Hawthorn – Crataegus – What is Hawthorn?
Hawthorn is planted as hedging and therefore can be found on the edge of car parks, in public parks and, for those in the countryside, it can also be found on the edges of farming fields.
Hawthorn grows to 5-15m and can be about 6m wide. The bark is smooth and grey on young trees and on older trees longitudinal (top to bottom) grooves start to appear. Thorns grow from the branches at right angles and can be from 1-3cm long. The leaves, which appear in very early spring, budding sometimes in late winter are indented into 3-7 lobes reaching halfway or more to the central vein. The leaves can be of variable shape but often they are toothed towards the tip.
Collecting Haw berries
Haw berries are abundant so it shouldn’t be long until you find some. They are often planted as hedging so look around the edge of car parks. They fruit from September and into October, after which they can still be found on the tree but you might have to fight with maggots to what is left!
Bird enthusiasts with quite rightly insist that the haw berry is a food highly prized by many of our native birds and therefore a valuable source of fuel as the days grow shorter and the mercury drops. You need not worry too much as haws are so prolific that unless you are picking the metric ton there should be plenty left for the birds. However, if there is just one bush it is perhaps best to leave this alone.
Folklore suggests that picking from a single tree is a no-no, too. It is considered that the a
single hawthorn tree is a gateways to the fairy kingdom and they will be angry if you pick from it. Rumour has it that there are single hawthorns that are considered to be grumpy trees. A white which in Bristol insists that one particular tree growing in a very public park is one of the moodiest trees she has ever met!
A good haul of haw berries can be picked in one lunch break. The trick I find is to take off as much of the stalk as you can whilst picking at this stage to save you having to do it later. It seems much less of a laborious task doing it as you go on a bright autumnal lunchtime than later at the kitchen table. Having the radio or an MP3 player can help and listening to rhythmic music such as a good piano concerto or some dubstep can really liven up the picking.
Collecting Haw blossom
Hawthorn is one of the first trees to blossom in early spring and as the snow melts, days lengthen and plants start to grow. It is one of the best signals to the forager that there is more food around.
It is a little more fiddly picking the blossom than the haws so do be aware, or you might get pricked! It is also advisable to collect in a paper bag as this makes it easier to dry the blossom. Once picked the bag can be hung in a warm dark place, such as a stationary cupboard, for a couple of months. They can then be used to make delicious teas.
Eating on your lunch break
Haw berries can be munched on raw and have a mealy texture reminiscent of avocado: chew on a few and spit out the pips. The leaves, too, can be munched straight from the tree or added to your lunch-time sandwich, but are much tasier when they first come out, by late spring they are already past it. The first leaves are known as bread and cheese despite tasting nothing like either. Add a small handful of leaves in with a hard crumbling cheese like Cheshire for a sandwich to look forward to.
The blossom which blooms white-pink and even crimson in April/May time can be used to make a rather refreshing tea it is also very good for you (see medicinal uses). Simply put one tsp of dried blossom or two of fresh into a small tea pot and pour over hot water. Allow to infuse for up to five minutes before drinking. You can also add ginger or dried lime flowers for extra flavour.
This recipe below for toffee apples was a life saver when I was doing some TV for the BBC, I was in the process of moving house and doing lot of book promotional talks and so very stressed with no time for anything. I’m rather ashamed to admit that the first time I made it was live on air and I had no idea if it would work properly. Luckily the results were wondrous and I still follow the recipe to this day!
50g of assorted hedgerow fruit (haws, sloes, hips etc)
half tsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup
6 fat twigs/sticks
Boil the hedgerow fruit in the water for 10 minutes until it starts to change colour. If using hips, sloes or anything that can’t be mushed between your fingers easily then freeze overnight and thaw before using.
Strain through a muslin cloth and measure 110ml of the resulting water. It should’ve changed to a lovely redish/purplish colour (depending on what fruit you are using). Gently heat stirring in the sugar until fully dissolved and adding the rest of the ingredients. Bring the mixture to the boil and keep at as close to 138°c as you can for 10 min. You’ll be able to tell when it has done by dropping a bit of the semi-solid liquid into cold water, if it turns to a ball it is done.
Pull the stalks out of the apples and whack the sticks in. Roll them in the semi-solid until coated and repeat. Leave to harden on a grease proof paper.