Many of us remember picking crab apples as children – plucking the fruit from the tree and biting into the flesh only to find that these mini apples tasted more like lemons.
Crab apple trees, which actually belong to the rose family, are common in Canadian backyards and orchards. The trees are more often grown for ornamental purposes or as pollinizers in orchards. Less often, crab apple trees are grown for the fruit because their mouth-puckering isn’t exactly. That said, crab apples can be used in several tasty ways, whether it’s to liven a fruity dessert or accompany a summer meal.
Apples are generally classified based on their size. If its diameter exceeds two inches, it’s called an apple. Anything less than two inches in diameter is deemed a crab apple. There are several varieties of crab apple, but the bottom line is the same: crab apples contain a large amount of pectin which is why biting into an uncooked crab apple is nothing like a shiny Red Delicious.
The pectin in crab apples, however, can come in handy: the juice can be used to make a jelly that ranges in colour from light pink to red. The resulting jelly is spicy and robust, the perfect accompaniment to soft cheeses and breads.
Crab apples are also high in acid, which is likely why traditional crab apple recipes involve pickling, then serving alongside hearty meat dishes. Allspice, cinnamon and cloves are often used in the pickling mixture.
In Metchosin, Blue Haze Farm grows two varieties of crab apples, dolgo and hyslop. Dolgo crab apples are available earlier in the season and deep red in colour. Dolgo crab apples are slightly sweet but still possess the distinct tart flavour. Hyslop crab apples are slightly larger than the dolgo variety, and red and yellow in colour. They are available later in the season, around September.
According to the folks at Blue Haze, the resulting flavour of the jelly produced by each variety is similar. Blue Haze recommends calling or emailing ahead of time to ensure that they have the product available for you when you come to pick it up.
Oldfield Orchard and Bakery in Saanich also grows crab apples, which are available beginning in the middle of August until sold out.
If pickles and jellies don’t appeal to you in the middle of summer, enjoy local crab apples in Sea Cider’s Pomona, which is made from frozen crab apples and slowly fermented. The resulting cider is concentrated and sweet. According to Sea Cider, “Pomona is inspired by the Roman Goddess of Apples… a dessert-style cider with citrus and confectionary notes.”
Sea Cider’s Pomona placed silver at the prestigious 2010 Northwest Wine Summit, and Sea Cider was a awarded the bronze medal by EAT Magazine readers in EAT Magazine’s 1st Annual Exceptional Eats! Reader’s Choice Awards in the Favourite Beverage Company Category.
Whether using crab apples for in traditional recipes or in a completely new way, enjoy the tiny apples while they’re fresh and plentiful, from mid August through September.
By Candice Schultz, originally published at eatmagazine.ca