Crabapple trees are a pretty common sight in many neighborhoods across the US. They’re popular because they’re covered in beautiful blossoms in the spring, followed by colorful tiny apples through the summer. Not only are crabapples trees beautiful, they’re also an important early source of pollen for bees and a source of food for birds that overwinter here in Iowa. Crabapples are also an excellent option for cross-pollinating other apple trees in the area.
But did you know that crabapples aren’t just ornamental? They’re often marketed as ornamentals because they’re loaded with beautiful spring flowers, and their fruit is less popular than the apples we buy at the supermarket. However, their fruit is edible—it’s just on the small side, and extremely tart. The main difference between crabapples and standard apples is the size of the fruit; if the fruit is under 2 inches in diameter, the tree is considered a crabapple, and if it’s larger than that, it’s a standard apple tree.
Crabapples are an excellent source of vitamin C, which our bodies need for a strong immune system. While eating crabapples won’t guarantee a healthy body, the nutrients and vitamins will help your body fight off illness. There’s an ounce of truth to the old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
Apples, in general, are a very healthy food, and crabapples have the same benefits in a smaller package. Apples are high in water, they contain soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol levels, and they’re rich in polyphenols, which have antioxidant effects. Apples also contain pectin, and crabapples are jam-packed with it. Pectin acts as a prebiotic, helping to maintain good gut health. Apples also contain quercetin, which helps to regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation.
How to Use Crabapples
If you’re a beginner gardener, planting a crabapple tree is a great way to try growing your own food. There’s a wealth of recipes and ideas out there for using crabapples, like making applesauce, baking crisps, pressing into juice, fermenting into liqueur, or even making homemade apple butter. One of our favorite ways to preserve crab apples is by making crabapple jelly. All you need for crabapple jelly is a basket of apples and some sugar—the fruit has such a high pectin concentration that you don’t need to add anything else to form the jelly!
8 Cups of Crabapples
2 Cups of Sugar
Canning Jars with rings and seals
- Wash your crabapples and remove the stems, then cut them in half. As you cut them, keep an eye out for any evidence of worms or rotten apples. Discard apples that show signs of infestation or rot.
- Place the crabapples in a pot with just enough water to cover them and bring to a boil. Then, reduce the temperature and keep them simmering for about 15-20 minutes.
- Once the fruits are soft, mash them up with a potato masher.
- Strain the juice out through a jelly strainer or double-layer cheesecloth. If you want clear jelly, let the juice drain through on its own, you may even want to leave it to strain overnight. If you don’t care about your jelly’s transparency, you can give the mashed apples a good squeeze to force all the juice out.
- Combine the apple juice and sugar (½ cup sugar for every 1 cup of juice) in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil over medium-high heat, and continue to stir until it reaches the gelling point.
- Remove from heat, skim off the foam as quickly as possible, and immediately transfer to warm sterilized canning jars. Leave about a half-inch of room at the top when filling.
- Wipe the rims of jars to clean up any spills, and put the seal lids and rings on.
- 8-ounce jars should be processed at a roiling boil in a canner for 5 minutes at altitudes of 1000 ft or lower.
- Remove the jelly jars from the water and let them cool on wire racks for 12-24 hours before storing. You should hear a nice little “ping” sound as each jar lid seals. If any do not seal, be sure to store them in the fridge and use them as quickly as possible.
If you want to add a crabapple tree to your yard this year, give us a call! We can help you choose the perfect crabapple variety for your yard, and we can either deliver it or arrange curbside pickup from our garden center.