches across and tastes more like a delicious variety. It’s light green and the tree is so full of fruit, that the branches are touching the ground in places. It’s shaped like an inverted pear – tappered at the bottom. Any place I can post a picture and get it identified? The leaves certainly look like crabapple leaves.

    1. It might be a variety of crabapple called “Whitney” which look a lot like small Red Delicious apples with the narrow bottom and wider shoulders. A great variety, so enjoy!

  5. How do you get the seeds out…….I have a large tree that is loaded with dark red apples. The color goes all the way through the fruit. Can you imagine what a pie or jelly would look like!

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