Thick and robustly tangy, my all-time favourite condiment is good old fashioned “Haws Ketchup”. Made from the bright crimson berries of the Hawthorn tree (which you can find a stone’s throw away from wherever you stand in Victoria) it compliments roasted meats, scrambled 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 “ketchup” like sauces. Today they are a forgotten food source which is sad considering they are packed with B-vitamins, folic acid, Vitamin C, 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.
In Victoria, there are a virtual plethora of hawthorn trees, the remains of old hedgerows brought here by the early settlers to divide large tracts of farmland. Today their arboreal descendants have spread across rural fields and woodlands into virtual orchards of their own. (Sadly this prolific spread has led to their classification as an invasive species and they are now targeted for extermination in our parks and “treated” with herbicides.) But they can also be found growing on city streets, neighbourhood parks – well practically anywhere!
All Hawthorn berries are edible. Though they have cross-pollinated over the years to form new varieties – all can be eaten. Hawthorns should be harvested around October and November, though in Victoria’s mild climate some are still available through December. I especially love our indigenous Black Hawthorn (much treasured by the First Nations) which produces a deep blue-black fruit, but this ripens earlier in late summer. And it has a delicious, darker flavour all its own.
Hawthorn trees can be tall or small, their branches are dense, their bark is silvery gray 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. And that is their signature mark – if it doesn’t have thorns –it’s not a hawthorn! These 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 spring recipe for Hawthorn Blossom Cordial — click here).
The process of making “Haws Ketchup” begins with gathering a basket of berries. Take them home, give them a wash, then remove the stems from the heads of the fruit. Then place in a large saucepan filled with 1/2 cup apple cider and 1/2 cup of water, simmer for approximately 30 minutes until the berries turn an orange-brown and the flesh began to split.
After cooling comes the most time-consuming 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 can be embellished according to taste.
Originally inspired by a post by Cauldrons and Crockpots, I have over the years refined my hawthorn ketchup to a dark thick sauce, sweetened with black cherry jam (black currant is also nice), and fragrant spices like allspice, nutmeg, and cardamom, plus a touch of cayenne pepper for warmth. And it’s spicy, fruity and lovely — if I don’t say so myself.
Hawthorn Berry Ketchup
- 3 cups hawthorn berries
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1/4 cup of black cherry jam or honey. (Slowly add and taste, you may want more or less)
- 1/4 cup black cherry juice (or apple cider if handy)
- 1 tsp sea salt (or as you like)
- black pepper & dash of cayenne (to taste)
- 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 30 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 jam or honey, 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 syrupy.
- Remove from heat, then add, a 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 2 months.