JG and I were at a wedding in New Hampshire recently and came across a crabapple tree in a park. There was fruit all over the ground and the tree was chock full of fruit still, so we emptied a shopping bag and filled it full of fruit (~4 lbs). I'd never done anything with crab apples before, but we quickly discovered they're extremely tart like cranberries but with a heady apple scent, which took us into thanksgiving-style thinking. The idea was to preserve them in a spicy syrup for serving after turkey, but I was wholly unable to keep the skins from splitting during the simmer, no matter how many ways I pricked them.
Luckily, as super potent apple, they also have a very high pectin content, so I sieved the whole mess and turned it into some wildly-colored preserves that we can serve in lieu of cranberry sauce this year... unless I happen upon a wild cranberry bog up here, then we may have to have both.
How do you know that weird little fruit is a crabapple? Cut it in half; it should have a 5-star seed pattern. If it doesn't, I don't know what it is and you probably shouldn't put it in your mouth.
I attempted to make crabapple jam squares, but they went horribly awry in snack-cake kind of way. Tasty, but not what I wanted to send to my grandfather.
I think I came up with a solution today, but more experiments are required...
Recipe: Crab Apple Preserves
What I made was an amalgamation of a few failures, but this way will work the first time around.
~2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/2 stick cinnamon
6 black peppercorns
3 cardamom pods
1 alspice berry
1/4 tsp anise seed
1 lemon, juice and zest (or an orange, for a little less zip)
~ 2 lbs crab apples, whole
Use 1 1/4 cup sugar for every 1 lb of crab apples. Combine spices in a diffusing ball or tea bag. Bring sugar, water, citrus, and spices to a boil and simmer in a small stockpot or dutch oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove spices with a slotted spoon and discard. Add crab apples and simmer gently for 15 minutes. [Congratulations if your skins don't split.] Set up a strainer over a big bowl, pour the contents of the pot through, and press the solids until only the skins, stems, and cores remain -- the cores are much tougher than a normal apple. Return the contents of the bowl to the pot over medium heat and stir frequently until the preserves hit 220F (they'll foam up and come close to boiling over at about 218F). Pour into hot jars and seal. Process in a water bath, if desired.