Spiced Crabapple Jelly

We thought of these as a gift when I was growing up, the crabapples that no one wanted to pick or mess with, but we transformed them into a jewel-like jelly with just the addition of a little sugar.

crabapples in bowl

They are tiny. They are sour. They are hard. And each 2″ or smaller apple has the smallest bit of flesh. The only apple native to North America, they are usually ignored for  culinary purposes, filling other needs in the orchards and in yards.

Gifts from the land

When I was growing up, my mother made preserves and pickles all summer. Usually she made jams out of fruits and berries, but her two jellies were made from elderberries and crabapples, which became crystal clear like jewels on the shelf. The elderberries grew prolifically along the brook behind our house, and one of our jobs as kids was to retrieve these horribly bitter berries for transformation in the kitchen – either wine (one of mom’s favorites) or jelly. Removing the berries from the stems was tedious work, and the juice stained as stubbornly as blackberries. But they were gifts from the forest, worth the work, and much appreciated.

My mother would also make “Scrap Apple Jelly” which amazed me as a child. When making a big batch of applesauce, she would scrape all the peelings and core remnants from the food mill and place it in a pot with a little water and sugar and a few spices. She would boil it for an hour or more, until jelled, strain it, and end up with a tiny jar of jelly. Now that was truly using every bit of the apple!

Ask a neighbor

The trees are often planted for ornamental uses in landscapes, and in orchards to assist in pollination because they have prolific blossoms the bees love. In the nursery industry, crabapples are also used as a root stock because of their hardiness. Any use of the fruits is secondary. Crabapples are often a free fruit if you are lucky and have a tree, or a neighbor with a tree. You can also find them this time of year at the farm stands and farmers markets, and they are cheap, like, please-take-these-away cheap.

However, if you are 10 years old and using them as weapons against your younger brothers, they are priceless.

Antique apples
Crabapples look more like cherries than apples! Tiny, tart, and time-consuming, they are usually relegated to back-up roles in the orchard.

Crabapples are high in natural pectin, so no additional is needed to make jelly –– just a little time and patience.

I’ve added the spices to the jelly to give it a little more interest, but you can leave them out and just make this as-is, it is still delicious. At holiday time, this is a lovely gift from your kitchen.


Spiced Crabapple Jelly

You will want the jelly to be clear and jewel-like, so several things are important to remember. First of all, gently mash the apples after they have cooked, and you don’t need to mash all of them, you just want to make sure the juice will release from the fruit easily. It is important not to squeeze the cloth while they are draining or you will begin with really cloudy juice. Most importantly, skimming foam while the jelly is cooking is essential if you want clarity, and who doesn’t want a little clarity in life?

Sliced crabapples
Remove the stem and slice a tiny sliver from the blossom end, then cut the apple in half.
crabapples cooking
Bring to a boil and cook until soft.
Drain through cheesecloth or a jelly bag. I drained mine into a large bowl (I used a smaller bowl to elevate the strainer so it didn’t sit in the juice).

Once the jelly has reached 220 degrees F., remove from the heat and skim one last time.

For Spiced Crabapple Jelly

4 lbs. crabapples

6 cups water

4 ½ cups sugar

If spiced, make a *bouquet garni with:

1 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

8 or 9 whole cloves

1 split vanilla bean.

Wash the crabapples, and remove the stems. Cut off a very thin slice from the blossom end and remove any soft or bruised spots. Cut each in half, and place in a stock pot.

Cover with water, just barely. I used about six cups for my amount of apples and the pot I used.

Bring this to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the apples have softened and the juice has released, about 10 minutes. Lightly mash, but don’t get carried away.

Strain this through a cheesecloth lined colander, but don’t press, let it drain naturally. It is already looking pretty! My mother made a kind of sling out of cloth and tied it to our faucet, letting the juice drain into a large bowl overnight. I didn’t want to tie up my sink that long, so I put mine in a lined colander which sat on an inverted small bowl in the middle of a really big bowl. This has to drain for hours, or, overnight. Resist the urge to wring out the last of the juice!

Measure your beautiful ruby red nectar. I ended up with about 6 ½ cups of juice and I had no idea how much sugar to add – my mother never used a recipe for this. So I added three cups, tasted, and kept tasting until I thought it was sweet enough, ending up with about 4 ½ cups of sugar. You might like it sweeter.

