Cooking with Crab Apples

Plant colorful, fragrant crab apple trees on your property for their beauty, as well as for the delicious fruit they produce.

| September/October 2019


Photo by Getty Images/ermingut

When our ‘Dolgo’ crab apple tree is at peak production, we dine on crab apple waffles, pancakes, bread, cobbler, muffins, and jelly. But perhaps our favorite way to use this fruit is in pies, which resemble cherry pies in both appearance and flavor. In short, just about any way you can cook with apples, you can utilize crab apples — though you’ll need to deal with the tartness of this fruit.

We’d originally bought the ‘Dolgo’ because of its reputation as a wildlife attractor, as well as for its hardiness — the tree originated in Siberia and was brought to the United States in the 1800s. To our surprise, the tree started putting on fruit at 3 years of age; by age 7, it produced gallons of crab apples. Years later, it still bears vast quantities of fruit.

Phil Gouy, owner of One Green World, a nursery in Portland, Oregon, says crab apple trees, and especially the ‘Dolgo,’ offer a great deal to backyard growers.

“Crab apples as a group are known for their profusion of blooms,” he says. “They’re outstanding pollinators of other apple trees, and the bees and butterflies they attract help pollinate other fruit trees, as well as garden plants. Crab apple trees are also very hardy and adaptable to different climates, as there are varieties that originated in North America, Asia, and Europe.”

Gouy recommends the following cultivars as particularly good choices for backyard growers.

  • ‘Dolgo’: Reliable producer of fruit; disease resistant; hardy in cold climates
  • ‘Callaway’: Productive; disease resistant; smaller tree size ideal for backyards (‘Dolgo’ is one of its parents)
  • ‘Kerr’: Produces larger-than-normal fruit; known for making great-tasting jelly; disease resistant; extremely hardy
  • ‘Whitney’: Known as a cider crab apple; compact tree with yellowish-red fruit; fruit sweet enough to be eaten off the tree

In recipes, crab apples usually require more sugar than regular apples, but their inherent tartness gives them a pleasing zing, especially in pies, cobblers, and jellies. Crab apples are also high in vitamin C and offer some omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Preparing Crab Apples for Cooking is Simple

  • Slice the tops and stem ends off of the crab apples, but don’t peel them. Then slice the flesh off the core. 
  • Coarsely chopped crab apples work well for pies, cobblers, and breads, while finely chopped fruit makes better pancakes, waffles, and cookies. To make chopping easier, process the flesh in a food processor to desired consistency.

More Crab Apple Recipes:

Bruce and Elaine Ingram are the authors of Living the Locavore Lifestyle, about hunting, fishing, and gathering food (with recipes). Contact them at



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