As their name implies, crab apples aren’t commonly enjoyed for consumption. Usually their trees are planted for ornamental reasons, as their whitish blossoms are quite attractive. When the fruit is eaten it’s typically as a jelly, after being processed, and mixed with a lot of sugar to offset their sour taste. Rarely, they’re made into a cider.
We had (and still do) a pair of crab apples trees in my parent’s front yard. Probably a minute after I was told I could, that they weren’t poisonous, I gave the small, reddish, cherry-sized fruit a try. And they’re not great—they have a kind of bland taste, and a sort of woody, unpleasant flavor to them. Also, the insect loved them, so it was rather common to get one infested with larva of some kind, a bit of added revolting protein to your fruit.
However, after a couple of years, I made an important discovery. The secret was to eat them earlier in the year, when they were still green. I should have guessed this sooner, I suppose, since I tend to like sour tastes. The nicely sour unripe crab apples were pretty good—they made a decent snack on the way to a neighbor kid’s house. Eating them earlier also mostly eliminated the chance of getting a fellow maggot diner in your apple. There were limits, though—if you ate more than a few at a time, it was a bit tough on the stomach.
As I got older, a funny thing happened—a branch on one of the trees was hybridized with a regular apple tree (maybe from the one in our backyard). From that point on, that branch looked out of place, with its mutated, hugely large crab apples next to the regular, cherry-sized ones. These “X-Men apples” were an improvement over their tinier kin—more fruit to eat, and some of the mealy-ness had been reduced.
A crab apple has another use, too. In late fall they make excellent ammunition. They become little fruit grenades, which burst open rottenly upon impact. I used to cover the adjacent street sign with their decayed pulp, and I’m sure, many of the kids who got within range of our yard received unwanted, messy accessories to their outfits.