Crabapple Jelly is the perfect way to use crabapples and this easy recipe comes together with just two simple ingredients.
Crabapples are beautiful ornamental trees that find their way into all manner of landscape plantings these days. They produce such a profusion of flowers that they’re often planted near regular apple orchards to improve pollination.
The fruit they produce in the fall is often ignored, and that’s a shame!
Crabapples are edible and most varieties are perfect for homemade crabapple jelly.
Selecting Fruit for Crabapple Jelly
While just about any crabapples will work for making crabapple jelly, some taste a lot better than others.
I’d suggest tasting the crabapples first. (Be sure you’ve got a crabapple and not a look-alike before you do that!)
Sour fruits that are high in acid are actually perfect for crabapple jelly, as that natural tart flavor will be balanced by the added sugar. Similarly, aromatic fruits will lend their flavors as well.
The main thing to avoid is astringent fruits, the type that makes your mouth pucker. Astringency is different than “sour” or “acidic” flavors, which are the result of acidity in the fruits.
Astringency comes from naturally occurring tannins in the fruits, and it’ll make your mouth feel dry like drinking strong black tea. Those astringent fruits are perfect for making homemade apple wine, where the tannins help balance out the flavor of the brew, but they won’t make good crabapple jelly.
Do You Need to Add Pectin to Crabapple Jelly?
Homemade crabapple jelly is one of the easiest homemade jellies. Crabapples are naturally acidic and full of pectin, meaning that all you need is a bit of sugar to make this preserve.
Crabapples are a natural pectin source, and they’re so full of pectin that this jelly often starts to set before it even comes to a boil.
Historically, crabapples were used as a pectin source for making all manner of homemade jellies with other lower pectin fruits. Cherry jelly, for example, is often made with crabapples added to help it set.
When made in the traditional way, hot pepper jellies are just crabapple or apple jelly with hot chillis added.
The natural pectin in crabapples is activated with the addition of sugar, and the only reason you might need to add boxed pectin is if you’re making a low or no sugar crabapple jelly.
I’ll discuss low sugar crabapple jelly options at the end after this basic old-fashioned crabapple jelly recipe.
How to Make Crabapple Jelly
Making crabapple jelly starts with extracting juice from the fruits.
Start by washing the crabapples, and picking over the fruits to remove any damaged, soft, or spoiled fruit.
Slice the crabapples into halves or small chunks. This is only really necessary for larger crabapples, like those dolgo crabapples I’m using. The smallest crabapples can be left whole.
Add 1 cup of water for each pound of crabapples and bring the pot to a gentle boil. Simmer 20 to 25 minutes until the fruit fall apart.
They’ll be “soft” after about 5 minutes of cooking, so try not to stir the pot or you’ll just turn it into a mushy mess of applesauce. Your goal here is to just slowly extract the pectin, sugar, and flavor from the fruits in a gentle simmer.
Be sure to gently cook the fruits, as overcooking can damage the pectin and prevent the jelly from setting.
I happen to be using crabapples with a rich red color in their skin, which in turn colors the finished jelly. If you’re using light-colored fruit, as with yellow, orange, or green crabapples, the finished jelly, and extracted juice will likely be yellow to brown in color.
Pour the cooked crab apples into a jelly bag to strain. Lacking a jelly bag, you can line a fine-mesh strainer or colander with a double layer of dampened cheesecloth.
Jelly recipes always say “Don’t Squeeze the Bag!” This can cause some of the pulp to come through into the extracted juice, resulting in a cloudy jelly.
You know what? I ALWAYS squeeze the bag.
There is so much more juice in there that just won’t come out no matter how long you wait. Gently squeeze the bag of course, and stop if you see any solids of any kind filtering through the fibers of the jelly bag or cheesecloth.
Without squeezing the bag at all, you’ll get about half as much juice.
In this crabapple jelly recipe, we’re using 3 lbs crabapples and 3 cups water. Naturally draining it for several hours yielded about 2 cups of juice.
Gentle pressure on the bag allowed another 2 cups of juice to come out, meaning that I had a full 4 cups of juice to make a batch of crabapple jelly. Squeeze or don’t squeeze, the choice is up to you, but my jelly always comes out crystal clear.
Ideally, at this point, you’d have 4 cups juice from 3 lbs crabapples, but the actual amount doesn’t really matter.
Measure the juice. For every cup of extracted juice, add 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar.
Old fashioned recipes suggest a 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar, but the jelly will set beautifully with as little as 1/2 cup per cup of juice. Don’t use less than 1/2 cup sugar of there won’t be enough sugar to activate the pectin.
Use your best judgment here, if you have really tart fruit go with a 1:1 ratio, but if you have sweet fruit that you could eat out of hand I’d opt for less.
Generally, apple jelly recipes (as opposed to crabapple jelly recipes) are made with sweet apples use 3 cups of sugar to 4 cups juice, and then also add in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to add some tart acidity.
Crabapples tend to have less natural sugar, but plenty of acidities, thus there’s no need to add lemon juice but you’ll likely need plenty of sugar.
With lower sugar crabapple jelly recipes, the cook time will be slightly longer to reach gel stage, and the yield will be slightly lower.
