Monday, October 20, 2014

Hawthorn Berry Mania

Hawthorn's three stages of
harvestable growth
Did you know that the Mayflower was named after the Hawthorn tree? The Romans placed leaves of hawthorn in baby cradles to ward off evil spirits. In Ireland, it’s bad luck to cut down a Hawthorn tree.

It is yet again that magical time of year when hawthorn boughs bend with deep red berries. “Haw” is the name for the seedy berries, and “thorn” is for the half-inch thorns lurking beneath the leaves. Well named indeed. If you’re into folklore and stories, check out GuidoMasé’s article about Hawthorn

I have written a post about Hawthorn already, including my recipe for the Hawthorn Berry Chutney that I make every year, which pairs wonderfully with chicken and pork. This evening, we devoured an appetizer plate filled with pepper-rosemary chicken, chevre, fuji apples and hawthorn chutney. Delicious. That post also includes some information about identifying and picking hawthorn in the wild.

People these days are getting their knickers in a knot about all these exotic foreign "superfoods". There is a notion that the more exotic it is, and the more expensive it is, the more miraculous it is! This is a psychological phenomenon that some people are taking massive advantage of. Rather than paying an arm and a leg for Goji berries, which could be cultivated next to a nuclear plant in China for all you know, try our local superfood: hawthorn berries! Studies conducted with hawthorn have shown it to allow blood to flow more freely to the heart, and to help a damaged heart pump more efficiently. Eating the prepared berries throughout the winter is a fantastic health tonic.
Removing leaves from stems from the berries.

This post is focused on the berries due to the season, but the spring flowers and leaves have a stronger medicinal action. Deborah Frances writes in detail about Hawthorn in her book “Practical Wisdom in Natural Healing”, reporting success using hawthorn in cases of acute allergic response in her patients. She also uses it energetically for opening the heart, and recovering from grief.

I think that the berries are best prepared as a food, rather than in a tincture or in capsules. They are not great raw or unsweetened. I’m a big fan of the chutney, and jams and jellies of it are also fantastic (a jam has bits, a jelly is clear). The following recipes are low-sugar, freezer jams. Low sugar is ideal not only for your health, but because it lets the hawthorn flavor out.

Hawthorn Berry Freezer Jam (sweetened with honey)
Makes 4, 8 oz jars of jam
Mashing the cooking berries with a potato masher.

Hawthorne jelly is more common, but a jam is great because it gets more of the actual pulp from the fruit that contains good medicine. Its taste is more intense, and its texture thicker. A totally different experience.

8 cups fresh/ frozen hawthorn berries, (washed and stems removed)
3 cups water
2 Tbsp lemon juice (helps gel and maintains color)
1 heaping tablespoon low sugar pectin*
1-2 cups raw honey

In a large pot, put berries, lemon juice and water. Bring to a gentle boil on medium heat, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for an hour, mashing with a potato masher if you have one. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes or so.

With a hand cranking food mill, on the finest setting, add the pulp in batches. Use a spatula to scrape strained red mixture off the bottom of the food mill, and discard the seeds from the hopper after each batch. Alternatively, you could blend the mixture briefly (in batches) in your blender, and press it by hand through a metal strainer. In any case, your goal is to remove seeds and extraneous stems. I actually used the food mill, and THEN I used the hand strainer, as there were some stems that still made it through the mill.

Once you have your strained berries, get it back into a saucepan on Medium high heat. Stir in the pectin with a wooden spoon, and bring to a boil that cannot be stirred down. Vigorous bubbling! Maintain that, stirring enthusiastically, for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, stir in the honey, and pour into the awaiting jars. Let the jars sit for about 12 hours, and then put them in the fridge or freezer. In the fridge, it will keep for a month or more, and for much longer in the freezer. Because this is a low sugar recipe, be sure you know what you’re doing before you preserve it.

Hawthorn Berry Freezer Jelly (sweetened with sugar)
Makes 4, 8 oz jars of jelly
Hawthorn berry jelly,  ready to eat!

For the recipe below, I used the leftover seedy pulp from the above recipe. There was still quite a lot of good stuff left, and so I added more water and simmered it for about 30 minutes, then strained it with a flannel cloth (cheesecloth would be fine). You could easily use 3 cups fresh berries, simmered in 4 cups of water for an hour and mashed, and then put through a cloth to make the juice.

3 cups strained hawthorn berry juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons low sugar pectin*
1.5 cups sugar (or more if you like it sweet)

Heat juice on stove until steaming hot. Whisk in the fruit pectin and continue to whisk. Bring to a boil that can’t be stirred down and stir vigorously to avoid burning for 30 seconds or so. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Turn heat down, put back on heat, and heat for a minute while stirring. Fill clean 8 oz mason jars. Let sit out for 24 hours to set, put in either the refrigerator or freezer.

* Low sugar pectin should be used when using honey, no sweetener, or less than 55 percent sugar in a recipe. Regular pectin needs white sugar at 55%+, which is a lot of white sugar!

Please comment or email me if you have any questions! If you’re having trouble commenting, please let me know and I will attempt to fix the problem.

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