Old Fashioned Spiced Crab Apples

Old Fashioned Spiced Crab Apples 3

Old Fashioned Spiced Crab Apples is a vintage pickled apple recipe that makes the perfect fall side dish and a must at Thanksgiving!

Spiced Crab Apples are an old fashioned way to add a hint of fall to any dinner

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 food available to them, including the scrawny crab apples from the front yard tree. This is a lovely side dish for any fall or winter meal.

old fashioned spiced crab apples

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. 

What’s the difference between a crab apple and a regular apple?

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 peaches and pears always showed up on our Thanksgiving table, and these crab apples are basically the same thing.

Spiced Crab Apples

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.

Old Fashioned Spiced Crab Apples 2

You’ll want to find a large, wide mouthed jar for this project. My WECK JAR held almost the whole quart of apples. You can also use smaller jars if you have smaller crab apples, just make sure whatever you use can accommodate your fruit. I did a dry run first.

Old Fashioned Spiced Crab Apples

The apples will be ready to eat after a day, and will keep up to a month (or more) in the refrigerator. Serve them as a traditional side to meats and poultry, or sandwiches. I think they’d be fantastic on a cheese plate, too.

These are really really delightful! I hope you check out your neighborhood for crab apple trees, they’re in season right now, and If you want to know more about identifying and using crab apples, the best information I found is here,  it’s from Ireland, but the info pertains to the States, too.

Spiced Crab Apples are an old fashioned way to add a hint of fall to any dinner
3.26 from 110 votes

Old Fashioned Spiced Crab Apples

Old Fashioned Spiced Crab Apples is a vintage pickled apple recipe that makes the perfect side to any fall meal and is a must at Thanksgiving!
Course condiment, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Author Sue Moran


  • 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


  • Wash the apples well, and leave the stems intact.
  • 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.
  • Combine the vinegar, water, and sugar in a pot.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Carefully remove the apples from the hot liquid and pack them into your jar or jars.
  • Strain the pickling liquid and then pour into the jars, completely immersing the fruit. Let cool and then cap and refrigerate.
  • The apples can be canned, as well, for longer storage.
  • Makes 1 quart

Cook's notes

Despite my precautions, my apples did split open a bit, that's ok, it won't hurt the final product at all!
I slightly adapted this recipe from A Hundred Years Ago
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although theviewfromgreatisland.com tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.


spiced crab apple pin

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  • Reply
    August 29, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Thank you for this. I actually have a jar of this beautiful looking preserve. My grandmother used to do this! I loved it as a kid, it is so delicious with cinnamon stick added to the brine.

    By the way my Mom used to freeze quartered Crabapples, the rescue type which is a beautiful red crabs for pies, She left them unpeeled, froze them uncooked and loved the color for strudel, cinnamon rolls and pies!

    • Reply
      August 29, 2015 at 7:34 am

      Great tip on the freezing, there are so many crab apple trees across this country, it’s nice to hear about another way to preserve the fruit.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    Thanks. I completely messed up your recipe (no convenient cardamom) but the are STILL delicious after compensating with cinnamon. I had a LOT of apples and can’t wait to put them on EVERYTHING!

    • Reply
      July 31, 2015 at 7:29 am

      I bet cinnamon tastes just great in this recipe, enjoy! (I’m amazed that you have crab apples at this time of year!)

  • Reply
    Jean | DelightfulRepast.com
    October 16, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Sue, what a beautiful blast from the past! I haven’t seen an old-fashioned spiced crab apple since my mother died. She is the only person I know who made and served them. I think she served them during fall and winter. Must make these if ever I can get my hands on some crab apples.

  • Reply
    myriam | rhubarb! rhubarb! rhubarb!
    October 13, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Yay for crabapple recipes – I’ve been looking for recipes that don’t involve making jelly, and these pickled ones sound delicious. I find antique recipes fascinating, too.

  • Reply
    [email protected]+is+How+I+Cook
    October 6, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    OMG! you are about 1 month late for my tree! I will do this next year. We have so many crab apples, our lawn smells like it is fermenting! And i used to love those dyed red ones my mom would buy every Thanksgiving! Thanks Sue!

  • Reply
    October 6, 2014 at 4:36 am

    An interesting recipe! Those apples must taste wonderful.



  • Reply
    October 5, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    What a great vintage recipe, love the cardamom and cloves!

    • Reply
      October 5, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      I was tempted to use several more different spices, but I’m glad I held back, just the two gave it a wonderful vibrant spice flavor, I was surprised!

  • Reply
    Happier Than A Pig In Mud
    October 4, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I love this, they look so pretty! I’ve always wanted to make jelly from them, your idea is much more elegant-enjoy:@)

    • Reply
      October 5, 2014 at 9:13 am

      The jelly would be great, too, they have so much natural pectin, and the color is gorgeous, especially if you have the small pinkish crab apples.

  • Reply
    [email protected]+Floating+Kitchen
    October 4, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Oh my gosh I love this idea! Growing up there was a big crab apple tree in our yard and to get rid of them, my dad and I would hit them with a baseball bat down into the woods. It was a mess – and really fun! Probably would have been better though if we had tried to salvage a few for eating :-).

    • Reply
      October 4, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      We did the bat thing with regular apples — talk about messy 🙂

  • Reply
    October 4, 2014 at 10:58 am

    What a great idea, Sue. When I lived in Michigan we had lots of crab apples…I made applesauce with them. Wish I’d thought of this!

    • Reply
      October 4, 2014 at 11:53 am

      I made jelly with the small ones from a friend’s tree and it turned out the most beautiful shade of pink…I bet your applesauce was beautiful!

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