Add the crabapple juice and sugar to a deep saucepan or stockpot. Be aware that it will foam up, so don’t fill the pot more than halfway.
Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring the contents to a boil over high heat.
Pro tip: Make sure you skim the foam right as it starts to boil. There’s so much pectin that the foam will set before it can dissipate, and that’ll leave unsightly blobs of white foam floating in your finished crabapple jelly.
With full sugar (ie. a 1:1 sugar to juice ratio) the jelly will start to set almost as soon as it comes to a boil. Be sure you already have your jars/lids/rings ready, and a water bath canner prepared if you’re canning.
Cook the mixture until it reaches gel stage. That could be anywhere from 1-2 minutes if your crabapples have high pectin and you’re using full sugar, or up to 15-20 minutes with less sugar and lower pectin crabapples.
(Crabapples have less pectin when they’re overripe, and larger crabapples also tend to have a bit less pectin. If for any reason you cannot get the crabapple jelly to gel, try re-cooking it after adding a bit more sugar and 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice. Lemon juice adds pectin, and higher acidity helps pectin activate.)
Test for gel stage on a plate that’s been placed in the freezer. A spoonful should set as it hits the cool plate, and then wrinkle back when pressed with a finger or spoon.
Alternately, use an instant-read thermometer to test for gel stage. At sea level, gel stage is 220 degrees F. At higher elevations, that drops by 1 degree for every 500 feet in elevation. At 1,000 feet elevation, for example, gel stage is at 218 F.
Once the crabapple jelly reaches gel stage, pour into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
Low Sugar Crabapple Jelly with Pectin
Canning Crabapple Jelly
Anytime you’re making homemade jelly canning is completely optional. You can, of course, just make a refrigerator or freezer jelly instead.
Full sugar jelly recipes usually keep about 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator or about 6 months in the freezer.
Personally, I always opt to can my jelly recipes because they’ll keep for 12-18 months on the pantry shelf without losing quality. That saves valuable refrigerator and freezer space.
The instructions for canning crabapple jelly are simple.
Start by preparing a water bath canner before you make the jelly.
Once the canner is prepared, make the jelly as you otherwise would (with pectin or without). Ladle into canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
Cap with 2 part lids to finger tight and load the jars into the canner using a jar lifter.
The canning time for crabapple jelly varies by altitude as shown in the table below.
(The 5 minute process time for under 1,000 feet in elevation assumes you sterilized your jars first in boiling water. If you didn’t, go with 10 minutes instead for anywhere under 6,000 feet.)
If you’re not familiar with water bath canning, I’d suggest you read this beginner’s guide to water bath canning before you get started.
Ways to Use Crabapples
Looking for more ways to use crabapples?
Crabapple jelly is the easiest way to use crabapples. They're naturally acidic and high in pectin, making them ideal for this two ingredient crabapple jelly recipe.
- 4 cups crabapple juice (From 3 lbs crabapples and 3 cups water)
- 4 cup sugar (see note)
Crabapple Juice for Jelly
- Wash and stem crabapples. Slice larger ones, but don't peel, core or seed.
- Place 3 lbs crabapples and 3 cups water into a large stockpot and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the fruit have completely fallen apart.
- Strain through a jelly bag for 1-2 hours. Gently squeeze the bag to get the last bits of juice. You should have 4 cups of juice, but if not, use what you have in a 1:1 ratio in the jelly recipe.
Making Crabapple Jelly
- Measure the crabapple juice. For every cup of juice, add 1 cup of sugar. Place the juice and sugar into a deep jelly pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off the foam and watch carefully for overflows.
- Cook until the jelly reaches gel stage. Test for gel stage on a plate that's been placed in the freezer or using an instant-read thermometer. Gel stage is 220 degrees at sea level, and drops by 1 degree for every 500 feet above sea level (ie. at 1000 feet it's 218 degrees F).
- Crabapple jelly reaches gel stage VERY QUICKLY. Mine gelled almost as soon as it boiled, and only cooked for 1-2 minutes after boiling. Pectin levels vary in fruit, so it may take as long as 15 minutes to reach gel stage, but still it should be quick compared to other types of fruit jelly.
- Once it reaches gel stage, ladel into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Canning is optional, and this jelly can instead be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks or freezer for up to 6 months.
Canning Crabapple Jelly
To can crabapple jelly, fill the jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace and seal with 2 part canning lids. Process the jars in a water bath canner for 10 minutes (under 6000 feet elevation) or for 15 minutes above 6,000 feet.
Remove the jars to cool on a towel on the counter. After 24 hours, check seals. Store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator for immediate use.
Properly canned and sealed jars will store on at room temperature on the pantry shelf for 12-18 months without losing quality.
Low Sugar Crabapple Jelly - It's possible to reduce the sugar in this recipe and still get a proper set. A full sugar recipe uses a 1:1 ratio of sugar to juice.
You can use as little as a 1:2 ratio, with 1 cup sugar to 2 cups juice, and still get the jelly to set. Below that amount of sugar, you'll need to use low-sugar pectin to help the set. Instructions for that are given in detail in the article.
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