Crab apple fruits are very small and normally green, ripening to yellow/orange/red.
They are less than 3.5cm in diameter and have a long stalk – almost like cherries in shape and size.
An autumn favourite found in many common locations (hedgerows, fields, woodlands and gardens). Crab apple trees are often considered more ornamental, thanks to their beautiful blossoms – found in parks, gardens and roadsides.
Crab apples ripen from late September to end November (best picked in the winter). You’ll often find crab apples on trees all throughout the winter, the fruits are relatively hardy due to being quite dry, therefore they don’t rot on the tree.
When foraging for crab apples, it’s important to remember that they are generally ready to pick when they start falling off the tree, you can also check if they’re ready by slicing them open – if the seeds are brown, they’re good to go!
Cold temperatures make the crab apples soft and sweet, so they taste better when it’s cold outside. But be aware – your harvest will be at its best if you pick your crab apples before they’re exposed to a significant hard frost.
The genus name ‘Malus’ means evil – perhaps because the fruit is so lip-puckeringly sour? Crab Apples are generally very tart when eaten raw, with a blend of slightly sweet and ever so sour.
The fruit tends to be processed/cooked to make it into something rather delicious. If you slice open the fruit and the seeds are brown, it is ripe and ready for your recipes. There’s no need to peel them before using.
It’s worth noting that different trees do produce fruit with slightly different flavours, with some varieties sweeter than others. Crab apples are great infused in alcohol, whether it’s gin, brandy or rum or to make a juice, cordial, or cider. If you make a crab apple syrup, this can be used in everything from cocktails and puddings, to breakfasts and game dishes.
The beauty of crab apples is that they are jam packed with natural pectin, the stuff that makes a jam or jelly set – a tart but taste bud-tingling amber-pink crab apple jelly is a thing of beauty! We also use them to make fruit leathers, pie fillings or mini toffee apples.
Many people overlook the fact that nature’s larder doesn’t just provide free, delicious and seasonal food – but also has incredible nutritional and benefits too.
Crab Apples are no exception, high in vitamins A, C and D, which our bodies need for a strong immune system. The high pectin acts as a prebiotic, helping to maintain good gut health. Also rich in polyphenols (which have antioxidant effects) and soluble fiber (which can help lower cholesterol levels).
The crab apple blossom is often associated with fertility, marriage, and love. If you throw pips into a fire while repeating the name of your love, the love is considered to be true if the pips explode!
It is vital to know how to identify correctly to make sure you can safely enjoy nature’s delights.
Like with all apples, crab apple seeds contain amygdalin, a compound which, when broken down in the gut, can turn into cyanide. If making jelly or jam, you will strain the pulp from the juice so you needn’t worry about the seeds. The amount is minimal (it is said you’d need to consume 150 apple seeds before experiencing any negative effects) but it’s always good to be cautious!
Crab apples are most likely to be confused with the wide variety of apples available, or other members of the rose family, notably wild plums when young.
Fortunately, the fruits of both plants are edible, so if you do mistake them, it’s not a problem!
Many of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.
Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.
If in doubt, leave it out.
Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.
One step at a time.
No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow.
Enjoy the process.
Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.
With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?
The 10% rule.
Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it.
Leave room for regrowth.
Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.
Wash before consumption.
Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.