a Perfect Homestead Tree
With organically-grown tasty crabapples, you can have your cake and eat it too!
By David Fried, Elmore Roots Nursery
Even in summer, everyone is still connected to spring when the trees open their arms and nearly smother us with delicious blossoms. They feed our eyes and our imagination. They give us hope that things will be good in our world. White, pink, and red puffs of color glow against the full blue sky of northern May skies.
Bees and other pollinators are rewarded from their patience over a long winter with this orchestra of tree colors. Couples walk hand-in-hand under and through the flowering crab trees, whispering to each other. Nests are used, and new ones fly out for the first time. We are reminded that all is possible.
After a few rains, the petals have fallen and the sidewalks are covered with pastels of flowers. Little green apples begin to grow. Most people believe that crabapples are hard little green things that are no good for anything except throwing at walls. On our farm, we have tasted many of them and have discovered some that have amazing fruit in abundance. We call them the “tasty crabapples.”
There is the “Kerr crab.” Everyone asks if they are dark red plums. On our fruit tasting tours, we save this for last. As all the changing flavors of apples from tree to tree progress, none has the blend of as many interesting ones as this tasty crabapple. Wine overtones with grape cantaloupe accents dance in the mouth when eating this one.
The “Centennial crab” changes to a rosy pink and is a bit larger and very sweet. It has been described by our customers as cotton candy, apple pie, or apple strudel-like.
The “Dolgo crab” is sometimes called the jelly crab. Old- time Vermonters would make a clear red apple jelly from its apples, straining it through cheesecloth, and it is high in natural pectin.
The “Chestnut crab” has an orange-red skin. It is crispy and sweet with a flavor that combines pear and apple with a little juicy cider overtone.
Many years we get abundant harvests of these tasty crabapples. They are excellent for a dessert, a lunch box or a child, as a small apple does not require the hunger or the effort of a large apple. They keep in the fridge for a few weeks, or you can freeze them whole and make sauce, jam, or jelly with them later on in the year, when you have more time.
Tasty crabapples are a perfect homestead tree: they give us a tremendous breathtaking flower show in the spring, and then shower us with a big welcome harvest of useful and delicious fruit. They also are a home to many birds and pollinators and are useful in cross pollination of other apples in the neighborhood.
Many years ago in the middle of winter I visited the UVM horticultural farm in the Burlington area. They used to have hundreds of crabapples growing there, planted and directed by Professor Norman Pellett. I asked the guys who worked there what was their favorite to eat out of all the many growing there. They pointed to this one tree and said “we don’t know what kind it is, but we all like its fruit very much!” I crawled on my belly over the ice and snow looking for an I.D. tag or something. I found an old metal label that said “Chestnut crab.” I have been propagating and growing this cultivar ever since.
David Fried runs Elmore Roots Nursery where they encourage their customers to taste and plant tasty crabapples as a good multipurpose fruit tree for our times.