Crab apple (Malvus spp.)

Crab apple trees are the ancestors to the many varieties of cultivated apples which we enjoy today, and this year there is an abundance of them for the harvesting in our deciduous woods and amongst the hedgerows.

Apples are excellent for digestion and are my “go to” fruit when I’m feeling poorly. The fruit contains malic and tartaric acids which neutralize acid indigestion and may also be helpful for gout. ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ is a saying which definitely has some truth in it! The acids of the Apple help with the digestion of fatty foods too, this is why apple sauce is still served with rich foods such as pork and goose.

The crabapple fruit, and to a lesser degree the fruit of its modern relatives, is astringent and an effective laxative. The leaves contain up to 2.4% of an antibacterial substance called “florin”. This inhibits the growth of a number of gram-positive and gram negative bacteria. A pleasant tasting tea can be made from the leaves.

The fruit it is at its best after a hard frost. It’s not always easy to tell when crab apples are ripe as they can vary quite widely in colour. The best way to find out is to select a tree and then cut one of the apples in half, if the seeds are brown it’s ripe and ready to use.

Here’s a really simple recipe for crab apple jelly, to use with meats or simply spread on fresh bread:

1) Place 4kg crab apples in a saucepan with enough water to just cover the apples
2) Bring to the boil and then simmer until the fruit is soft (about 30 minutes)
3) Carefully pour the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip into a saucepan pan for several hours. Resist the temptation to squeeze the pulp, otherwise the juice go cloudy.
4) Measure the juice, and add castor sugar in the ratio of 10 parts juice to 7 of sugar.
5) Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
6) Add some fresh lemon juice to taste.
7) Bring back to the boil and maintain at a rolling boil for about 40 minutes, skimming off the froth which rises to the top.
8) When the jelly is set, it should solidify on the back of a cold spoon.
9) Pour into sterilised jam jars and tightly seal.