We have a beautiful crab apple tree growing in the orchard in our allotment
- and we also have a large, rather rampant, version in the churchyard next to our home. One has red crab apples and the other has yellow.
In the spring, our crab apple tree has pink blossom while the one in the churchyard has white blossom.
The crab apple is one of those rare, catch-all trees that check not one but all the boxes on the gardener's checklist, starting with the blossom in the spring that encourages and feeds those early pollinators
after their winter hibernation. The trees are invaluable as a pollinating partner for other apples
, so plant one within your mini orchard and you're sure to improve the fruit crop of your other fruit trees.
Once the flowers have been pollinated, crab apples come alive with their colorful fruits which hang in generous clusters. From early autumn, they are ready to harvest but I like to leave at least a quarter of them for the birds - there is usually plenty for everyone. They go on to end the year in a final blaze of autumnal leaves.
Why you need a crab apple tree!
The tree is the perfect companion for a small garden as it does not usually grow too large and has lots of interest throughout the year. The tree will grow in full sun or light shade and is not too fussy about the soil it is planted in.
Add some garden compost or well rotted manure on the soil around the tree when you plant it and apply again in early spring. Water in dry weather for the first few years and prune before spring to remove any dead, diseased or dying branches to maintain its shape.
The fruits of the crab apple tree and what to do with them!
The fruit has exceptionally high pectin and acid content, making perfect for helping fruit jams to set. Use with late summer berries
for a rich flavor and a perfect set.
We make our own crab apple jelly every year (recipe below) but if you want a spicier version, add a few chillies.
Another use is to make sloe gin and fruit wines. The crab apples can have sugar added, then left steeping in gin or vodka for at least three months before straining and serving.
Crab apple jelly using our annual crop to make 5 or 6 jars
- 4 kg crab apples
- 1 kg castor sugar
- 1 lemon juiced
Wash and place apples in a large saucepan, cover with water before bringing to the boil and simmering until the fruit is soft (about 30 minutes).
Pour the pulp into a jelly bag or several layers of muslin and let it drip several hours into a pan, avoiding the temptation to squeeze the bag because this will make the juice cloudy. Add the sugar and lemon juice to the crab apple juice and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Keep at a rolling boil for 40 minutes, skimming off the froth.
To test the set, chill a dessertspoon in the refrigerator. When set, it will solidify on the back of the spoon. Pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal while still slightly warm. Store in a cool dark place. Delicious served with roast pork or pork chops.
Photos by Bryan Chitty