5 things to do with crabapples

CBC Calgary's food and nutrition columnist Julie Van Rosendaal offers some sweet suggestions on what to do with all those backyard crabapples.

CBC Calgary's food and nutrition columnist Julie Van Rosendaal offers some sweet suggestions

Crabapples are ready to harvest in most Calgary backyards right now. (

Calgary backyards are bursting with crabapples again so it’s that time of year to pick them and bake up something or preserve them in jars in the form of jelly, chutney or sauce.

Here are a few delicious ways to keep your surplus of crabapples (or the neighbours’) from filling up the compost bin.

Make jelly

Do what your grandma did — preserve the surplus of apples in your back yard by simmering juiced apples and sugar. An added bonus is if you have a lot of apples you’ll wind up with a stash of tasty, festive gifts to bring along to parties when the holiday season arrives.

Homemade Crabapple Jelly

  • Apples picked off a tree, or bought at the market
  • Cinnamon sticks (optional)
  • Sugar

Wash, stem and coarsely chop or just quarter the apples and put them in a large pot. (Don’t bother to peel or core them.)

Add enough water to just cover them and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the apples are very soft. Mash the whole lot with a big spoon or potato masher and cook for another few minutes.

Spoon the mixture into a colander lined with cheesecloth set over a large bowl or pot, and let the juice drain out, stirring the pulp to extract as much juice as possible.

Measure the resulting juice into a pot (this is easy if you drain it into a pot with measurements marked on the side) and add ¾ cup sugar for every cup of juice.

Bring to a boil over high heat and boil rapidly, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 210°F on a candy thermometer, or until a small amount placed on a cold plate and put into the freezer turns to gel. This should take about 20 minutes.

While it’s still hot, pour the jelly into hot jars, adding a cinnamon stick to each jar if you like; skim off any foam that rises to the top with a spoon, and seal. Set aside to cool. 

Process in a hot water bath or store in the fridge.


Make bread pudding

Any basic bread pudding recipe will benefit from chunks of tart apple — try this version, sweetened with maple syrup.

Apple Cinnamon Bread Pudding

  • ½ baguette or loaf of good-quality crusty bread, or an assortment of bread ends (raisin bread works well here)
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup or honey
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups Half & Half
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • A shake of cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 10-15 crabapples, sliced or quartered
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar

Cut or tear the bread into one-inch chunks into a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, cream and vanilla. Pour over the bread and let sit for an hour or overnight, stirring or turning the mixture once in a while. All the liquid should be well absorbed, but the bread shouldn’t turn to mush.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Pour the bread mixture into a buttered baking dish. In a small skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat and cook the crabapples for a few minutes until they start to soften. Sprinkle with sugar and cook until they start turning golden. Stir the apples into the bread mixture or sprinkle over top.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until puffed and golden. Serve warm, with whipped cream if you like. Serves 6.

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Pickle them

Sweet and tangy pickled crabapples are delicious. Chef Liana Robberecht of the Calgary Petroleum Club tops creamy potato salad with thinly sliced, brilliant pink pickled crabapples.

Pickled Backyard Crabapples (Courtesy of Robberecht)

  • 3 cups whole crabapples, stemmed 
  • ½ cup red vinegar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 lemon sliced
  • 4 stems of tarragon
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 4 cups white sugar
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • Salt & pepper

Place all ingredients into a pot, making sure crabapples are covered with liquid. You can add more apple juice if you need to. Bring apples and liquid to a boil, then remove pot from heat. This step you have to watch — do not let the apples continue to boil or they will become mushy and overcooked. Let apples cool down in liquid.

Remove core from apples — this step is a labour of love: time consuming, but worth it. Place back into poaching liquid until you are ready to serve.

Pickled crabapples (Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Make your own pectin

Crabapples, and particularly their cores and seeds, are naturally very high in pectin. Simmer two pounds of crabapples with three cups of water for about 30 minutes, then mash and strain — the result can be used like you would use liquid pectin in a recipe to set any kind of fruit jelly or jam.

Make a tarte tatin

Whether you want to make a full-sized tarte tatin or a few small ones, wee crabapples are tart enough to balance the rich pastry and caramel that binds them together.

Crabapple Tarte Tatin

  • small or medium crabapples
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 Tbsp. honey, maple syrup or Roger's Golden Syrup
  • pastry for a single crust pie or 1 pkg. puff pastry, thawed

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Stem and halve your crabapples; if you like, cut out their cores. 

In a heavy ovenproof or cast iron skillet cook the sugar, butter and honey over medium-high heat for roughly five minutes until it turns smooth and golden. Place enough apples to cover the bottom of the pan into the hot caramel and cook for another three minutes.

Remove from heat and turn the apples cut-side up using tongs. Roll the pastry out until it’s a little larger in diameter than the skillet; cover the apples and tuck in the edge of the pastry. Cut a few slits in the top and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.

Carefully invert the tarte tatin onto a plate while it’s still warm. Serve with whipped cream sweetened with maple syrup. Serves 6.

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)


Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.