Heather Phaneuf

Like most of us in this pandemic year, we look for new pastimes.  With the cooling of the season and yes, the turning of the first leaves to autumn gold and red, it means embracing a sense of adventure.

Case in point – crab apples, Malus.  This town, on the edge of wild, is home to many a crab apple tree.  Many are beloved. Most of the year, after the riot of spectacular spring blooms have faded, you wouldn’t even notice them but come September, well.  Red and yellow fruit brighten against the green leaves in private yards, lining streets, and on the edges of woodlands where their perfume bounces on the breeze.  A scent of – is it cider? – wafts down the streets and tempts passersby. You just know there could be orchards of goodness out there just waiting for the child in you to come out to play.

The immediate result here? We played! And right there, on our back deck, beside the painted red rocking chair, a large basket brimming with fruit from two crab apple trees, Malus ‘Dolgo’.

We hadn’t really noticed them until a gardening friend (thanks Allan!) sent an email suggesting we enjoy the bounty from trees he had planted in the community.  Sounded like a fine idea and we wandered over one afternoon eager for a harvest – although honestly unsure what the ultimate result would be.

Did I mention we were new to this?

Must confess, we didn’t realize we were looking at apple trees at all.  In fact, we were convinced that the apple tree that we were looking for must be hidden behind these plum trees – so thick they were with small fruit.  Okay, it only took one bite, tart and full, to push plums out of our mind to recognize the small, sweet-tart rounds of luscious crab apples!  Fast forward – the basket on the deck.

Within the course of a few days, and a well-placed Facebook post, I received numerous suggestions for pies, dried fruit, applesauce, apple butter, apple jelly – all shared with the excitement of well practiced tastes.  This was rapidly followed by offers of hand cranked food processors, jelly jars and in one case, of an actual taste tester. The generosity of garden folk was so appreciated when we realized that this simple act of apple transformation into imagined winter delights was going to take some learning.

Now, somewhere in the depths of the pantry we had stored a box of canning jars.  The idea had entered our minds years ago but over time the jars had become candles holders, impromptu vases, dust collectors.  However, we did have a large pot, a hand crank food processor, and new lids.  There was also the seemingly infinite reams of advice on the web, in cookbooks and through the freely shared experiences of friends pulled into kitchens by harvest delights.

These common apples, as they were once known, could have become so many things from jams to pies.  But for us, through the shared experiences of those who succumb to the temptations of apples – move over Eve – we washed and we boiled, we strained and we canned. It’s the best of times – who knew?

Now we smile to think that downstairs, on shelves tucked against a wall, the dark shadows only obscure the rich red of crab apple sauce and crab apple jelly that wait to help us make it through winter, then spring.  Once there, the lovely trees will bloom again, a cycle of green, and of friendship, leading us forward to the delights of new days – embracing the bitter and the sweet.