Thick and robustly tangy, my favorite condiment discovery this season was Haws Ketchup. Made from the bright crimson berries of the Hawthorn tree (which you can find a stone’s throw away from where ever you stand in Victoria) it compliments meats, eggs and a big basket of steaming homemade fries equally.
A mainstay in the hedgerows of the British Isles, hawthorn berries were used to make jellies, wines, preserves, chutneys, pies and sauces. Today they are a forgotten food source which is sad considering they are packed with powerful antioxidants like proanthocyanidins and flavonoids and medicinal properties that promote cardiovascular health. Enhancing the heart’s ability to contract while gently relaxing blood vessels, hawthorn has been shown in countless studies to not only make arteries more pliable but repair damaged vessel walls.
On their own, hawthorn berries aren’t anything exciting, they’re fleshy, verging on bland, though slightly sweet. But when cooked — well their magic comes out. Last year I turned my hawthorn berries into a Yule Liqueur. Brewed up with rose-hips, aromatic spices and rum, it was indeed a heart opening experience. But the best part of serving up this mellifluous jewel colored elixir on a cold winter night was knowing it would soothe, heal, strengthen and warm the weary hearts of those I loved.
This year, lured by an especially tasty looking recipe posted by Cauldrons and Crockpots I decided to expand my hawthorn repertoire with a traditional Haws Sauce. I headed out to Beaver Lake to harvest from the plethora of trees that are the remains of old hedgerows brought here by the early settlers to divide large tracts of farmland.
Today their arboreal descendents have spread everywhere into virtual orchards of their own. And they are beautiful! With a dense round head of branches, their bark is silvery grey or tan, and gnarly, often laden with thick green moss or lichen.
The berries are easily picked, but be careful the thick branches are dotted with thorns — old Crataegus is from the rose family after all. These strong thorns are part of hawthorn’s magical lore, and were used as protective charms against malevolent spirits. (For more on hawthorn’s enchanting properties – and a recipe for Hawthorn Blossom Cordial — click here). All hawthorn berries are edible. Though they have cross pollinated over the years to form new varieties all can be eaten. We do have our indigenous Black Hawthorn (much treasured by the First Nations) which produces a deep blue-black fruit, but these ripen earlier in late summer.
Non-native hawthorns should be picked around October and November, though in Victoria’s mild climate some are still available through December. But before you pick be warned, hawthorn is classified as an invasive species so they have been targeted for extermination in some of our local parks, i.e. “treated” with herbicides. So a phone call to your local park to check first is recommended.
😦 So anyway. The process of making Haws Ketchup is no more consuming that regular ketchup (aside from the picking). After gathering my basket of berries (about 3 cups) I took them home and gave them a wash, removing the stems from the heads of the fruit. These I then placed in a large saucepan that I filled with 1/3 cup apple cider and 1/4 cup of water. These were simmered for 20 -30 minutes until the berries turn an orange brown and the flesh began to split.
After cooling came the most onerous part — pushing the berries through a sieve or food mill to remove the pits. (I’ll spare you the pictures.) This takes about 10 minutes of patient effort but the result is a thick tomato-like sauce which I embellished according to taste. I added sea salt, then honey and black cherry juice to sweeten, a few fragrant spices like allspice, nutmeg and cardamom, and a touch of cayenne pepper for warmth. And it turned out spicy, fruity and lovely — if I don’t say so myself.
Hawthorn Berry Ketchup
- 2 cups hawthorn berries
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup of water
- 1/4 cup of brown sugar, honey or birch syrup (you may want less or more, so slowly add and taste)
- 1/4 cup black cherry juice (or apple if handy)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt (or as you like)
- Freshly ground black pepper or dash of cayenne
- pinch of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg
- Remove the berries from their stalks then rinse in cold water.
- Place in large saucepan, adding the vinegar and water. Gently bring to boil and simmer for about 25 minutes until the skins start to split.
- After cooling, push the mixture through a sieve or pass through a food mill to remove the pits.
- Return the mixture to the pan, adding your sweeteners, and slowly heat, stirring frequently. Add spices or flavorings.
- Bring to a low boil, then simmer for a further 5 -10 minutes, until the sauce thickens and becomes slightly syrupy.
- Remove from heat, then add, little bit at a time, the black cherry juice, stirring until you find just the right consistency you prefer in your ketchup. (Remember the sauce will thicken once cooled and you want to be sure it will be able to leave the bottle!)
- When happy with your result, pour the ketchup into a sterilized bottle. Refrigerate and use within 3 months.