When a friend asked whether I had a good recipe for pickled crabapples, I realized that I had neglected a wonderful treat my mother used to make every year. I couldn’t find Mom’s recipe in her recipe boxes, so I called my sister Patsy, who told me that she might have it.
An hour later she called back. “I found the recipe, and it’s in Mom’s handwriting, so I bet she copied it from Grandma’s,” she reported, and read it to Jerri who wrote it down for me. I think that the most remarkable thing about this recipe is that it includes detailed instructions for making the pickles.
When Mom’s recipes include instructions, most are terse comments that obviously assume the reader knows how to cook. For instance, her recipe for Grandma Hopp’s cake doughnuts did not even mention that the dry ingredients needed to be mixed with the liquid. After listing the ingredients, she merely wrote “Roll out, cut, and fry.”
In contrast, the recipe for pickled crabapples includes a number of specific instructions: Don’t peel the apples or remove the stems, let the hot syrup cool to lukewarm before adding the apples, don’t bring the apples to a boil, be careful not to burst the fruit, process the jars at 180º. These details probably explain why Grandma and Mom’s pickled apples always looked good and were favorites at church potlucks.
If you follow the instructions below, your pickled apples will wow your friends with a stem on each apple, intact skins and fruit that retains a hint of crispness.
9 cups crabapples about 1 inch in diameter (about 54 crabapples)
1 qt. plus 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 cups granulated sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
1 T whole cloves
1 tsp. mace
1 tsp. allspice
Start by picking and washing the crabapples. Remove leaves and discard any fruit with cuts or other defects such as worm holes. For the best result try to select fruit that are in the same size range. Don’t peel or remove the stems from the apples.
Put the vinegar and water into a large saucepan or Dutch oven. The pan should be of non-reactive material. An enamel or stainless steel soup pot is ideal. Stir the sugar and spices into the vinegar and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the syrup for about five minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool until it is lukewarm. Add the apples to the cooled syrup and heat the apples and syrup until it just begins to simmer. Be careful not to burst the fruit. Remove the pan from the heat and cover it. Let the apples marinate in the syrup overnight.
Wash and rinse five one-pint canning jars. Using a spoon or small ladle, carefully fill the jars with the apples. Fill the jars to within a half inch of the top with the syrup and seal them with lids and hand-tightened rings.
Put the sealed jars into a jar rack in a canner, add enough cold water to cover the jars with about an inch and a half of water and bring the water to 180º. Process the jars for twenty minutes.
Remove the jars from the hot water and allow them to cool. Check that the jars have sealed by pressing the center of each lid. If it springs back, that jar must be refrigerated. Sealed jars can be shelved in your pantry.
NOTE: Pickled crabapples are best if allowed to mature in the jars for a week or two before eating.
If you want more pickled crabapples, feel free to double this recipe. You may prefer to pack the apples in quart jars. If so, increase the processing time to thirty minutes.