Hawthorn sauce

The valley between Goathland and Grosmont is a prime foraging ground. In the spring it’s an excellent place to find wild garlic, and lately it’s been rich in sloes, haws, rosehips and even wildling apples.

My excursion of a few weeks ago (adapted a little due to the Wartime Weekend) was mainly in search of the sloes which are now heaped in a Kilner jar under a litre of gin, but I had a spare box which I filled up with fat hawthorn berries, better known as haws.

Richard Mabey, the king of popular foraging, says that ‘when [haws] are ripe, they taste a little like avocado pear’, and he’s not far off the mark. I think there must be a lot of flavour in the skins or stones though, because if you stew them down you get a completely different taste.

Apparently you can make a ‘moderate’ jelly out of them (Mabey himself is far more interested in the savoury spring leaves of the hawthorn), but my favourite thing to make out of haws is a sauce for meat. Both Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Kev Palmer of Woodland Ways have excellent recipes for hawthorn ketchup, but I like to make it a smidge thinner and use it as a sort of gravy for roast pork.

Some people grumble that haws are fiddly to prepare, but making sauce out of them is actually very easy, particularly if you’re a little bit fussy when you’re hunting for your berries and only pick nice fat ripe ones.

Hawthorn sauce

1. Prepare whatever berries you have by ridding them of as many leaves and stalks as you can, then pour them into a pan. In terms of quantity, I tend to use about half an ice cream tub full, and I usually still have some sauce left over for freezing.

2. Pour in just enough vinegar to more or less cover them (I just use white wine vinegar, though I’m sure cider vinegar is better). I’ve tried it just using white wine as well, and if you prefer a less sharp flavour then that works nicely.

3. Stew them for a while on a low heat with the lid on. Could be quite a long while if your berries aren’t as ripe as they could be. After about three quarters of an hour (much less if the berries are ripe), the liquid should have turned pink, and the flesh should squidge nicely off the stone. I know the picture below looks a bit like baked beans, but that is because I’m a crap photographer. It actually looks and smells much more appetising.

4. Squish it all through a sieve with the back of a wooden spoon. Take your time with this bit, since there’s always much more flesh on the little buggers than there seems to be. You’ll end up with a lovely colourful sort of smoothie-looking thing.

5. If you taste it at this stage, chances are it’ll be sharp enough to razor the back of your throat, so sweeten to taste with sugar (I use two or three tablespoons for the quantity above) and pop it back in the pan to dissolve.

6. As I mentioned, I like to leave it gravy consistency, but if you want it thicker then feel free to boil it down a bit.

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