My friend Lynn lives out in the county. Her rural setting generates gifts to me such as gooseberries, lily bulbs, and most recently, crabapples. I thought crabapple trees were ornamental. “Oh, no,” Lynn assured me, “you can make crabapple jelly.” She lowered her voice and added a poetic tone when she said the words crabapple jelly. I accepted the gift.
“Could I make a pie with some of those apples?” I asked Lynn.
“Oh, I don’t think it would taste very good! You’d have to add a lot of sugar or some raisins to sweeten it up. But crabapple jelly, it’s beautiful and oh, so good!”
The next day my husband, Dale, came home to find a box blocking the front doorway. His eyes grew big, a delighted smile crossing his face, “A whole case of Free State beer!” He flipped back the lid to find the recycled box, filled, not with amber bottles arranged in rows, but Lynn’s crabapple harvest.
“Crabapple jelly,” I read aloud from the index of my Ball Canning cookbook, “page 35.” It looked easy. Only two ingredients, crabapple juice and sugar. 4 cups of juice yields 6 jars of jelly.
Crabapples are actually easy to process – no peeling, no coring, just wash, and throw in the pot with water.
When the apples were soft, I pressed them through a sieve, lined with cheesecloth. Voila, crabapple juice! Isn’t it pretty? After adding the sugar, I let it cook in a big pot on the stove. Stirring with a long handled, wooden spoon, I watched as the liquid bubbled and foamed, checking periodically to see if it had reached the magical gel point.
Gel point – it’s when the hot mass has boiled to a point that it begins to solidify, to gel, to convert from juice to jelly. I had made blueberry jam this way once. It didn’t end well. Maybe I should have used pectin. Ripping open a box of pectin I scanned the recipe list and, sure enough, there was a recipe for crabapple jelly. Too late now, my jelly was gelling. I spooned the ruby jelly into jars – filling only 3, not the 6 that the Ball Canning book promised. I scrapped the pot into a small bowl, smearing the last, little bit on a toasted English muffin. Yumm. It tasted like the country.
Switching methods, I made the second and third batches with the pectin recipe. It was much faster and resulted in a whopping 11 jars from each pot of jelly. But there was something wrong with it; the color was a pale pink, the shade of my grandmother’s pink Depression Glass dishes. The jelly from the first batch was a deep ruby pink with a touch of amber. The darker jelly had a rich, earthy aroma, whereas the pink jelly was light and airy, barely scenting the kitchen with a hint of crabapple. A taste from the tip of a spoon left me thinking I had 22 jars of pink tinted jellied sugar. Where was the flavor? Never having made crabapple jelly before, heck, I’d never even eaten it before, I scratched my head, wondering which recipe came out right.
Three batches of jelly later, the bottom of the beer box was still covered with crabapples. Earlier, as I washed the crabapples, I had set the nicest fruit aside to try Pickled Crabapples, (page 86 in the Ball Canning cookbook.) But what would I do with all these leftover apples?
A whisper in the back of my mind said, “Make Pie.”
I turned to my vintage cookbook collection to find a recipe for Crabapple Pie. The first three books left me empty handed, but the good old, Farm Journal Pie Cookbook had a five star recipe for Rosy Crabapple Pie. Five stars! Not a bad place to start. I began cutting up those tiny crabapples, grateful that the recipe specified, do not peel. With Lynn’s warning of it not being very tasty, I mixed the diced apples with sugar and flour making sure every apple cube was coated with sugar, I spooned them into the pie shell and added vanilla, (yes, vanilla) and water – 1/3 of a cup of water. Really? There was only 1 T of flour in the recipe, was the water really necessary? Ignoring my intuition, I dotted the pie with butter, covered it with a top crust and slid it into the hot oven.
Pie baking and jelly making dishes covered every counter – sticky spoons, measuring cups, and dirty pots. It was time for clean-up. I reached for the long handled wooden spoon, resting on a saucer in a puddle of the first batch of jelly. When I picked up the spoon, the plate came too. Startled, I set it back down and pried the spoon out of the jelly that had cooled on the plate. Oh, dear. I thought. This is a problem – my jelly had gelled too much. That must be why I only got three jars. I cooked it too long and my crabapple goodness had simmered away leaving me with very tasty glue. I tested the jelly-ness of the last spoonful I had scrapped into the small bowl. It was very sticky but I knew what to do with it. Put it inside tiny pastry turnovers.
With the leftover pie dough I rolled out and cut circles, and spooned a blob of thick, sticky crabapple jelly in the middle, folded them over and pinched the edges. Ten minutes later I pulled a tray of cute little crabapple turnovers from the oven. Who would be crabby with such a tempting snack?
The kitchen was cleaned up. The jelly jars, in pretty, pale pink rows with three jars of dark intruders, were sending out periodic pops as the seals sealed. The pie was cooling on the counter, still bubbling up through the slits in the top crust, a sure sign that the pie was done.
