Compote and Canning: Adventures with Crab Apples

Typically, crab apple trees in Montreal yield plenty of fruit in the summer but none of it is particularly edible. It is usually tart to the point of sucking all the moisture out of your gums while at the same time leaving an acidic and nauseating aftertaste in your mouth.Given this knowledge and the past experience of taking a large bite out of an unripe crab apple and being most disappointed with the sensation, I was fairly skeptical when my dad sent me a pdf of how-to-cook-with-crab-apples while at camp.

When I got home, however, I was pleasantly surprise by how deliciously ripe the fruit was. It was firm to the touch, with just the right tones of red and pink flesh. The first nibble was sour to the taste but flowed gently into a sweet, tart finish. Perfect for cooking. Not only would this be my first experience cooking with crab apples, but also my first time cooking with anything grown in my own backyard (except for mint and various herbs but honestly everyone grows those so they don’t count).

So, I present to you the fruits (har har) of my labor: Crab Apple Sauce and Homemade Fruit-to-go!

Fruit Leather
Fruit Compote (or sauce, if you’re part of the rabble)

Crab Apple Sauce

So, first things first, you have to pick your crab apples. You can also buy them but I find that to be counter-productive. Grab your ladder, head to your nearest park, and pick crab apples until you have just under 3 pounds of fruit. Pick ’em, cut off the flowery bits and the stems and put them in a pot. Fill the pot with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil on high heat.

After the water boils, reduce heat and let simmer for 25 minutes. The crab apples will be soft and ready for mashing. Using a potato masher, mash the crab apples until a puree is formed and you can see individual seeds and skins.

There are two ways to do the next part, but it all depends on whether or not you have a device to divide seeds and skins from liquid. If you do, follow the instructions for said contraption. If not, grab yourself a sieve, a bowl and a wooden spoon. In 5 batches, pour puree into the sieve over a sink with a bowl underneath and, using the back of the wooden spoon, scrape the puree against the bottom of the sieve to extract the sauce, leaving the skins and seeds.

Discard skins and seeds and you should have between 4 and 5 cups of deliciously fresh Crab Apple sauce. Yay!

However, as much as I wanted to eat all the sauce right then and there, I knew my stomach wouldn’t agree with it so I also had to preserve it somehow. My past  adventures in canning had failed miserably so this one took quite a bit of research into how to can properly. I had the jars, I was simply missing a boiling water canner. However, with a humungous pasta pot (the kind your nona pulls out for christmas), a schmata (or rag), a pair of tongs, and enough water to fill the pot, you can set up your own canning station.

First of all, you need mason jars (The kind with the ring and lid in 2 pieces).

Boil the mason jars in hot water separate from the rings and lids for 10 minutes to sterilize them. I bought mine at the dollar store so I made sure to do this properly.

Using the tongs, carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and fill with the sauce, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. This is important in the canning process because that’s the remaining air that is going to allow your to vacuum seal your jars. Using tongs, place the lid on top of your jar and carefully screw the ring on tightly. If you don’t have a boiling water canner, place a rag on the bottom of your pot and rest the jars on top of it (yes, the rag goes into the boiling water. This is to make sure you don’t cook your sauce for extra time) making sure the jars are fully submerged in the water (there should be between 1/2 and 1 inch of water over the jars).

Heat until it boils, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and place on a dry towel.

Voila! Preserved Crab Apple Sauce!

But I wasn’t finished yet.

Fruit Leather (or DIY Fruit-2-Go)

Pour 2 cups of sauce into another bowl and add just under 1/4 cup of Agave Nectar (I was going to use honey but I wanted to give some to a friend who is vegan. You can use honey if you want however). Stir well. Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap and pour sauce and nectar mixture onto it. Spread over sheet, being careful NOT to reach edges of baking sheet.Put it into the oven at 150 F. It was supposed to be 140 F degrees but my oven apparently doesn’t heat any lower than 150.

Leaving the oven door slightly open to allowe moisture to escape, dry out mixture for 6 hours (I programmed the oven to turn off after 6 hours so that it would continue to dry and cool down). Take it out of the oven and carefully peel off plastic from the dried sheet. Voila! Fruit leather, or Homemade Fruit-2-go!

I know, it looks a bit disgusting but it tastes intensely of crab apple and delicious.

A Few Notes:

If it looks like your lids aren’t vacuum sealed (the lid pops when you press it), wait until it cools slightly and try pressing it again then. This happened to me and when I waited and pressed the lid, it sealed properly. You can test the jars then by unscrewing the rings and checking to make sure the lids don’t pop off when you pull gently on them. IF they come off, start the boiling process all over again.

The fruit leather may stick to the plastic wrap. Fear not, check around the sides for air bubbles and use that as a starting point. After you’ve removed the fruit leather from the plastic, lay it on a piece of waxed paper and roll it up.

So, thus were my adventures in cooking with homegrown ingredients. I stil have about 10 pounds of crabapples left to pick so it may be time to buy some pectin and be a little more creative.

Happy cooking!

Cover Photo taken from: http://www.irishviews.com/crab-apples.html

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