You can always tell when a crab apple is ripe. Pick one and bite it. If you scream, it is not. But if your face just wrinkles up as if you were sucking a lemon, then it is probably about right.... Crab apple trees produce some of the bitterest fruit around
But they taste fantastic in the right place. As do Rowan berries (of which there are a fair few this year). The raw rowan berry is rather mealy and sour - edible, but it tastes grotty. However, the two together plus a bit of sugar make a jelly that knocks spots off anything that ever first saw the light of day in a jam factory. You can also make this jelly with crab apples by themselves (we tend to make up a batch of each). Crab apples are full of pectin so this is one of the easiest jellies to make - here is how:
This recipe is scaleable but this quantity of ingredients will yield roughly 1.5kg of jelly
3lbs (1.4kg) crab apples
3lbs (1.4kg) of rowan berries (not necessary, but they make and interesting variation)
Juice of 1 lemon
Jelly bag or Muslin (or mythical felt hat)
Wash the Rowan berries and remove any stalks. Put them in a pan, add half the lemon juice, just about cover with water and bring to a fast simmer. Carry on cooking until they are REALLY soft.
Do exactly the same with the Crab Apples (including adding the other half of the lemon juice). Perfectionists peel the apples, but we can't see why.
If your (scalded) jelly strainer/muslin/hat is big and strong enough, put the contents of both pans in together and leave to strain for at least 4 hours. Otherwise, do them separately and mix the juices afterwards. You can squeeze the bag, which will give you more juice, but your jelly will be cloudy, although the taste is unaltered.
Measure the strained syrup into a heavy pan, heat gently and add 1lb (450g) sugar for each pint (575/600g) of liquid.
Stir well until completely dissolved. Then bring it to the boil and cook fast until setting point is reached.
Skim, pot, seal and dispense to friends in the usual way.
You can experiment with this recipe - try adding cloves, or rosemary or lavender or ginger (not all at once). Outstanding with brandy as well..... Oh yes, and a friend of ours who always makes too much cider, boils up her crab apples in cider and then follows the recipe. Stunning.
We think the best crab apples for this are:
Malus hupehensis for red jelly,
and Golden Hornet for golden jelly