Crab apples, not just for wasps anymore

Wasps are suckers for fermented crab apples. They sniff out the sweet, sweet nectar and get drunk off the stuff. Lucky for us—particularly those with life-threatening allergies—intoxicated insects bear a striking similarity to intoxicated humans: fine motor control goes out the window so there’s not much chance of a wasp being able to find its back end, let alone sting you. They might slur a buzz word or two at you but that’s about it.

So, why let a bunch of drunken wasps have all the fun? Although crab apple wine is temping, I shall save that for another day and try something easier and faster.

Crab apple jelly jarCrab apple jelly

7 cups of cut up crab apples

7 cups water


3-4 cups sugar


Put the crab apples and water into a large pot. Sprinkle in a little salt. Boil then simmer on low with the lid on for 10-20 minutes until the fruit is very soft. Strain the fruit through a sieve and/or cheese cloth. Compost the mush. Yields about 6 cups of juice.

Crab apples in potPour the juice back into pot and stir in 3 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil then simmer until the mixture begins to gel, up to 20 minutes or longer. If it doesn’t appear to be getting to the right consistency, add the rest of the sugar. Boil and simmer until it gels. Reduces to about four cups of jelly. Pour into clean jars. Refrigerate and use within six months.

Uses: On toast, as a glaze for all kinds of pork and some chicken, in cookies, cakes and other desserts, or eaten from a souvenir Niagara Falls spoon straight from the jar on those nights when you wake up at 3:04 a.m., wander into the kitchen, open the fridge and stare at its contents.

Variations:  Sprinkle a teaspoon or two of cinnamon or nutmeg in with the sugar, or cayenne pepper if you’re looking for a jelly that is both hot and sweet. Or, if you’re jonesing for something more interesting to pour on your pancakes, make crab apple syrup. Follow the same recipe but reduce the sugar by half.

Note: Never peel crab apples. You’ll lose that gorgeous red colour not to mention the fact that peeling such small fruit would be about as frustrating as giving a pedicure to a pixie. For larger crab apples, feel free to core them but for the smaller ones simply slice off the top and bottom, then halve or quarter them. No need to worry about the seeds in the mix.

Other thoughts about crab apples

Newton’s theory of gravity was allegedly inspired by watching an apple fall from a tree. Well, it’s coming into mid-August and all kinds of gravity can be found amongst the falling crab apples. It inspires me to pursue, not the quiet, intellectual world of physics but the happy spontaneities of alchemy. Recent sumac successes spur me on to the apple jelly horizon.

Riding around the neighbourhood of late, I find several good looking crab apple trees from which to choose. I leave my bike helmet on before shaking a branch and I am rewarded for my forward thinking. Crab apples peg my noggin as they fall. They may be small but they can pack quite a wallop on unsuspecting Newtonians.

Unless someone has gone to this much trouble to put up a sign, be a mensch and check with the homeowner if it's okay to pick their fruit.

Most of the trees I pick from are on public property (hydro cuts, parks, etc.). For this recipe I used the wee red ones for their brilliant colour as well as a few larger ones that look like mini-McIntoshes.

Unless someone has gone to the trouble of putting up a sign, be a mensch and check with the homeowner if it's okay to pick their fruit.

Unless someone has gone to the trouble of putting up a sign, be a mensch and check with the homeowner if it’s okay to pick their fruit.

Check the ground first for easy pickins, the ones that have only recently fallen and are still in good shape. Or, shake a branch or two gently and collect the ones that fall.

Crab apple treeFactoids for the Day: Crab apples are the only apple tree native to North America. There are no poisonous varieties, but like most apples, the seeds contain a small amount of cyanide. If eaten whole, the hard covering surrounding the seed protects you and the whole kit & kaboodle will simply pass go, as it were, and collect $200.

Photos and text by Sharon Boddy. Contact me here or at LinkedIn.

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