Tag: hawthorn

Chilli Haw Ketchup

Hawthorn berries

This is one helluva ketchup meets brown sauce baby. There is nothing like Chilli Haw Ketchup to put some fire in the belly this winter. It’s got an amazing taste, sweet and sour, peppery, tangy, umami. I remember Chinese haw flakes from when I was a child. This is that taste but with a grown up kick. Use as a condiment, marinade or just with cheese. 

750 grams haws (no stalks)
500 ml vinegar (homemade or apple cider)
500ml water
250 grams dark brown sugar
2 red chilli peppers 
Black pepper to taste

Simmer the haws and the chilli peppers in the water and vinegar until the flesh is really soft. Strain the mixture through a wire sieve. Push the berries around the sieve with the back of a spoon, trying to get as much of the pulp as possible through the sieve. (An ideal job to delegate!) 

Return to the pan and add the sugar and black pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer until the sauce is thick. Pour into sterilised glass jars or bottles with a reasonably wide neck. Keep in a dark cupboard – the flavour just keeps on improving with age. 

Easter Banquet featuring Venison in Elderberry and Hawthorn

To those of you who imagine that a forager’s fare is stark or unexciting, then think again. A fortuitous gift of venison (I love living in the country) turned Easter Sunday into a culinary delight! In this case, rustling up lunch at short notice, I also ‘foraged’ in the garden to combine some veg with plants found in the ditches and woodland.

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A Foragers Traditional Sunday Lunch Menu

Venison Medallions in Elderberry and Hawthorn Gin Sauce

Sorrel and Wild Garlic Mash

Steamed Ground Elder

Wild Spring Salad with Elderberry Vinegar

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1 loin of Roe deer contributed by your neighbour’s brother now that the shooting season is open
A pan of potatoes dug up from last year’s potato patch that survived the blight
A handful of early tangy Sorrel leaves
A handful of Wild Garlic from any river bank
A pan full of Ground Elder (it shrinks when steamed)
1/4 litre of last year’s pasteurised Elderberry juice
A good glug of my Vintage Hawthorn Berry Gin

Dried seaweed, salt and pepper, ground hogweed seed and possibly some other mysterious things foraged from the dark and wild recesses of the kitchen cupboard

For the salad:
Lambs lettuce, Chickweed, Dandelion leaf, Watercress (taken from the bank not the stream bed), Wild Garlic, Wild Mint, Hairy Bittercress

For the dressing:
Olive oil, Elderberry ‘balsamic’ vinegar

Set your potatoes to boil when you start preparing the meat.

Slice the venison loin into 1 cm thick medallions and slowly pan-fry them in olive until just done. Venison is best cooked through and not left too pink or bloody. Toward the end of the cooking add the elderberry juice and a generous amount of the spice mix. When the venison are cooked remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and keep them gently warm in the oven in a flat baking dish. (I have a neat Le Creuset one that I foraged from an abandoned caravan!) Reduce the elderberry juice by bubbling away until it thickens and just starts to caramelise, and then add a glug of hawthorn gin.

Drain and mash the potatoes being liberal with ground dried seaweed, salt and pepper, butter and milk until it reaches a smooth creamy consistency. Then add finely chopped sorrel leaves, chopped wild garlic and stir in until the mash is well flecked with green.

Lastly roughly chop and steam your ground elder just like spinach. Drain well, squeezing out the water, toss to loosen and season with butter and salt.

Toss your lightly shredded salad ingredients into a big bowl and sprinkle with equal amounts of olive oil and elderberry vinegar.

Make a ‘Easter egg nest’ of the mash and place a few medallions inside, pour over the sauce. Nestle the ground elder around the side and serve the salad in side bowls.

This was so delicious it elicited plenty of mm’s, aah’s and other good food noises and the diners forgot to suspiciously ask what was in it until they’d eaten it all! So enjoyed by Geza, Jim, Norrie and myself that no one took a photo. Sorry!!

Cost in a restaurant? £15 to £20 upwards. My shopping bill? £0 Actual cost? Probably no more than a pint of milk.

