Autumn's a key season for foraging. Hedgerows and bushes around the country are bursting with blackberries & other fruit perfect for jam & chutney makers. However, Monica Shaw is getting a little bored of brambles & decided to see what the hawthorn berry had to offer. She shares her recipe for tangy Hawthorn Berry Ketchup.
I, along with the rest of Britain, seem to have caught the foraging bug. It’s autumn, after all, prime foraging season, and suddenly everyone’s making blackberry crumble, crab apple jelly and wild mushroom risotto. There was once a time when I couldn’t walk by a bramble bush without picking a few handfuls of berries. Now I’m getting a little bored.
As the thickness of my copies of River Cottage Hedgerow and Richard Mabey’s Food for Free can attest, there’s more to be made of forageable food beyond bramble jam and nettle soup. This year I wanted to determine whether some of those less commonly foraged items are worth the bother. One such item is the hawthorn berry, or haw berry, a common hedgerow berry that’s been taunting me for years. I’ve long heard rumours that they can be used to make jelly, wine and sauce. This year I finally decided put the rumours to the test with some saucy hawthorn ketchup.
There’s a reason why I’ve been put off hawthorn berries for so long: they’re not exactly straightforward to forage. Haws should be picked late in the season (October and November are ideal), when they are as ripe as possible. Although hawthorn berries come off the tree easily, they often bring with them lots of stems which should be removed before cooking – a slightly time consuming process. On their own, haw berries aren’t anything exciting – they’re mostly pip and taste a bit like a dry, under ripe apple. They really need to be cooked to get anything useful out of them.
So for my first haw trick, I decided to whip up a version of the haw ketchup in Pam Corbin’s preserves book, also popularized by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who dubbed it haw-sin sauce on River Cottage. The result, well, I can’t say it bears any resemblance to the Chinese hoisin dipping sauce for which Hugh calls it, but it’s a nice sweet and sour sauce with a little bit of a spicy kick thanks to lots of black pepper. And you can’t beat the colour: a deep ruby red reminiscent of the berries themselves. When all was said and done, I felt pretty good about putting these over-abundant but oft overlooked haw berries to good use in a recipe that wasn’t yet another hedgerow jelly or jam.
Pam Corbin reckons the haw ketchup would work well with rich meats like venison and pork belly. I plan to serve mine with my Thanksgiving veggie roast later this month.
Hawthorn Berry Ketchup
500g haw berries
300ml cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Strip the haw berries from their stalks then rinse in cold water.
2. Place in large pan with the vinegar and water, bring to boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until the skins start to split.
3. Remove from the heat and rub the mixture through a sieve or pass through a food mill to remove the large stones and skin.
4. Return the mixture to a clean pan, add the sugar and heat gently, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves.
5. Bring to the boil and cook for a further 5 -10 minutes, until the sauce reduces and becomes slightly syrupy.
6. Season with salt and pepper then pour into sterilised bottles. Use within 12 months.
For those who are fond of foraging for blackberries, you'll find some delicious blackberry recipes in Great British Chefs collection.
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