The ancestor of the modern cultivated apple, the crab apple is an ancient thing. Many of our important indigenous edible plants are steeped in legend and lore, but this is especially true of the crabtree. You can almost tell, just by looking at its gnarled and thorny branches, that it has long been associated with witchcraft and folk magic. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the mischievous faery, Puck, boasts of bobbing like a roasted crab apple in a cup of spiced ale (sounds tasty – let’s try it).
Earlier still, in an Old English poem known as The Nine Herbs Charm, crab apple, or wergulu as it’s thought to have been called, is named as one of nine sacred plants used in a spell to protect against evil, and the venom of serpents. According to the author of the charm, the crab apple came from “over the sea, sent to these shores by a seal”. Very weird, but there you have it. If you want to cure poisoning and keep adders out of your house, just find some crab apples. Thanks, magical seal!
If all that’s true, then one thing’s for sure: you won’t be seeing any snakes at The Verulam Arms this week. Quite unexpectedly, we foraged crab apples in bulk this week. A tree’s full crop was just lying in the hedgerow, so we loaded up as many bags as we could. Here’s George getting his fill:
As I said last time, this year is all about preservation. A great, and traditional, way to preserve crab apples, is to make a jelly. This works well partly because of the crab apples’ high levels of pectin, which is a natural setting agent (also a very useful clarifying agent if you’re making cider). When I left The Foragers’ kitchen, two huge pans were boiling up the whole batch of crabs. Next day, George had strained, sugared and simmered the fruit down to a thick, delicious jelly. This jelly, just like other jams and preserves, will last for ages, and can be used in various ways, not least in the lemon posset that played a part in converting this foraging non-believer after a meal at the Dead Dolls Club. It’s also great with game. And for keeping snakes at bay, of course. Maybe we should smear some around the door frames, just to be safe.