Below is a photo of a similar dish, this one featuring fried hogweed.


Hawthorn Berry Gin ready for Christmas

Around October I wrote about making Hawthorn Berry Gin. Well, I’m pleased to say it is DELICIOUS. And I can keep a clear conscience by knowing it’s also good for my heart and circulatory system! It came out a lovely honeyed amber colour, having removed all the colour from the red berries. I’ll be making bucket loads of it next year. Just wish I’d made more this time!

The recipe is posted here.

Getting Older, Staying Healthy

© Douglass Lea 2009

Just back from the magical island of Bequia. As in the UK, many of my friends there over 60 and some into their 80s. I find it really interesting to observe their different lifestyles and levels of health.

There is a lot we can do to keep active, alert and healthy in the ‘senior’ years. Some of my general observations are:

Exercise: The fittest, happiest seniors I know do regular exercise. This is not necessarily extreme (although I did meet an 80 year old marathon runner last year) but regular daily walking, swimming or dancing. To a lesser extent, gardening and other activities help a bit but 15-30 minutes sustained exercise, twice a day seems to be the minimum level. Also the most active and youthful looking seniors also do yoga, pilates, Tibetan exercises or tai chi – all which increase mobility through stretching and balance.

Climate: Harder to control I know, but the most active seniors seem to live in warmer climates. In a warm climate it is easy to get out and about, exercising as above. In a hot climate water intake is higher, and the palate naturally prefers lighter meals. Cold climates, especially dark, wet winters foster inactivity, preventing people being as mobile. Cold temperatures also encourage a higher carbohydrate and fat consumption.

Medications: A lot of people don’t realise that prescribed medicines can have a lot of side effects that contribute to feeling slower, tireder, irritable, muscle ache, lethargic and a host of other ‘non-critical’ symptoms. Meds are commonly prescribed for blood pressure and the heart, and once you are on them, you will routinely be kept on them. In some cases they are very important. After a heart attack the heart may be damaged and high blood pressure could be fatal. However, doctors rarely discuss how diet and exercise can play a huge role in keeping the amount of medication required to a minimum. Also, although each manufacturer has to test and monitor the drug they make, they can never predict in what combination doctors will prescribe them with other manufacturers’ drugs and so the ‘cocktail effect’ of taking 2,3 or more meds together, can end up making your last years a misery. Kept alive, but with a reduced quality of life. So read the small print inside the packet and if you feel you may have side-effects ask your doctor to review the dosage and brand of your medicine.

Diet: I really believe that diet makes all the difference, especially in later years. It is only partly about the basics: I.e. Plenty of 1. fruit and vegetables, 2. seeds, nuts and grains, 3. fish and chicken as proteins 4. wholegrain carbs (brown rice) 5. healthy fats e.g. olive oil.

What you avoid is also a major consideration. By the time we have lived through a few decades, food intolerances have often developed. Giving up wheat, for example, can revolutionise how you feel, especially if you have been feeling bloated, sluggish and constipated. Giving up dairy and red wine (it’s the sulphites!) can eliminate catarrh and blocked sinuses. Our bodies were designed for the diet of our Stone Age ancestors and have not really adapted to modern supermarkets! A Stone Age relative would have eaten mainly green leaves, fruit, seeds, nuts. They would have been on the move, gently active throughout the day and their diet would have changed frequently with location and season, so no one food was eaten constantly everyday in the way we consume bread or milk daily. Occasionally we would have foraged for shellfish, river fish, bird or small mammals – a red meat feast was a rarity. We never stayed in one place long enough to farm potatoes, wheat, pasta, or process cheeses and alcohol. So basically if you have a predominantly vegetarian diet and treat everything that was not naturally available as an occasional treat, you’re on the right track.

Food as medicine is also a really important subject. A lot of the ailments that start to afflict us can be dealt with through diet in the early stages, before (and often preventing them) from developing into illnesses where we need medication.

