Old Fashioned Spiced Crab Apples

It is crab apple season, and with it comes boxes upon boxes for making all sorts of canned goods. The canning process dates back to 1795, in France when the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, concerned about keeping his armies fed, offered a cash prize to whoever could develop a reliable method of food preservation. Nicholas Appert conceived the idea of preserving food in bottles, like wine. After 15 years of experimentation, he realized if food is sufficiently heated and sealed in an airtight container, it will not spoil.


Sue lives in Los Angeles and experiments in the kitchen on a daily basis. She has come across a recipe that has been used for well over a hundred years ago for Spiced Crab Apples.

“I love vintage recipes, they’re a great way to shake things up in the kitchen because they come to you complete with a whole different set of food rules and values.  This one for Spiced Crab Apples goes back to the days when families would scrimp and scrounge to use or preserve every bit of edible food available to them, including the scrawny crab apples from the front yard tree.  Crab apples are usually considered to be too small to bother with, and they’re super sour if you bite into them raw, so most people leave them for the squirrels.  But the pretty flowering trees are common in yards, and come in lots of varieties, from the teeny tiny, to the ones I found, which are more like small apples.  In fact the difference between a crab apple and an apple is just size…under 2 inches is considered a crab apple.  And while you can’t really make a pie with them, they have lots of natural pectin, so you can make jelly, or they can be pickled, or ‘spiced’, and then they make an unforgettable side dish.  Growing up I remember spiced pears always showed up on our Thanksgiving table, and these crab apples are basically the same thing.”


What You Will Need

  • a quart of crab apples
  • 1 3/4 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp whole cloves


  1. Wash the apples well, and leave the stems intact.
  2. Gently prick the apples all over with a fork or the tip of a small sharp knife. This is so that they don’t burst as they cook.
  3. Combine the vinegar, water, and sugar in a pot.
  4. Roll over the cardamom pods with a rolling pin or the side of a wine bottle to gently crack them open. Don’t lose any of the black seeds. Add the cardamom (seeds and pods) and cloves to the pan and bring to a boil
  5. Turn down the heat and add the apples to the pot. Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of your apples. Use your judgement, you don’t want the apples to get soft and mushy.
  6. Carefully remove the apples from the hot liquid and pack them into your jar or jars.
  7. Strain the pickling liquid and then pour into the jars, completely immersing the fruit. Let cool and then cap and refrigerate.
  8. The apples can be canned, as well, for longer storage.

“The apples simmer briefly in a sweet tart and spiced pickling liquid which  softens them and allows the flavors to penetrate. You need to prick the apple skin with a fork so that they don’t split open as they cook, but there’s no peeling or coring necessary, the whole little fruits will get packed in the jar.  I’ve updated the recipe by using cardamom and cloves instead of the typical cinnamon and they give this a vaguely exotic feel.  Actually it reminds me a little bit of chutney.”


Photography: Sue with The View From Great Island


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