The next in the series of Autumn Foraging posts from Scrubland Scavenger. This time we are out Foraging For Haws.
In the previous post we were foraging for Rowan Berries, prior to that it was Sloes and prior to that Brambles. Now we are going Foraging for Haws with Scrubland Scavenger, the final of four autumn berries (Brambles, Sloes, Rowans, Haws) in this ‘Jewels of Autumn’ blog series.
In my final post in this ‘Jewel’s of Autumn’ Foraging series I am really chuffed that I at last get to write about foraging for Haws. If the Hawthorn Berry was a real jewel in my eyes it would have to be a diamond. Yes, that is how highly I think of the humble Hawthorn Berry, which from now on I will refer to as a Haw (not just because it is shorter to type, it is actually a common name for the berries).
Foraging For Haws is not something I did when I was younger, even though Hawthorn bushes have been prevalent in the valley where I live since I was a kid. I don’t recall why I picked sloes but not haws, but I suspect it may have been the fact the berries were red. As a general rule it is very wise for parents to advise children not to eat berries, and as red in nature normally acts as a warning, no wonder so many people are wary of red berries.
Haws are however a red berry which can be eaten safely. Some people even enjoy them raw (me not so much), but if you are going to try this remember, like cherry stones, hawthorn seeds contain amygdalin which can turn to cyanide in your gut – so make sure you spit them out.
When I started foraging for Haws, the first recipe I tried was a recipe which was included in a Guardian article written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in 2012. The recipe was for ‘Haw-sin sauce’ and although my final result did not really remind me hugely of Chinese hoisin sauce I have to say I was well impressed! From a berry I had wandered past many a time when gathering other edibles I had made a really tasty ketchup-like sauce.
I still make a Haw Ketchup which follows almost the same recipe as Hugh’s original, and if you haven’t tried it I would urge you to give it a go. It’s really pretty easy and, if you get the same reaction as I do when I first introduce it to someone, the looks of surprise when they taste it and enjoy eating Haws is worth the small amount of effort…that is if you manage to not eat it all yourself!
Brandy, Vinegar, Jelly & Ketchup
However, part of the reason I am so fond of foraging for Haws is their versatility. As well as Haw Ketchup my Haw-based concoctions this year have included Haw Brandy, Haw Vinegar, Haw Jelly (as per my Bramble Jelly recipe]) as well as a bit of a twist on the standard Haw Ketchup – Hip & Haw Ketchup, which as you can probably guess, includes rose hips in the recipe as well onion, garlic & a few spices (it’s yum!).
I’m going to have to be careful, there really is so much I want to say about the Hawthorn that there is a distinct possibility that I will bore the majority who read this to sleep. It’s not just the berries of the Hawthorn that us foragers can utilize, the flowers and young spring leaves also come in handy. However, seeing as it is autumn and this is a series about berries in autumn we’ll not go into eating the flowers & leaves right now. Maybe come the spring, Adam will let me rant on about my love of the Hawthorn in another blog post.
I accept that at times I am a bit of a strange creature, but surely I can’t be the only person who has a special adoration for, or feels like they have some sort of personal connection or affinity with, a particular type of plant (or even a few types of plant)? I have a great fondness for Hawthorn, and I’d like to share a wee bit more about how my relationship with Hawthorn has developed and from where that fondness has come.
The revelation that was the first time I made Hugh’s haw-sin sauce prompted me to seek out more recipes for using Haws. As I did so, looking for ever more ways to utilize these abundant autumn berries to help sustain me over the winter, I came across lots of references to Hawthorn having medicinal benefits.
Obviously many of the edibles that can be foraged in the UK have been used in some medicinal way at some point in history, with some still in use in modern remedies, and I had seen references to the medicinal use of things I forage before but just skimmed over them busy looking for new recipe ideas. However, something about the medicinal use of Hawthorn intrigued me.
Again, I’m not going to get into massive detail about these medical uses, for this wee story is suffice to say that the main thing Hawthorn is associated with is heart health. You can find lots online about the potential physical benefits Hawthorn can have on the heart. However, it is also said to have emotional benefits relating to matters of the heart.
More recently I was listening to a really great podcast I came across called Listen with Forage Botanicals. There is an episode featuring a herbalist called Alexis Cunningfolk who talks about the use of Hawthorn in her practice. She read out a quote from a book by Judith Berger (also a herbalist) regarding the use of Hawthorn for those who had been through significant grief or heart ache and had emotionally shut down.
“As guardian of the hinge, hawthorn wisely discerns the right timing for the wounded heart to open”
It really spoke to me, not because I had a wounded heart I’m grateful to say, but because it occurred to me (warning: I’m about to sound a bit ‘hippy trippy’ now) Hawthorn had opened my heart (and mind) up to a new path of knowledge about the plants that I forage.
Now I’m not a doctor, nutritionist or herbalist, and I make no claims with regards to physical or emotional benefit of the Hawthorn, but I personally have Hawthorn to thank for being my ‘gateway’ to a whole new side of my plant knowledge. Since my interest was piqued by the Hawthorn I seem to have an oddly insatiable need to know about all of the traditional medical uses of the plants that I previously only knew as free foods. I guess that’s the real reason I am so fond of Hawthorn – once ignored by me even as a free food, Hawthorn had a lot to teach me. Just another example of how, if you spend time with it and get to know it, nature keeps on giving!
