This crabapple recipe uses small, tart crabapples and turns them into a delicious batch of slow cooker apple butter.
This spring, the crabapple tree near our apartment was loaded with blossoms-- and I got excited.
Last year's harvest was disappointing-- nonexistent-- but I knew that the blossoms were a very good sign.
And sure enough, as spring turned into summer, those blossoms dropped away...
Revealing ever-so-tiny apples beginning to grow.
Finally, as the summer heat beat down on the pretty little tree, the apples were ready.
We grabbed our stepladders and buckets, and started picking!
This crabapple recipe is for slow cooker apple butter, and is a perfect way to turn tart crabapples into a delicious breakfast spread.
What is a Crabapple?
The term crabapple refers to a wide variety of small, wild apples that are generally 2 inches in diameter or smaller.
Some crabapple trees are simply ornamental, without fruit or with very tiny fruit, but others grow small, tart apples.
It should be easy to identify a crabapple tree, because you'll see tiny apples hanging from the branches when the fruit is in season.
If you find a tree that you're unsure about, however, try using a tree field guide. I recommend the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees.
Are Crabapples Edible?
But some will taste better than others!
Some crabapple trees produce sweet apples that can be eaten raw straight from the tree.
Others will be bitter, tart, or have dry or unpleasant textures-- eating these raw could lead to a stomach ache.
This recipe is perfect for both delicious and very tart crabapples, and since you're cooking the apples until they break down, the original texture doesn't matter.
Keep in mind that, just as with regular apples, you shouldn't eat the stems, leaves, or mildly poisonous apple seeds.
How to Harvest Crabapples
First, make sure the tree is on your property, or that you have permission to pick the apples.
Avoid trees that are near major roadways or other sources of pollutants.
Skip apples with major blemishes, which may have started to rot or been eaten by worms.
Minor spots on the outside of the apple are fine, as long as the apple looks undamaged when you cut it open.
If you use stepladders to reach the apples-- practice good ladder safety.
Make sure the ladder's feet are on level ground, the locking spreaders are all the way extended, and that you avoid stepping on the top two rungs of the ladder.
I also recommend wearing gloves (I always seem to find a few tiny spiders in my apple bucket after harvesting), and checking for ticks afterwards (especially if the tree branches are overhead).
How Do I Know How Many Pounds of Crabapples I Harvested?
Unless you have a large kitchen scale, you might be inclined to guess at the weight of the apples.
I recommend being a little more precise, because the ratio of apples to water is important.
If there's not enough water, the high levels of pectin in the crabapples will over-thicken your apple butter, and it will have a gluey consistency.
If there's too much water, your apple butter could be runny.
How can you weigh your apples without a large kitchen scale?
Option 1: You can weigh the apples in batches using a standard kitchen scale.
Option 2: Use a body weight (bathroom) scale.
Simply add the apples to something that doesn't weigh much (like a plastic bag), and then weigh yourself AND the apples.
Then, weigh yourself without the apples. Subtract, and now you know how much your apples weigh!
No scale of any kind? You could also estimate by volume-- 5 pounds of apples fills approximately ⅔ of my 6 quart slow cooker.
How to Core Crabapples for a Crabapple Recipe
If you want to skip coring the apples, I have alternate directions in the recipe card.
Tedious as it might seem, I prefer to core the apples before cooking them, because it gives me a chance to make sure that I'm only using healthy, unblemished apples.
I use a kitchen utility knife to quarter the apples, and then a paring knife to slice out the core.
This is a great opportunity to convince your significant other to help you in the kitchen-- a second pair of hands is really helpful.
If you want, you can use the cores (and peels, if you decide to peel your crabapples) to make fruit vinegar.
How to Make Slow Cooker Apple Butter
Once the tedious process of coring the apples is over, the rest is EASY.
Simply add the ingredients to the slow cooker, stir occasionally, and let the machine do its thing.
You don't need to peel the apples, because you'll be blending everything together partway through the cooking process.
Hours later, you'll end up with a large batch of tasty apple butter that's perfect for spreading on biscuits and toast!
Can I Can or Freeze this Crabapple Butter?
This is a freezer-friendly apple butter.
I have not tested this recipe for canning.
If you want to can your crabapple butter, I recommend using one of the TWO crabapple butter recipes in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.
Want some recipes that USE APPLE BUTTER?
Try this Gluten Free Apple Cider Pancakes (with Apple Butter) from the Fit Cookie and this Baked Brie with Apple Butter, Butternut, and Thyme from Smells Like Home
Crabapple Recipe: Slow Cooker Apple Butter
- 5 pounds crabapples Weigh apples before coring
- 3 cups water
- 1 ½ cups sugar (white, brown, or turbinado), plus more if desired
- 2 lemons, juiced
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- Quarter and core the apples. (Peel if desired, but it's not necessary.)Alternatively: Skip coring, and use a food mill to remove the seeds before blending the apples (in step 3).
- Add the apples, water, sugar, and lemon juice to the basin of a slow cooker.
- Cook on high for about 2 hours, until the apples begin to break down. Use an immersion blender and blend the sauce.Alternatively: Ladle the apples into a regular blender or food processor, and then return it to the slow cooker.
- Continue to cook the sauce for another 5-6 hours on high, until the apple mixture is thickened and golden brown. (Total cook time will be 7-8 hours.)
- Add cinnamon. Taste, and add more sweetener if desired.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to a month or freeze for up to 6 months.
- I want to make my apple butter sweeter, without adding more white sugar. Try replacing half the water with not-from-concentrate, no-sugar-added apple juice or apple cider to add natural sweetener to the apple butter.
- My apple butter has a "gluey" consistency. This happens when you don't add enough liquid to slow cooker when you start cooking, and the pectin in the crabapples over-thickens the apple butter. Make sure to add the full 3 cups of water for every 5 pounds of apples.
- My apple butter didn't turn brown. This happens when you don't add the sugar to the apple butter when you start cooking. In apple butter made from larger, sweeter apples, the natural sugars in the apple caramelize, and the butter turns brown. Crabapples don't have enough natural sugars, so you have to add the sugar at the beginning. (Also, keep in mind that most of the browning occurs at the very end of the cook time, between hours 6 and 8.)