Earlier this week I wrote a post about finding haws, the fruit of the hawthorn tree. The obvious next question is: Who eats these things?
Well, for one, native residents of Manitoulin Island do. As this post on Bill Casselman’s site and the wikipedia entry describe they are colloquially known as haweaters. Folklore holds that the island’s early residents avoided scurvy by eating the vitamin C rich fruit.
In chattering about them on Twitter I had a bunch of people tell me that haws are available as a delicious candy in China.
They also make an excellent jelly. If you are careful to choose haws whose texture is firm, not mushy, they should have enough natural pectin to set without adding any extra.
I’ve never made jelly before, let alone from wild fruit, so I’m going to spread my impressions between this post and another on the grape-apple jelly I made.
As someone who has done a bunch of preserving, jelly-making was a logical disconnect for me. Instead of taking a large amount of produce and adding vinegar (pickles) or sugar (jam and other whole-fruit preserves) and filling a large number of jars you take a large amount of produce and only get a tiny amount of product. Pickles seem thrifty; jelly seems elitist. The appearance (brightly-coloured and clear) is just as important as its flavour.
But the flavour, so long as the sugar is kept under control, is intense and the process and refined result give that sense of modern man having conquered nature.
My first suggestion for dealing with the output problem is to find some of the small 125 ml Mason jars. What’s the point? Well, this recipe uses wild fruit that takes time pick, spreads the prep over two days, and only produces about 375 ml of finished jelly. Even with the small 250 ml jars you would be sealing only one jar and refrigerating a half-full jar.
Another way to extend yield is to be sure when you are picking haws to find ones that have a high (perceived) level of pectin. My impression is that firm texture and tart taste are the two best indicators of this but I’m not an expert. A certain amount of pectin combines with a certain amount of sugar to set a certain amount of water. Lower pectin means your yield will be lower but also that you’ll drive off more of the volatile flavour compounds as you boil away water.
As mentioned in the earlier post, ideal haws for this recipe have a flavour that remind me of lemon and green peas. Cooked, the flavour and aroma change to something more like a pleasant reminder of early December with its dying, wet grass and the first hints of Christmas spices. The jelly shares the reddish-orange colour of a sugar maple about to drop its leaves.
Adapted from this recipe on eatweeds.co.uk and from this one on calmmindpainfreebody.ca that references Euell Gibbons’ recipe from Stalking the Healthful Herbs
- about two pounds haws
- two cups water
- about two cups granulated sugar
Remove stems, leaves, and other debris from the haws. I found it was easiest to accomplish this by grabbing a handful of haws with their stems and then pulling the berries off with my other hand. Obviously, it helps even more to be careful to not pick stems when you’re out foraging.
Wash the haws and put them in a saucepan. Cover with two cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer for an hour mashing occasionally with a potato masher.
Use a jelly bag or a colander fitted with a couple layers of damp cheesecloth to strain the juice from the pulp. This is best left overnight and don’t squeeze the pulp or it will extrude impurities that will cloud your jelly and the world will end.
For each cup of juice that you find the next morning in the large measuring cup that you set under your colander or jelly bag add a cup of sugar. (I had about two cups.) This is more sugar than I’d use for a jelly that contains apples (especially wild ones) because they would have more pectin.
Put the juice and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan over high heat and boil vigorously. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Once the bubbles have started to “climb” and bubble on each other (you’ll know what I mean when you see it) use one of these methods for testing to see if you have reach the setting point.
Pour into jars and process as you normally would.