Crab Apples

Learn more about crab apple trees and how you can use their fruit.

  • Look for a crab apple tree in your neighborhood.
    Photo Courtesy of Patti Niehoff
  • Wash off crab apples before eating them.
    Photo by Sara Bir
  • Crab apples can be used in a variety of foods.
    Photo by Sara Bir
  • Learn how to forage and cook with fruit found in your neighborhood in Sara Bir’s “The Fruit Forager’s Companion”.
    Cover courtesy Chelsea Green

 The Fruit Forager’s Companion (Chelsea Green 2018) by Sara Bir shares how to forage, ferment, cook, and bake using ingredients found in your neighborhood. This section gives information on crab apples and how to harvest and use them.

Crab Apples (Malus spp.) are part of the Rosaceae family and can be grown throughout the US and Canada in zones 4–8.

If there’s one crab apple tree in your neighborhood, there are a hundred. Decorative and trustworthy, crab apple trees appear in front of houses and schools, or nestled in city parks. They don’t grow terribly tall, and are ideal for coexisting with humans in developed areas. Sometimes I see them when I’m lost in thickets of trees on properties that have reverted to wild conditions, like mystery trees. Are they truly wild, or were they once in front of a house demolished long ago? Mulling it over is part of the fun.

For an amazing week or two in the spring, crab apples dazzle us with showy white or pink blossoms, and then set about making a fruit that goes generally unloved. There are hundreds of varieties of crab apples, and many of them are useless in culinary terms—tiny, hard as pellets, and unrelentingly tannic.

But a resourceful person who finds a tree bearing crab apples that are larger and juicier will, come fall, never be bored. Hours and hours of picking and goofy kitchen experimentation await.

Crab apples are technically called such because of their size—small—and not their cultivar, since no two apple seeds are genetically alike. Think of them as their own fruit for culinary reasons, since you can’t use crab apples exactly as you would larger, more familiar apples.

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