Dale came home from work and surveyed the bounty, especially the pie. “Here,” I handed him a cooled turnover, “Have a few of these for a snack.” We each bit into a crabapple jelly turnover. “What do you think?” I asked.
“It’s very tasty, what’s inside?”
“Oh, I thought it was gummy bear.” He grabbed another turnover as he left the kitchen.
Gummy bear? Humm. So that’s how you make gummy bears, overcook your jelly!
Picking up the phone, I called Lynn. “Is there anything I can do with the over cooked jelly?” Yes, there was, I could spoon it out of the jar, re-heat it, and dilute it with apple juice to thin it out.
Popping the top off the first jar of jelly I stuck a knife in to test the spread ability. I could probably make pulled taffy with my concoction but not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. With effort I emptied the three jars of thick, sticky stuff into my pot, for the first time, feeling happy about only getting three jars of jelly. Adding apple juice, I watched closely and stopped the cooking as soon as it started to set up. It may come out too soft but if that happened, I’d call it syrup and pour it over my pancakes.
“Would you like a piece of pie?” I offered Dale.
He cut into the pie, dividing it into 8 equal pieces, and started to remove the first slice. (Warning: the next few pictures might make your stomach turn.) The pie fell apart on his plate, separating into a wet, goopy bottom crust, an unincorporated pile of diced apples, with a loose skin of top crust. The parts didn’t seem to belong together. The V shaped gap in the pie pan filled quickly with a runny, pale pink liquid, diced apples dropping into it from either side.
“What happened to it?” Dale asked.
“I don’t think it cooked long enough.” I lifted the glass pie pan and peered at the bottom crust through the glass, “But it looks done.”
He tasted it. “This just might be the worse pie you ever made.”
I tasted it. Tart. Needs more sugar. Runny. Needs more flour. Not set. Needs more time in the oven. It was enough to make me crabby. But I was no longer a pie baking rookie. I was ready for the challenge of Rosy Crabapple Pie.
Dale served up a second piece. “Hey!” I called. “Don’t eat any more of that pie! I need those apples for a re-do!”
I peeled the top crust off in wedge shaped sheets, with the pretty, crimped edges still attached. I poured the filling into a pot. I scraped the soggy bottom crust into the trash. I started over.
My filling was minus two servings so I used an 8” pie plate for the re-do. I tasted the mixture. It was earthy. Similar to rhubarb. I knew that you could sweeten up a rhubarb pie by adding strawberries. Strawberries and apples? Didn’t sound good to me. How about raisins? Lynn had mentioned they would add sweetness. I added 2 T of raisins softened in 1/4 cup of water. They would sweeten things up and make up for the apples Dale had eaten.
I added a 1/3 cup more sugar to the pot. I added more flour to thicken it. Too much. I thinned it back down with apple juice. I tasted it again. Sweeter but missing something. I thought, “apples and raisins … it needs cinnamon.” I added cinnamon. I added nutmeg. I tasted again. Yes. This will work.
I poured the filling into the new pie crust, dotted it with butter, added the top crust and slid it into the oven.
When the timer rang I gave it five more minutes, just in case, then pulled the pie out of the oven.
While it was still warm, I called Dale to the kitchen. “Let’s see how my twice baked pie turned out.” I cut it and served the first perfect slice. The crust was flaky and crisp. The filling had the right amount of fruit ooze. The bottom crust was flaky, not soggy. The vacant space in the pie plate stayed vacant, neighboring pieces holding onto their own filling. But how did it taste?
“Much better!” Dale called from the table.
I took a hesitant bite. “I think it’s good!” I took a bigger fork full, with a raisin in it. “Oh, the raisins taste good with the crabapples!” My twice baked crabapple pie was a success!
Scraping his plate clean Dale said, “This is a Barb original, you should write the recipe down!”
When life (or Lynn) gives you crabapples, don’t get crabby! Make jelly. Or pickles. Or pie.
For those who like to live on the dangerous side or are blessed with an abundance of crabapples, here is the recipe – just don’t get crabby if it doesn’t work, okay?
Barb’s Twice Baked Crabapple Pie
This recipe comes with absolutely NO guarantees. Try it with good humor.
Pastry for a two crust 9″ pie
6 cups diced crabapples, (do not peel, but please remove the cores)
2 T raisins, soften in 1/4 cup warm water
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon (or more to taste)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
Put apples in a medium saucepan, add water, cover loosely, and simmer until almost soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat a few more minutes until thickened to pie filling consistency, adding more liquid if needed (water or apple juice). Taste. Whatever it tastes like in the pot is what it will taste like in the pie. Adjust seasonings to your liking adding more cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins and/or sugar as needed. Pour into pastry lined 9″ pie plate. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust, crimp edges and cut slits to vent. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes until crust is nicely browned, steam escapes from the vents, and you can see the filling bubbling up through the slits. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.