Sunday, October 4, 2015

Beautiful and Festive Crabapple Preserves or Candied Crabapples

Crab apple Preserves
Candied Crab apples 

My Mom always made everything a celebration.  Our birthdays were not just a regular day.  On our birthdays we didn't have to do any chores.  Nothing! That by itself was a perfect day!  First thing in the morning, I couldn't come downstairs until Mom or Dad called for me. 
Walking down the stairs, I couldn't help but smile knowing how special everything was going to be.  As I stepped down each step I could see the lights had been dimmed, and I could smell my favorite breakfast, anything bacon! After the last step I would look up and see my family standing around a beautifully decorated table, arranged with flowers, a chocolate iced cake (my favorite) decorated beautifully, presents sitting on my plate and my family smiling and singing Happy Birthday to me.  I can't tell you how much those memories mean to me.  Like I said, my Mom always makes everything a celebration!  Thankfully some of my Mom's creativity has rubbed off on me. My best friend, Angie, calls me Rosie Jr.  I love it.  
Thanksgiving and Christmas were fantastic events, full of German customs mingled with American tradition.  We had advent wreaths, sugar cookies with smiling icing faces, Gingerbread houses iced with white sugar and covered in candies.  We wrote letters to Santa and awaited a visit from St. Nikolaus on Christmas eve while we remembered Jesus' birth at Christmas Eve service.  With nervous anticipation we would come into the house, to see if St. Nikolaus left us sticks with coal, or brightly covered pieces of chocolate.  We had to dress up in our best clothes for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  Mom laid out her best china, linens and festive tablecloths.  Fresh pine fronds were cheerfully nestled among the silver serving dishes filled with steaming and home cooked foods.  Perfectly cooked turkeys with crisp golden skin, ham covered in pineapples, cloves and bright red cherries.  Gravy, stuffing, veggies, bread, casseroles, and salad laid out in abundance.  Right beside the ham, served in it's own silver bowl were the candied crab apples, covered in a bright red syrup.  In my mind I can still see those crab apples, served over a slice of ham. In the bowl they looked like Christmas tree decorations that should be sparkling on the tree, not shimmering at me under a spicy, sweet syrup.  With each slice of ham or turkey, Mom would carefully ladle the festive apples and syrup over each one. Absolutely delicious.

Last year I decided that I would find some crab apples and try my hand at making my childhood memory come to life again.  I mentioned to a lady at church and she told me that she has a crab apple tree in her yard.  She would check to see if they were still OK, then let me know.  Next time I saw here she told me that her apples had turned bad, but her daughter also had a tree and she would check, but that would turn out to be a bust as well.  It was too late in the season for the crab apples.  I was very disappointed.  I would just have to wait until next year.  

This summer, as I was walking around my neighborhood, I decided to go down a street I never walk on.  As I made my way along I noticed a tree with cherries on it.  As I neared the tree I realized they were crab apples!!  I was so excited I couldn't believe my eyes!   There they were, red, small round apples on a gorgeous green tree! Anyone who knows me, is shocked by what I did next, I marched right up to the front door of someone I don't know and knocked.  My heart was pounding and I was thinking, what am I doing! No one answered.  Unbelievable!  I got up the nerve to knock on a strangers door and no one is home.  Great.  I didn't think I'd ever get the nerve up again, but the memories flooded in and I
knew what I had to do.  The next day, I walked down that street again and knocked on the door.  No one answered.  This must be a cruel joke.  As I was walking away a man with a dog came toward me, he asked if he could help me.  I told him yes while proceeding to tell him I'd like to get some of the crab apples, but no one is home for me to ask permission.  He looked at me in an almost disgusted way, mingled with surprise and asked, "what in the world do you want with those nasty old crab apples?"  His mouth curled in distaste as he said it.  I told him my reasons and he advised me that the couple that lived there would not have a problem with me collecting as many apples as I could carry.  He explained that they despise the tree and are planning to chop it down.  He then went on to invite me to harvest white and purple concord grapes from his backyard.  He and his wife had planted grape vines along their fence line and there was an abundance of them.  I thanked him heartily promising to bring him a sample to try, and finished my walk as quickly as I could in order to prepare for an afternoon of harvesting fruit from my neighbors yards!  

I called Mom to inquire about the recipe, she informed me it is from a very old Kerr Canning Cookbook, which she would type out and e-mail to me.  I then took the boys to help me gather the crab apples and grapes.  We got a lot of fruit! I wasn't sure what to do with the grapes but thought I'd make jelly.  That's a story for another day though.  I knew I needed canning jars and lids, even though I don't know how to can.  I do know how to freeze, so I wasn't too concerned about preserving the crab apples.  The recipe seemed easy, but I didn't believe it, no way it could be so easy.  Let me tell you, it was easy.  It didn't take a lot of time.  I also added my own touches to the recipe. 

