Crabapples—tart, green and crunchy— are Native to North America. The Abenaki call them apleziz; the Mohegan-Pequot, appece. When the Europeans came to New England in the early 1600s, they fancied their English apples and planted trees all over. Hard cider was a colonial favorite. (The rum trade from the Caribbean was not in full flourish until molasses was widely available in the late 17th century.) Orchards were noted in the journals of Adraien Block, who sailed the coast of Long Island Sound in 1613 on one of his four voyages to explore for the Dutch.
The crabapple is an ancestor to many species of apple grown in America today. Birds and animals carried the seeds all over the country, so that the wild apples produced every size, shape and color. Over the past 400 years, the varieties of apples cultivated across the country has grown tremendously, and this fruit has become a part of the collective food cupboard for all Americans. The first known actual apple orchard in North America was planted in 1625 by William Blaxton in the Boston area, but the notion spread quickly through Native American trade routes. This was perpetuated by Colonial farmers which all gave rise to a rapidly expanding love of the red orb. In fact, by 1845 nursery catalogs featured as many as 350 varieties. By the 20th century, the apple became the star of this country’s multi-billion dollar fruit business.
When we moved into this home, a former small farm, there were two or three mature apple trees and one old crabapple. The crabapple still produces, and I use those for a beautiful jelly mixed with sumac. The crabapple contains a high pectin count, which is good for jellies. Deer and other wildlife like to munch on these little green snacks. When I harvest crabapples for jelly, they have to be carefully cleaned and the insect marks removed. These little dents are a good—a sign insecticides have not been used. Apples in general are a good source of vitamins A and C, plus a strong flavonoid quercetin and fiber. Quercetin acts like an antioxidant, which is thought to protect arteries and the heart while possibly preventing some cancers.
Crabapple Sumac Jelly
3 pounds crabapples (de-stem, cut in half)
1 cup sumac juice
add enough water to cover apples
1 packet of pectin (all apples are high in pectin, but I still add extra to make the jelly firmer)
2 cups sugar
Use a heavy saucepan and fill with crabapples, sumac juice and just enough water t keep the fruit from burning. Crush the fruit as it cooks and add another 3 cups of water. Just simmer for about 15 minutes. Put several layers of cheesecloth over a large bowl. It is good to have a stand to hold the cheesecloth so the juice can drip into the bowl freely. Do not squeeze the cloth, it will make the jelly cloudy. Put the juice back to the saucepan and add sugar and pectin. Boil for 5 to 15 minutes, turn off the heat. Fill sterilized glasses (they can be sterilized in the dishwasher) to within 1/4 inch of the rim. Cover the rim with a layer of paraffin, about 1/8th inch thick. Let cool enough before you put on screw top lids.
Apple Crisp Preheat oven to 350 degrees
½ cup crushed walnuts
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
½ stick butter
8 cups sliced apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Combine crushed or chopped walnuts with sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Melt butter and set aside separately. Using a 9-inch baking pan, or shallow 2-quart backing dish, grease and spread apples in dish. Mix 2 tablespoons of water with the lemon juice and vanilla and sprinkle over apples. Evenly distribute the topping on top of the apples and drizzle with reserved melted butter. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until topping is browned.
Apple Cider Vinegar
3 ½ quarts apple cider
1 pint sorghum molasses
1 cup brewer’s yeast
Use a sterilized 1-gallon glass container. Combine cider, molasses and yeast, stir. Cover the container yet leave the lid slightly open to allow some air in. Set the jar aside in a cool dry place for at least a week. The vinegar will be foggy. Strain the vinegar through cheesecloth into sterilized jars or bottles and close tightly.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.