Crabapples are an often-overlooked fruit that can make delicious food products, as long as you can tell when they're ripe. Normally, the point of someone having an apple tree is to harvest the big, juicy, apples, but crabapples are very different from the traditional apple. The reason crabapples are typically overlooked, besides their miniature size, is because they are often unappealing to the eye—they often have scabs, mildew, or fire blight.
However, if the crabapples are harvested correctly, they may be used to make jelly, crabapple sauce, turned into juice, or even eaten raw. If you choose to eat them raw, note that you will be eating one bitter, tangy fruit. The crabapple tree’s flowers blossom in the spring and will usually last until the early fall when they go dormant. It is around this time that the crabapples will ripen. If you don’t know how to recognize a crabapple, remember that it is always equal to or smaller than two inches in diameter. When ripe, you will notice that they are bright red or greenish-yellow in color and on some trees, the crabapples will have already started falling off. Also check for firmness; they should be about one quarter firm ripe and three quarters fully ripe.
Rather than picking each crabapple by hand, which will take forever since they’re so small, harvest them by placing a tarp underneath the tree and shaking the branches. By doing this, all of the crabapples, especially the ripe ones, will fall. You can then sort through the crabapples. Happy picking!