When I had cooked up the apples, they tasted just as I remembered and they were amazing!!!  I was so happy with how they turned out.  I took a jar for the the people who let me harvest the apples from their tree, a jar to the neighbor that let me harvest grapes and to a couple other people I told about and they all reacted negatively to the crab apples.  I also put a couple in a baggie, so they could taste them and decide if they wanted to keep the canned jar for the Holidays, or give it back to me if they didn't like them.   Everyone that tried them, loved them.  I had to go get more crab apples and make another batch.  I cleaned the tree of them.  After the second batch, I shared a jar with my friend Kimberly and she loved them.  I brought her a jar when we all met to eat lunch with two other families.  Everyone at table tasted them, and loved them.  The owner of the restaurant came over and tasted them and he wanted some too.  I have found more crab apples, but they are green.  I'm going to try them as well, but I am told they are a little more tart.  I have also been told of another family with a red crab apple tree in their yard!!!! I'm so excited.  

The most labor intensive thing was cleaning the apples and sorting through them.  I filled a sink with warm soapy water and poured some white vinegar in to kill any germs on the apples.  I left them in the sink for a few minutes and then rinsed them really well.  I then sorted through the crab apples taking out any with holes and placing them in a separate bowl to use later.  After the apples were sorted and ready I moved on to the next step, cooking them.  Here is the recipe for Crab Apple Preserves.  I call them Candied Crab Apples, but the Kerr Recipe names them Crab Apple Preserves.  

Inspired by Kerr Canning Recipe Book

Select good sound apples, wash and remove the blossom end.  Leave stems on and do not peel.

3 Cups Water
6 Cups Organic Sugar
2 Fresh Cinnamon Sticks
1 Tsp cloves
1 1/2 Tsp Red Hots Cinnamon candy

Boil the syrup for 5 minutes

Add the crab apples to the syrup and boil until they are tender and transparent (my crab apples didn't become transparent, but the skin did split a little. I took that as the indication they were done.)

Work rapidly and Pack cooked apples into *sterilized canning jars, cover with boiling syrup and seal each jar as filled.  
Make sure to wipe the top rim of each jar, to make sure that there is nothing that will cause the seal to fail, before adding the lids.    

Two options:
1) Let the jars "heat seal".  With this method the apples should be eaten within a few months of preparing.  Making sure the jars are hot, as well as the lids, will help with this method.  Also make sure you are filling the jars with the boiling liquid and apples. Fill to "neck" of jar and try not to leave too much air space.  You can turn the jars upside down it you want, I left mine upright. As the contents cool, the lids contract and "pop" shut, sealing them.  
2) Place your filled jars on rack of large lidded canning kettle.  The jars have to be a least 1/2 inch above the kettle bottom so water can circulate and the water has to be at least 1 inch about the top of the jars.  Process in boiling water bath, at a rolling boil for 25 minutes.  Use canning tongs to remove the jars from the canner, put them on several thicknesses of cloth to cool. 
You should hear the lids "pop" indicating they have sealed.  

*Sterilizing Your jars:
Wash them in hot soapy water, rinse and then boil them in clear water for at least 15 minutes.  Turn upside down on a clean kitchen towel until ready to fill.  (or you could wash them in the dish washer under sanitize) 
Important for canning. 
To keep the jars warm,  you could place them in an oven set at the lowest heat setting.  
Scald the lids by placing them in a pan and pouring boiling water over them.  Do NOT boil the lids, but keep them warm until you are ready to use.  

NOTE: Without the Red Hot Candies, The syrup was a brown color, and didn't look very good.  That was a problem.  Everyone that heard about my desire to find crab apples, asked the same question; "why on earth do you want those nasty crab apples?"

I didn't want to use the Red Hots because of the artificial color and I suspect they are made with High Fructose Corn syrup which means it's probably made with GMO corn.  I try to stay away from anything that is GMO or GE.  In this case, I really had three choices.  
  1. leave them out and have a muddy looking syrup no one would want to taste
  2. add food coloring and get a strong dose of red 40 (which has been shown to cause a lot of problems in kids and adults.)
  3. add the minimum amount of red hots, just to turn the syrup red and add more cinnamon flavor
I went with option number 3.  Sometimes you just have to go with it.  

The Kerr recipe only calls for the sugar, water and red hots. I added the cinnamon sticks and cloves.  


  1. It's sad that people think of heritage fruits like crabapples and grapes as a nuisance. These fruits sustained their ancestors, but people don't preserve the harvest like they used to and these skills, recipes, and traditions are dying. With a little elbow grease, they could have treats for their family and friends from stuff growing literally in their backyards! Proud of you!

  2. Thank you. That really means a lot. :)