How to Forage for and Use Wild Apples

Can You Forage for and Use Wild Apples?

Have you ever seen an abandoned apple tree with fruit and wondered if they are edible? The short answer is yes, they should be safe to eat. I’ve been using wild apples as a food source since I was a kid and can share some helpful tips for foraging for and using these fruits.

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These apples came from a tree on an old farm. They appear to be Golden Delicious.
These apples came from a tree on an old farmstead. They appear to be Golden Delicious.

What Are Wild Apples?

Wild apples are produced by trees that grew from seed rather than a named cultivar that was grafted onto rootstock. Any apple tree purchased from a nursery is a clone of a tree that produces desirable fruit.

Wild apple trees might produce fruit that is delicious for fresh eating, good for pies, or barely edible at all. There is so much variation in apple trees grown from seed that most people plant cloned trees.

Many of the ‘wild’ apple trees you may encounter are actually named varieties that are no longer cared for.

How to Forage for and Pick Abandoned Apples

If you have a large property, you may have fruit trees that were abandoned or grew from seeds. They are common around old farmsteads, along roads, and in fencelines. If you have neighbors who don’t use the apples from their trees, ask if you may gather them. Many people will be happy to have you clean up the dropped fruit.

Watch out for wasps!

If you find trees with useable fruit, here are some tips for harvesting:

  • Make sure you have permission to pick
  • Check for safety hazards around the tree (wasps are common!)
  • Bring bags, phone, and an EpiPen if you are allergic to stings
  • Bring a fruit picker to harvest fruit from higher branches
  • Be prepared for a lot of insect damage to the fruit
  • Make sure you don’t bring wasps home in your bag of fruit!

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s wild apple 3
After removing insect damage, I get some nice chunks of apple.

How to Use Wild Apples

Many people see the bad spots and insect damage in untreated apples and want nothing to do with eating them. I understand why people feel this way. We are so used to eating the perfect fruits from the grocer that we don’t know what to do with a wormy apple.

Here are some tips for using these less than perfect apples:

  • Wash thoroughly and cut into quarters
  • Core the apple and cut out any worms or damage
  • Peel the skin if you like
  • Use these fruits to make wild applesauce or dice for recipes
  • If the fruit is fairly blemish-free, slice and eat as a snack
  • Freeze, dehydrate, or can extra fruit
  • Learn How to Can Applesauce

If your wild apples are too wormy to use, try feeding them to your chickens or other livestock. Most farm animals love those wormy apples. Be careful not to feed too many apples to any livestock to prevent gastric problems that can be deadly.

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Apple chunks ready to go in the freezer. Not a bad haul for a grocer bag of apples, picked up on a walk.
Apple chunks ready to go in the freezer. Not a bad haul for a bag of apples, picked up on a walk.

Using Wild Apples in Cooking and Baking

Once you’ve removed the bad parts from your apples, the rest can be cut up and used in pies, applesauce, jam, jelly, bread, muffins, juice, or cakes. My favorite way to use wild apples is cooked down into applesauce that is canned in a water bath canner or frozen to eat over the winter.

When I process a large batch of apples, I like to core the apples, cook them down, then run them through a hand crank strainer to remove the peels.

I’ve also attempted to peel these fruits using an apple peeler with little success. The hand crank apple peelers do best with fruit that is a uniform size.

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Codling moth damage.
Codling moth damage.

Learning to Love Imperfect Apples

Not everyone will want to go through the extra work to use apples that haven’t been sprayed or raised with organic pest management. If you can’t stand the idea of eating fruit that had bugs in it, you aren’t alone.

For me, this isn’t such a big deal. As a kid, my family harvested wild apples for cider, pies, and sauce every year. I grew up helping cut out the wormy spots to save the fruit that was still good.

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If you are having trouble making ends meet, are concerned about the cost of food, or you just want to avoid pesticides or make do with what you have on hand, then using wild or imperfect apples makes sense.

You might even be able to help out a neighbor who has apples and other fruit trees but doesn’t use the fruit. Check on Freecycle or Craigslist too…I’ve scored some pretty nice apples that way. I usually take a dozen eggs from my hens to share with the owner of the apple tree.

Have you ever used wild apples? What is your favorite way to use them?

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