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
    September 12, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    5 stars
    Thank you for this recipe! My parents were just throwing their crab apples away as they didn’t know what to do with them. I actually like to eat them raw with roasted almonds. But I tried your recipe using pure essential oils for clove and cardamom that I had on hand and it was amazing! Thank you for another use for crab apples. Just wish they lasted longer in the fridge.
    My question would be, what would happen if someone used this recipe with the apples already cut in halves or quartered with seeds removed to save space? Would it just turn to mush?

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      September 12, 2021 at 4:12 pm

      It should work fine with the cut apples, I think, Shari.

    • Reply
      Juli Hemming
      October 17, 2021 at 10:55 am

      4 stars
      Your parents shouldn’t throw the crabapples away. Leave them on the tree. They are vital as Winter food for birds

  • Reply
    August 4, 2021 at 8:22 pm

    Yes you can make pie with crab apple!! I make a crabapple raisen pie and it is amazing!!! Yes it is alot of work but definetally worth it!!
    I cut 2 sides off each apple for pie and the rest goes in a pot for crab apple jelly
    This year I will try your spiced crab apples…
    Thank you!!

  • Reply
    Susan Theron
    May 9, 2021 at 5:27 am

    if you leave the crabapples whole and use them in cooking, what happens then about the pips? Surely one should not eat the pips?

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      May 9, 2021 at 6:34 am

      When you eat them it’s best to avoid the seeds, but eating a few won’t hurt you. Mine were nice and large, so it’s easy to slice around the core.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    5 stars
    So good and easy to make when you have a bumper crop of crab apples gifted to you. 😉 Did I miss how long these will last?

  • Reply
    September 7, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    I absolutely love these! And they are so easy to me. Can you freeze them?

    • Reply
      September 7, 2020 at 2:24 pm

      I haven’t tried that Gail but I wonder if they would get mushy after defrosting.

  • Reply
    jennifer brown
    September 6, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    We moved to a house that has crabapple bushes in the front. I pruned them real good last year and now I have lots of the larger ones like you feature here. They are extremely tart. I am interested in trying your recipe, although mine do not look as pretty as yours. Maybe because it is a first year come back? Mine also were attached really close to the branch, no stem. I am finding this crabapple search very interesting. I grew up eating the spice crabapples at my grandma’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I loved them, but they stopped making an appearance. I guess they no longer were popular. I hadn’t thought about them for years until we moved to Ohio and now I see the little ones everywhere. Do you have any other recipes for the larger crabapples? I see lots of recipes for the small ones. I would like to try to make a jam if possible and if I did try jelly would the whole crabapple make the juice or would I have to cut it up? Thanks so much!

    • Reply
      September 6, 2020 at 3:21 pm

      Very timely question Jennifer, I’m collecting crab apples right now for an upcoming crab apple jelly post! I’m thinking that for jelly I’m going to puree my apples and then strain for the juice. Jam is an interesting thought, I may try that too ~ stay tuned for the results 🙂

      • Reply
        October 14, 2021 at 5:29 am

        Sue a steam juicer works really well to get the juice without all the work. A heaping 9 quart pot yielded 10 cups of juice in about an hour or so already stained. Pop the apples in clean and whole and steam reduce them to about half and there you have it. I got 12 750ml jars of jelly.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    I can not find plain cider vinegar, only apple cider vinegar. Any suggestions?

    • Reply
      August 26, 2020 at 12:29 pm

      Apple cider vinegar is great.

  • Reply
    August 15, 2020 at 12:03 pm

    I was going to save this to try… until I saw how much sugar is in the recipe!

    • Reply
      August 15, 2020 at 12:43 pm

      Feel free to reduce the sugar Maija.

  • Reply
    Bob and Rena Maas
    September 21, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    Ours we pricked and they split, too. We had extra brine juice so we experimented. Picked more apples and no pricky. We watched them in the pot very closely and as soon as we saw just a few start to split we pulled them off and cooled them down quickly. We’ll see if the brine permeates the apples sufficiently in the jar, but they generally didn’t split. And they ARE delicious.

  • Reply
    Charlotte Reynolds
    August 25, 2019 at 3:23 am

    Hi what are the measurements in uk weights (grams & millilitres). I’m utterly confused! TIA x

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