I suppose in any family we will have our favourite. Well, it is certainly true in the Malus family. There is no doubt that the apple is by far the most popular fruit in this group, and why not when it is so versatile and will sit so happily in your fruit bowl all week without going off, ready to be snatched up for a convenient snack. The pear is probably the next most popular Malus but there is a big gap between the first and second places in this popularity contest. The pear is an awkward fruit, even in its shape, and can go from too hard to too squidgy in the blink of an eye. And then there is the quince... Quince... who on earth eats quinces? And finally the crab apple. Well, there are lots of those in the world. Sure, they look pretty for a short while on the tree before they start dropping in abundance, just to be squished under foot. Such a shame to see all this fruit dropping onto the path, making a mess, but what can be done with them. It's not as if they are nice to eat and even if I went to trouble of making crab apple jelly, it is so out of fashion no one would what to buy it.
But then my friend Jane handed me half a bin bag full of crab apples from her neighbour's back garden. Hmmm... what to do with them?
One of the great things about crab apples is that they are so small and fiddly that you don't even think about peeling and coring them. So where doing anything with apples is a bit tedious because you first have to peel and core every fruit, with crab apples you just bung them straight into the pan and start boiling them up. They don't take long to cook either as they are small and within a few minutes they are soft and pulpy and ready to be strained through a jelly bag. Job done, sit down, cup of tea... walk the dog... cook dinner... have a bath... go to bed... In fact, it needs at least 8 hours to finish dripping through the jelly bag.
But what then? Really, no one is going to want to buy 20 lbs of crab apple jelly!
Well, it took a week to work my way through the whole bag and I did make one batch of crab apple jelly. Towards the end I added a couple of spoonfuls of rose water just to add a bit of a twist to the flavour and when my daughter tasted it she said it tasted like lemon meringue pie. But I also made chilli jam, Jamdelade (sweet orange jam) and blackberry jelly from the crab apples. I also froze several pints worth of the liquid to use in any recipe that uses a low pectin fruit so expect crab apple pectin in the pear jams I shall be making next.
So in the end I was pleased with my supply of crab apples and of the creative challenge they presented. Next year they shall be an essential ingredient that I actively seek.