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
    Janine Kotyk
    October 26, 2017 at 8:55 am

    I came to this site expecting the vintage recipe. Would have appreciated the original recipe alongside your variation of cloves and cardamon.

    • Reply
      October 26, 2017 at 9:04 am

      This recipe is pretty much identical to most old versions, Janine. I think the only difference is the use of cardamom. You can sub min cinnamon for a more classic flavor.

  • Reply
    Zeynep Kilic
    October 1, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    So, a bizarre question but what do we do with them? How do you eat them? They are way too sour as raw. Is this a snack? Do you serve it with meat? I made them and now I don’t know how to serve them. Thanks

    • Reply
      October 1, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      You would serve these as a side dish, Zeynep, they would be perfect at Thanksgiving, for example.

    • Reply
      October 30, 2017 at 4:28 am

      crab apple and vanilla curd recipe

      makes a bought 3 cups !
      1 vanilla pod
      1 1/4 pounds (600g) crab apples halved
      1 stick (115g) butter unsalted
      2 cups (450g) fine granulated sugar
      3 large eggs
      2 egg
      1. split the vanilla bean lenghtways and place it with the apples in a pan,
      adding 1 tablespoon water.
      simmer gently until the apples are soft, stirring occasionally to be sure the fruit doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.
      remove it from the heat and leave to cool.
      2. remove the vanilla bean, then puree the apples by pressing them through the fine disk of a food mill or a sieve, collecting the resulting puree in a bowl.
      scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pieces with a sharp knife and ado them to the apples along with the bean.
      add the other ingredients, pouring the eggs and yolks through a sieve.
      3. place the bowl over a pan of simmering water ( or use a double boiler ) and heat gently, stirring all the time, until everything is blended and the curd begins to thicken and coat the back of the spoon.
      this stage should take abought 20/30 minutes.
      4. removethe vanilla bean pieces.
      pour the hot curd into small, hot, sterilized jars and seal ( using heat sealer jars)

      • Reply
        October 30, 2017 at 6:51 am

        I can’t wait to try this, thanks Tarnie ~ I’ve never heard of an apple curd!!

    • Reply
      H Doug Whiteman
      August 8, 2019 at 12:31 pm

      I ate them as a child for dessert, 1/2 dozen in a dish with the syrup. We held them by the stem, lowered them into my mouth, closed my lips around the fruit and pulled stem & core gently out. mmmmmm

  • Reply
    September 11, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    How to to this using pressure cooker.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2017 at 12:16 pm


    Are these of the shelf life of refrigerated pickles, which from my understanding is about 3 weeks?

    • Reply
      September 2, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Yes, Ben, exactly.

  • Reply
    Natali Martin
    September 1, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Hi Sue, I have a new grandson, and I would love to make him homemade applesauce! Do you have any recommendations for getting the meat from the apples but leaving the skin, core & seeds behind? Thanks

    • Reply
      September 1, 2017 at 9:45 am

      Making applesauce from crab apples is definitely challenging! I think you would have to remove the stems, halve the apples and remove the seeds and core, and then make the sauce WITH the skin on. The skin is healthy and shouldn’t be a problem for your grandson. It will give the sauce a nice color, too. Hope this helps!

      • Reply
        September 14, 2017 at 2:46 pm

        Another option is to invest in (or borrow!) a food mill. We live in Northern Canada where all that grows is crab apples and food mill is a great investment. All you need to do with the crab apples are throw them in a pot with a cup or two of water and let them simmer on low until they are very soft. Take them off the heat and let them cool, and then put them through the food mill.
        I just put a 5 gallon pail of tomatoes through my mill, so if you also make your own tomato sauce it can to double duty.
        Here’s a youtube video about the Roma model, which is what i have: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBbodeRIDhg

        • Reply
          September 14, 2017 at 3:07 pm

          That’s cool, Christine, I should look into getting one. I have a little hand held crank style one, but this one looks pretty heavy duty!

  • Reply
    February 4, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    I have a small crab apple tree and it has started dropping fruit much earlier than expected. I want to try something a little different to jelly and paste so this is a great find. Thanks for the recipe, looks like I may be making spiced crab apples today 🙂

    • Reply
      August 7, 2017 at 8:37 am

      I’m so glad you found this, Matt, let me know how they turn out.

  • Reply
    January 4, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    I have more crabapples than I know what to do with. So you really DON’T have to core them … do you eat it core and all? Thanks for the recipes.

    • Reply
      January 4, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      No, I left them whole, and yes, you really can eat them core and all. Alternatively you can eat around the core when you slice them.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    Hey Sue – In step no. 8 you mention ‘canning them for longer storage’. Can you describe what you would change or add to make the recipe ‘can worthy’? Just so I understand correctly. Thanks, Kent

  • Reply
    October 14, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Hi Sue: Is there a particular crab apple variety that you would recommend using for best flavor? What is the variety you used for this batch featured?

    • Reply
      October 14, 2015 at 7:38 pm

      I think any variety that you find will work, Cristina. Mine were on the large side, but the smaller ones will work too.

  • Reply
    September 7, 2015 at 10:19 am

    The link to the info “Wild & Slow” is not from Britain, but from Wicklow, which is in Ireland. Just for info…

    • Reply
      September 7, 2015 at 11:38 am

      Just updated, thanks for spotting that Jo!

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