How to find and harvest crabapples


I have always enjoyed crabapples during late summer early fall. Sure, they can be a little tart, but they are a good snack when you’re out exploring in the woods and happen upon them.

Crabapples are a wild apple variety that is typically smaller than those sold in grocery stores. They’re usually less than 2 inches in diameter.

Although a single crabapple doesn’t provide much to eat on its own, a tree full of them can provide plenty because crabapples grow abundantly in clusters. Foragers can harvest enough apples from one tree to make apple butter, apple sauce, jelly, cider, chutney or pie.

Where do crabapples grow?

Crabapples are common and widely distributed across the Midwest. They can be found in parks, abandoned orchards, former homesteads, open woods, thickets, old fields, streambanks, grasslands and near hiking trails.

What do crabapples look like?

Numerous crabapple varieties grow throughout the Midwest. Because they tend to hybridize, identifying a specific variety is difficult. However, there are no toxic look-alikes, so foraging for crabapples is relatively safe.

Crabapple trees are small- to medium-sized with a rounded crown and many branches. They can stand anywhere from 5 to 30 feet tall with an equal to greater canopy spread.

Crabapple trees have brown to grey, scaly bark. Younger branches are dark reddish-brown. Older branches are grey and more coarsely textured.

Crabapple leaves are oval and tapered at both ends. They grow alternately on long stemlets in clusters that alternate along branches. They are 1 to 5 inches long and about a third as wide. Leaves are toothy, but teeth may be rounded or sharp depending on the species of crabapple.

Crabapples grow on long thin stemlets. They are round with either crowns or an indented spot on the bottom depending on the species. They can be yellow, pink or red with pale speckles and coarse brown or yellowish blotches. 

All crabapple varieties are edible; however, some varieties are less bitter than others. Foragers should taste them before harvesting to determine quality.

When to harvest?

Crabapples ripen in late summer through fall. The amount of rainfall during the growing season will determine the taste and quality of the crabapples. A dry season results in dry, mealy fruit, A wet season produces more juicy, succulent fruit.

As crabapples ripen they become sweeter. Foragers should wait for crabapples to ripen completely and become soft before harvesting. Some sources suggest waiting to harvest them until after the first frost in the fall.

Crabapple flavor varies from tree to tree and from one variety to the next. Sample apples from each available source before harvesting a bunch from one tree. Only harvest fruits with little insect damage or mold.


Midwest Foraging, Lisa M. Rose


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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s managing editor. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and being outdoors.



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