Foraging for Haws
Ok, that’s enough opening up to the masses for now….irrelevant of my weird relationship with the Hawthorn or its medical uses, Haw Ketchup tastes great and I’ll give you my recipe for it very soon. To make it you’re gonna need some Haws, 500g to be exact. And what a year it is for foraging for Haws….there are loads of them. All round, red, ripe & ready for a wee bit of picking!
Hawthorns can be found as small trees or as bushes (shrubs). In the valley where I live the majority of the Hawthorns are bushes no more than about 6ft high and generally about 8 foot wide. In the central Borders I have come across more examples of Hawthorns as trees, like this lovely specimen on the side of the A7.
Watch out for the thorns
Hawthorns, as the name kindly warns, have thorns. These can be on the branches, twigs and even the truck. They measure up to about 12 cm long and can be straight or sometimes curved. A Hawthorn bush just down the road from me was the one thing that gave me a proper jag this year; it was pretty nippy for a good few days, so do be careful!
Bark, leaves & berries
The bark is a lighter brown than that of the Blackthorn (Sloes) and as the plant gets older, the bark becomes more knotted, with long, narrow cracks or openings along it, especially on the main trunk.
The leaves of the Hawthorn are quite distinctive. The best description of them I could find is by the Woodland Trust “Around 6cm in length and comprised of toothed lobes, which cut at least halfway to the middle or ‘mid-rib’. They turn yellow before falling in autumn.” I would add that before turning yellow the leaves are a vibrant and glossy green.
The Haws (berries) themselves are red, normally a deep red and normally round in shape. The skin on the outside is red, but if you split a berry in half you should see yellow flesh beneath & in the middle a single pip (or stone).
Recipe for Haw Ketchup
So, you been and done your foraging for Haws. With 500g of Haws gathered, you’re going to have to destalk them which can be a bit of an arduous process. Roping a household member into help speeds the process up or, like me, you can just embrace the slightly mind numbing task as a chance to sit down in a comfy seat and to take a few minutes to yourself to listen to a podcast, audio book or the radio. Once you have destalked the Haws, give them a wee rinse.
- 500g of Haws
- 170g of Sugar (what type sugar is up to you, I tend to use Granulated because I have it in the cupboard at this time of year for jelly making).
- 300ml of Water
- 300ml of Vinegar – my preference is to use 150ml spirit vinegar and 150ml of cider vinegar. Most recipes recommend 300ml of cider vinegar, however I like my ketchup to be a vibrant red and found that using all cider vinegar darkened the end result slightly. However, as I type this, it does sound rather pedantic! Feel free to go with the 300ml of cider vinegar.
- Salt & Pepper
As the process of making Haw Ketchup differs from the jelly making process used for all the previous recipes in this series you will need slightly different (but less) equipment, hopefully all of which you will already have in your kitchen:
- Jam jars or glass bottles (Hugh’s original recipe predicts a 330ml yield, however every time I make it the yield differs)
- A large, solid based pan
- A Tattie Masher (optional)
- A kitchen sieve
- A Bowl
- A wooden spoon
- A Ladle
First off bung the destalked & rinsed Haws into your pan with the vinegar & water.
Bring it up to the boil & simmer for about 15-20 minutes. As they heat up the berries will start to leach their redness, showing the yellow of the flesh beneath.
After about 15-20 minutes of simmering the skins of the Haws should have burst. Don’t worry if it all looks a bit brown & minging at this point!
This is now the point where I use my tattie masher to careful mash the Haws a bit, ensuring I don’t break the stones. You don’t have to do any mashing if you don’t want to, Hugh’s recipe doesn’t include this step, I just find it makes the next sieving stage a bit easier.
Next, pass the mixture through a sieve (placed over a bowl) to remove the stones & tough bits of skin. Use the back of a wooden spoon to get as much of the pulp through the sieve as you can.
In your sieve there should be a browny mess of skin & stones…but in the bowl below you’ll find something that’s starting to look a bit like ketchup! Transfer the mixture back into your (cleaned) pan, add the sugar & heat gentle until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring the mixture up to the boil and simmer, I tend to find that about 5 minutes gets it to the consistency I like, but you can simmer it for slightly longer to thicken it up a bit more. Just make sure you keep stirring so it doesn’t catch & burn.
Season to taste with salt & pepper, I like to add lots of black pepper. Transfer into your sterilised jars or bottles, put the lids on & allow to cool.
Once cooled, enjoy in a variety of ways, as a dipping sauce for chips, as you would a savoury jelly or chutney in a sandwich or with cheese, or even substitute it for tomato ketchup in hot dog rolls or cheeseburger. If you’re a fan of Haw Ketchup do share your recommendations about what you enjoy it with.
If you manage to not eat it all, do share it with friends. As Hawthorn traditionally has a great association with the heart, what better than to share with those you love?
It’s been a great pleasure to write this ‘Jewels of Autumn’ foraging blog series for Food Community and I do hope I have encouraged some of you who may not have tried foraging to consider giving it a go. As always I would love to hear from you. Please leave your comments here or in the Food Community Facebook group. Do you have any other cunning uses for Haws or any foraging for Haws stories?
Scrubland Scavenger is based in the south of the Scottish Borders. With a real commitment to becoming fully self-sufficient, Scrubland Scavenger started foraging locally when still a child and, although never claiming to be an expert, has built up a good knowledge of many of the wild edible delights. Scrubland Scavenger promotes sustainable foraging, not only to collect culinary delights but also as a great way of discovering more about your local environment & as an exciting way to reconnect with the abundance of nature all around us.