Bring it to a boil in a large stock pot. If you are making a spiced version, add the bouquet garni at this stage.

Reduce the heat to a simmer, and let it continue cooking gently until it reaches 220 F. (104.4 C.) with a candy thermometer; this will take around 30 to 45 minutes. Skim the foam frequently to keep the jelly clear.

While the jelly cooks, heat the water in your canner to process.

If you have no thermometer, place a small plate in the freezer until well chilled. Place a small dab of the jelly on the plate and run your finger through it. The trail should not fill in, and the jam should start to wrinkle along the trail. This is an old tried-and-true method because many home cooks simply did not have thermometers.

Skim as much of the foam as you can one last time, then place the jelly in clean canning jars. If you like, for gift giving, add a cinnamon stick and a star anise to each jar. Wipe the rim and place lids and rings on the jar, closing to finger tight.

Bring the water in the canner to a full boil and start to time 5 minutes. Remove the canner from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes, then remove the jars. They should immediately start to pop sealed.

Leave the jars to settle overnight. If any don’t seal, refrigerate.

As always, label and date your jars.

More on home canning here:

To make a bouquet garni

A bouquet garni is any little bundle or sack of spices or herbs, tied together, and placed in a dish while it is cooking. The bouquet garni adds flavor, but you can remove the entire bundle once the dish is finished.

If using long stems of herbs, simply tie them together with kitchen twine and toss in the pot, allowing long tails to either tie to the handle or make easy retrieval.

If using spices (seeds, bark, etc.) cut a square of cheesecloth and place the spices in the center. Draw up the corners and secure tightly into a little sack using kitchen twine.

© Copyright 2019 – or current year, The New Vintage Kitchen.

         Scrap Apple Jelly

She saved straw-colored peelings

from the apples we found.

Mush caked the sides of the

wobbly food mill.

                        sticky, slimy,


She couldn’t let it rest.

Simmered with water and sugar,

            steaming the kitchen,

Cinnamon and nutmeg. Just a touch,

an occasional stir while humming.

It took an hour,

                     to turn to gold.

    © Copyright 2019 – or current year, The New Vintage Kitchen.

The New Vintage Kitchen does not accept ads or payment for mention of products

19 Comments Add yours

  1. I had no idea you could actually do something with crab apples! I always just thought of them as the fruits that fall off and rot in the backyard lol this looks yummy!

    1. LOL, you are not alone Rosie!

  2. ohiocook says:

    That looks good!

  3. Never heard of this fruit before, at first sight I thought these were cherries! 🍒
    The jelly looks so yum… And you have explained all so well!

    1. They do look a lot like cherries at first glance. My son, who loves cherries, came in the day I was making this and saw them in the bowl and he grabbed one thinking it was a cherry. A little disappointed.

  4. Sounds wonderfully delish, both the wine and the jelly. 🍃🍎🍷

    1. It was an old family tradition, the making of elderberry wine. I always thought it was a bit too sweet!

  5. I used to eat them when I was little 🙂 Really sour 🙂
    Must be really delicious 🙂

    1. We used to eat them too. We’d take a bite, grimace, then take another bite!

  6. This looks good 😍

  7. CarolCooks2 says:

    I loved this post, Dorothy so nostalgic.. Elderberry wine was my dads department and Sloe Gin.. I remember my dad and Mr Hoad next door used to meet in their sheds at the bottom of the garden then a few hours later come back giggling like schoolgirls…..
    lol as I grew older I knew why… Potent stuff that homemade vino…

    1. Now That’s a memory treasure! The homemade wines are pretty potent. I remember some dandelion wine at a party when i was much younger. It was the only time I made wine by myself, and it smelled wonderful, very fruity because you put citrus in it. However, it tasted like high test gasoline. We were in our 20s, we drank it anyway…

      1. CarolCooks2 says:

        I know the feeling, Dorothy…I made some out of glutinous rice a little while ago…apparently illegal but hey ho…I get the gasoline taste…lol…but its pretty potent as can dandelion wine be which was another one my father made…he loved to experiment…wow some memories between us…I can image us cooking up a storm if we were in the kitchen together …lol

      2. We probably wouldn’t stop talking for days!!!

      3. CarolCooks2 says:

        No probably about it, Dorothy but how good that would be …

      4. ❤️💕❤️

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