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Poking around in a hedge the other day I happily discovered some bright yellow crab apples [update: they actually they turned out to be Flowering Quince which are very similar and related]. I’d never seen them that colour before so I collected them from the branches and came home to do a bit of internet research. It turns out that there are a few varieties of yellow crab apples out there, all modern cultivars, and they are as excellent to cook with as their wilder cousins.
Some of the many varieties of Crab Apples
My small stash of crab apples [Flowering Quince] could have been made into many things but I settled on the idea of using them in a spiced butter, which can be spread over cakes or on warm scones or any number of goodies. The tartness of the apples paired with the deep rich sweetness of brown sugar gives it a fairly versatile flavour which I’d bet could even be used in savoury dishes such as a sauce for grilled pork or game.
The idea of making a spiced butter came from another scavenged item – The Countryside Cook Book by Gail Duff. While on one of my forays to the local amenity site, I came across this book piled up with a load of old encyclopedias and paperback novels. It was free for the taking and includes some wonderful information on wild food throughout the seasons as well as various recipes for their culinary and medicinal uses. I especially love the illustrations by Linda Garland and am tempted to make a poster out of them for my kitchen wall.
The Countryside Cook Book by Gail Duff
Crab apples are listed towards the back of the book in the ‘Autumn’ section along with quite a few ways to prepare them. Recipes for Crab Apple and Date Wine, Lamb with Crab Apple Stuffing, Crab Apple Crumble and Pork Chops with Crab Apple Crust sounded all very tempting but in the end I settled on Spiced Apple Butter. I adapted the recipe for the amount of crab apples I’d been able to find and the result of the below instructions is a full 450g jar. You can also just make out the original recipe if you open the below image to its full size. The final product is delicious gelatinous spread and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys sweet-and-sour or winter spices.
1. Halve the crab apples and put them into a suitable sauce pan with the water, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Bring them to a boil and then reduce heat to keep a steady simmer on for about forty-five minutes or until it can be beaten into a thick pulp. Make sure to stir occasionally.
2. Put the pulp through a vegetable mill or fine sieve and measure the final weight of the resulting apple purée. Return it to the cleaned pan and stir in 350g (12oz) of dark brown sugar for every 450g(1lb) of apple purée. I ended up with 313g (10.5oz) of apple purée with my small batch so used 245g (8oz) of dark brown sugar.
3. Set the pan on a low heat and stir for the sugar to dissolve. Bring to a boil and keep boiling, stirring frequently, until the butter is very thick. If you draw a spoon through the mixture it should leave a path behind it. This can take up to an hour to achieve but mine only took about twenty-five minutes.
4. Put the butter into a warmed and sterilised preserving jar(s) and tighten the lid immediately. The butter will be ready to use as soon as it’s cool and can reasonably be stored as-is for up to a year. Since the recipe includes high-acid fruits, there isn’t a need for hot-water bathing or any further preservation.
If you have some crab apples and want to try this recipe, do give it a go! I’d also really recommend picking up Gail Duff’s book and having a flip through her other recipes. Be it hop, hawthorne or damson, she provides great ideas on serving it up in inventive and delicious ways.
Stewing the halved crab apples and spices
After about thirty-five minutes of stewing
Sieving the mixture through a basic food mill
The resulting apple sauce
Mixing the apple sauce with the brown sugar
The sugar turns the sauce into a rich dark brown
The butter is now ready for potting