The poor lowly hedgerow crab apple is today regarded as something of nothing, a waste of bark, all due to the very bitter taste of its fruit when raw. You can see no end of crab apples go to waste each year because nobody can be bothered to pick and cook them. But at one time not only were they a seasonal delicacy, girls would use them to find their future partners and the wood would have many uses around the house and farm.
The Crab Apple – Eden Phillpotts
Winter has filched the forest bare;
The boughs are naked, lean and grey
But whisper to the winter air,
All croaking, creaking cheerfully,
Of what the Spring
Where breaks the wood upon the hill
The branches of a crab arise
All round about, for all who will,
Her unregarded harvest lies,
Cheerful and bright
|Her jewels flash among the weeds
With not a peck, or bite, or scar
Save where a mouse, in hope of seeds,
Has taken courage one to mar,
But lost the gain
For the pain.
Both men and women happen so,
Of pulp acerb and spirit bleak:
Right well their inner wealth they know
And muse why neighbours never seek
To win gold
Als, we shirk them, shy and swerve
At greeting chill and voice unkind;
We dread the pang and lack the nerve
To tackle their unfriendly rind;
Our days fly past
Crab Apples (known locally as ‘grabs’) were another source of food and could be found in many of the hedgerows of the moor, one such place today being the lane that runs down to Leusdon. Some farmers considered the crab apple as a nuisance plant because when it established itself in a stock hedge as it soon took over and reduced the amount of thorn cover.
In love divination a girl would collect a load of crab apples and on the floor of the loft form the initials of her lovers then on Old Michaelmas Day she would inspect them. The initials whose crab apples were in the best condition indicated the most faithful man in any future relationship.
Another use of the crab apple tree was to strip its bark in order to make a yellow dye, this old method was often used in cottage industries. The wood is of a hard, course-grained nature and was often used in inlay work, also mallets and screws were made from it. As a fire-wood it produced a good steady heat and gave off an apple aroma.
Crab Apples, along with cinnamon were sometimes added to a tankard of cider along with a hot poker thus making a kind of mulled drink. As with most country areas crab apples were/are made into a jelly which provided a perfect accompaniment to roast pork or ham. A cure for sore throats was to roast a crab apple and then put it in a tankard of ale, having done this it was necessary to ‘bathe’ ones throat in the mixture. I quite like this description as ‘bathing’ ones throat with ale sounds so genteel and innocuous. In cooking the juice of unripened crab apples (known as malic acid or verjuice) would often be used as a type of vinegar and used in some sauces. It was not unusual to use the vinegar for pickling fruits and vegetables. But as always the best use of crab apples I have ever seen is in the making of a very potent wine which when drunk along with cider is sheer glider fuel.
CRAB APPLE WINE
To make crab apple wine you will need the following ingredients plus a lot of patience, and I mean about 2 years worth of it. So first of all trundle off down you nearest hedgerows in search of a crab apple tree which are often found by old pastureland. Ideally you are looking for the yellowish variety that are about the size of a small plum. Tis best to take a stick with you to assist in shaking the higher branches. You will need about 8lbs of crab apples, then when you get them home thoroughly wash them and remove any stalks and leaves. The next process is to crush the apples, if you don’t happen to have an apple crusher then a heavy duty plastic bag and a plank of wood will suffice.
Next, dissolve 1 campden tablet in a gallon of cold water and add the crushed ‘crabbies’ along with a teaspoon of pectozyme. Cover the basin and leave for four days but ensuring that the mash is stirred every day. On the fifth day strain the mash and add 2lbs of sugar, 8ozs of raisins, 1 tsp of yeast nutrient and 1 sachet of champagne yeast. Leave this to ferment for a week then strain and press the raisins and leave to complete fermentation and then bottle. The longer the wine is left the stronger it gets, 18 months should be the minimum amount of time before opening. At Christmas add a stock of cinnamon and mull for a real warming drink.