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 wouldn’t bother with them. In fact, they have trouble taking care of cultivated fruit trees and often give up on getting nice fruit from them. Although old apple trees that were planted and forgotten may not technically be wild, I tend to lump them into the same category.
In early American history, people planted apple trees from seed to grow large quantities of apples for cider. Most of the cider was fermented into an alcoholic beverage called hard cider. At that time, people didn’t realize that water could be boiled to make it safe to drink, so they drank home brewed beer, wine, or cider to prevent waterborne diseases.
Using Wild Apples
Not many people have room to grow an orchard of apples to make their own cider these days. You’re pretty fortunate to have room for two or three apple trees that produce nice fruit for eating, baking, and preserving. But if you have acreage and some wild apple trees available, or access to abandoned orchards, you just might want to try using some of that fruit!
The average person has probably never picked apples from a tree that hasn’t been sprayed. Apples left untreated are usually pocked with holes from Codling moths and Plum Curculios. The surface is likely to have spots from fungus. In general, these apples don’t look that great and most folks would just toss them in the garbage.
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 and will go wild over them. Be careful not to feed too many apples to horses, or they could suffer from colic.
Using Wild Apples in Cooking and Baking
Try cutting some of those apples open and see if there is some flesh worth saving for your own consumption. The worst pest, in my experience, is the Codling moth. They create damage around the seeds, where they spend most of their larval stage. The larvae also creates an exit hole and these parts of the apple will need to be cut out and composted or fed to the chickens.
Once you’ve removed the bad parts of these wild apples, the rest can be cut up and used in pies, applesauce, jam, jelly, breads, 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. The easiest way to process these apples is to remove the bad spots and cores, cook down until soft and then run them through a food mill (also called a Foley mill). This eliminates the need for peeling. If you do wish to peel the fruit, save those peels to make apple jelly. The peels, cores, and unripe fruit is high in pectin and can be made into jelly without any pectin added from a box. Extra apples can be frozen to use in pies and baked goods in the winter.
Getting Over the Yuck Factor
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 larvae 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. Besides that, I was a tomboy and ran around the woods catching bugs, eating wild berries and greens, chasing my sister with worms, snakes and toads…so cutting a little bad spot out of an apple is second nature to me.
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 apples makes sense. You might even be able to help out a neighbor who has an apple tree but doesn’t use the fruit. Check on Freecycle or Craigslist too…I’ve scored some pretty nice apples that way in the past. 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?