The delights of the humble crab apple

By Richard Wright

Published on Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 15:43


The delights of the humble crab apple

Crab apples on Anne Grant’s ‘Sussex’ tree and, below, blossom on the same tree.

IN THE days when scrumping was endemic because it provided fruit for free — all the sweeter because its gain was spiced with danger — I first came across the crab apple.

Sweet it is not. As my mother said: "It’ll draw your arse up to your elbow…"

I discovered what she meant and, in later years, I have also found the humble crab is sweet in other ways.

Being the origin of all modern apples, it is a universal pollinator of all cultivars and being high in pectin it makes a great tasting crab apple jelly.

Anne Grant has grown two trees from scrumped seed.

The first one she’s called St Thomas because the pip came from a crab apple growing in St Thomas’s churchyard in Rydeand it is now about 16 years old.

The tree marks a place in time for Anne.

"My mother picked up the fallen apple when enjoying the tranquillity of the churchyard.

"She planted the pip in a pot and gave the seedling to me. It’s now about 5ft tall (1.5 metres) in my garden. I’ve never pruned the height so it has dwarfed itself naturally."

The second tree she grew from a pip from a fallen crab apple, picked up in a fruit tree nursery in Sussex.

She’s called it Sussex as she didn’t know the name of the mother tree.

Her Sussex tree is now seven years old.

It is about 5ft tall because Anne prunes it to keep what has proved to be a vigorous variety compact.

It blossomed for the first time last year producing six apples.

This year the crop is much larger and is an attractive addition to Anne’s wildlife garden.

Her gardening question to me about the humble crab was one to which I had no immediate definitive answer — only a gut feeling.

She wanted to know whether crab apples grown from seed grow true — in other words, the same as the parent.

Well, Anne, I would say yes and no.

If it is a cultivar, it is likely to return to its wild roots because that element in its genetic make-up is more powerful.

If it is wild, it is likely to have no such inner conflict.

Whether or not Anne’s trees are the same as the parent they have a place in any garden — even if you cannot be bothered to make jelly from them and there is no cultivar that will benefit from pollination.

Blossom in spring is beautiful and in autumn the flash of colour from rosy red, green flecked, yellow or gold, is very welcome.

Crab apples are also a very valuable food source and avian visitors have no problem with sourness or with broadcasting them.

Having said that, you will not find many of them in the wild.

l Last call for Community Crush at Rosemary Vineyard in Smallbrook Lane, where you can take your surplus apples and have them turned into delicious pasteurised juice in return for a suggested £1-a-bottle donation.

That pays pressing costs and provides a goodly donation to Ryde good causes too.

Everyone’s a winner.


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