Food as Medicine

Circulation: Keep your circulation perked up by including spices in your diet. Ginger, cayenne (hot peppers), garlic and cinnamon all help to stimulate the circulation. Herbs like ginseng and horse chestnut also have traditional use in circulation – horse chestnut is a traditional remedy for varicose veins. Improving circulation can help with energy levels and also with joint and muscle pain. Ginger and cayenne are ‘rubifacients’ which means they redden the skin as they bring blood to the surface, which in turn carries oxygen to the cells that need it for healing. At Napiers, we use them in our Capsicum and Ginger Cream, a rubbing cream to ease and warm joints and muscles.

Blood Pressure: Drinking a herbal tea with hawthorn and lime flowers, or taking Hawthorn Berry Tincture helps to keep strengthen the heart and keep the effects of high blood pressure to a minimum. Red rice yeast and CoQ10 supplements may also help. If your blood pressure is high you should never come off medication without consulting with a doctor or medical herbalist, but using herbs and supplements may help you to keep to lower dosage levels and minimise the side effects of the medication. You should also ask your herbalist or supplier if a herbal remedy or supplement may have a contraindication with your medication. For example, if you are on digoxin you should avoid hawthorn berry unless your GP is prepared to lower your digoxin dose. This is because hawthorn increases the effect of cardiac glycosides. Getting the right balance of both helps to reduce drug side effects but should be monitored by a doctor or medical herbalist.

Sun Damage: Use a blocking sun cream. If its too late Thuja Cream can help squamous cells, unusual moles, liver spots and some other signs of sun damage. If you have something suspicious on your skin, always get it checked out early. Early detection can SAVE YOUR LIFE in the case of skin cancer.

Hawthorn Berries: Gin, brandy or tincture?

Hawthorn berries

October/November, after the first frost, is also the time to pick hawthorn berries. Hawthorn is relatively unused as a hedgerow berry being mainly used for hawthorn gin or hawthorn brandy. It can also be used to make a jam or jelly. Hawthorn gin is much nicer than sloe gin. It is not as sweet and syrupy, in fact it tastes more like a fortified wine such as dry sherry, than it does a liqueur. It is worth maturing. Hawthorn gin made now will be perfect next Christmas. If you don’t think you can wait that long, then make double the quantity – some to be drunk young this year, and some to mature for the next. Make lots anyway as it is very moreish!

How to make Hawthorn Gin

Sort, top and tail the berries. This is quite time consuming and not the end of the world if you don’t – however it will result in sediment that is hard to strain out later and will impair the clarity of your gin. Pack the berries into a preserving jar, sprinkling a little sugar between layers. Once you have reached the top of the jar (leaving a little space to allow for shaking), fill with cheap gin (supermarket own brand will do). Seal and put in a cupboard. Every few days or so give the jar a shake.

After 4 weeks the berries will have lost their colour and the gin turned a shade of rosé. (If you leave it longer before straining, the flavour will intensify. However, you are more likely to get a sludgy sediment occurring. If you have bright plump berries you could leave the gin to macerate for several months, but if the berries are hard and discoloured a month is sufficient.) Once strained, filter off into bottles and mature for a further three months at least. Enjoy in moderation!

How to make Hawthorn Brandy

Follow the process above but substitute brown sugar for white sugar, and brandy for gin.


The health benefits of hawthorn

Hawthorn also has a history as a herb used by herbalists to treat high blood pressure. It is also beneficial to the heart as it has vasorelaxant properties and is very high in bioflavonoids – also good for your heart. This is well-supported by research. (If your blood pressure is already high and you are on medication you shouldn’t just stop taking it. But, in conjunction with a consultation with a medical herbalist, you may be able lessen your dependence on drugs.) The best way of taking hawthorn berry is as a tincture. A tincture is basically the herb (in this case the hawthorn berry) macerated (soaked) in alcohol to form a tincture. So basically hawthorn gin is a form of tincture. And a small nip taken regularly, as in old country days, may help to keep the heart and circulation healthy. A tea made with the leaves or berries is also a healthy way to keep your blood pressure low, especially if combined with lime flowers and leaves.