Sometimes there's a giggle when I mention 'haws' and foraging. Ok, I realise the word, when spoken, has other associations too. Though the fruit of the hawthorn tree (Crataegus monogyna), can be good for the heart, can get your 'chi' moving (your life force energy), be uplifting and tasty. Lets get down to the fruity business of haws.
It's November, and now is the perfect time to pick these fruits. They are a lovely dark red colour, and still a plenty, if you find the right tree. This recipe is suited for those who enjoy processes and have some patience. It's not quick, it takes some mashing, though is delicious and as we know, it is good for the heart...
Hawthorn Fruit Leather
Hawthorn fruit leather is a deliciously simple snack. It has a bit of a tang and a hint of natural sweetness to get you through sluggish afternoons or slow mornings. It's made from mashed haw berries, apple and honey. It's also great for packed lunches, a snack for walking, gifts and will keep for up to 6 months or a year even. Here it is....
3 tbsp honey
Remove the stalks from the haws, and chop the apples into pieces, don’t worry about removing the core, as it will all be sieved. Place the fruits and water in a medium and bring to the boil. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the fruits are soft and strain through a sieve into a large, bowl. Allow the fruit pulp to cool, and using a wooden spoon, mash and push the fruit pulp through the sieve, then stir in the honey. The more you do this, the more pulp you’ll be able to extract.
Once you’ve extracted all the pulp you can, if using a dehydrator, spread the contents over two Teflon sheets and dehydrate according to instructions. Otherwise, heat the oven to 140°C and line a 20cm by 40cm baking tray with baking paper including part the way up the sides. Pour the fruit pulp into the tray, spread evenly and bake for about 4– 5 hours, or the fruit is slightly tacky though doesn’t stay stuck to your fingers and peels away easily from the paper. If the fruit is drying unevenly, turn the tray around in the oven, or be prepared to slice off the edges, if over-cooked when done. Peel off the tray, cool and cut into pieces or strips and store in a sterilised jar or wrapped in greaseproof paper.
Sometimes I feel creative, sometimes crazy, with the ideas I come up with for using wild food. This one is a complete labour of love; a custard tart topped with rosehips and a rosehip syrup glaze. Devoured by 14 appreciative people on a hazy October afternoon.
Here's the recipe;
Rosehip Fruit and Custard Tart
Ingredients (for pastry base)
- 200g plain flour
- 100g cold butter, cubed
- 20g ground almonds
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1-4 tbsp cold water
- a little egg white
- 320ml whole milk
- 80g unrefined caster sugar
- 5 free-range eggs yolks (freeze the egg
- 25g cornflour, mixed to a paste with a little cold water
- 200ml rosehip syrup
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 2 tbsp honey
- 100g rosehips, fresh out the freezer
In a large bowl, add the flour, ground almonds and baking powder, mix well and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the the beaten egg and 1-tablespoon at a time of cold water (just enough to bind the dough, no more). Alternatively you can blend the mixture in a food processor, adding the water at the end. Press the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C and grease a 23cm diameter flan tin.
For the filling, in a medium saucepan bring the milk to the boil, whisking all the time. Remove from the heat and in a medium bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks for 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture falls in thick ribbons from the whisk. Slowly whisk in the cornflour paste until well combined. Slowly pour in the hot milk, stirring in well, before returning the mixture back into the saucepan. Heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until boiling. Cook for a further minute, then pour the mixture into a bowl and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge.
Roll the pastry out on a floured work surface to about ½ cm thick and line the flan tin. Brush the pastry with a little egg white to seal it and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown and crisp. Let the pastry cool a little, then carefully transfer to a wire rack. At this stage the cooked pastry can be covered and stored for a few days before using.
For the glaze, heat half the rosehip syrup in a saucepan until boiling then remove the pan from the heat. Dissolve the cornflour in the remaining syrup and quickly pour the mixture back into the saucepan, returning to the heat, stirring all the time, until the mixture has thickened. Next add the honey, bring back to the boil and remove the pan from the heat. Set aside to cool. When ready to assemble the tart, spoon in the custard filling, and with a sharp knife, carefully slice the ends off the rosehips, then slice them in half, lengthways and scoop out the ball of seeds with a teaspoon. Place the rosehips on top of the custard, cut-side down. Transfer the glaze to a pouring jug and drizzle over the glaze. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.
Enjoying a combination of new sights & tastes & feeling reassured
by how many wild edibles we share with mainland Europe
Back in Spring, I felt inspired to plan a trip to Europe, lured by stories of ice-cold mountain lakes, lots of outdoors people, armfuls of wild berries & mountains...
Over the last few years I've found myself completely content with being in Cornwall - I felt I had everything - sea, moors, great locals & the inspiring influx of newcomers & tourists. In my experience, like any love affair, there usually comes a time when I feel established enough in the relationship to step out into new things, knowing I can return home with fresh ideas & renewed vitality.
On this premise, I vaguely planned my trip, & on the cusp of September when I thought the berries might be at their best, got on the sleeper train to London & started my journey to Austria. Now, you may well be familiar with travelling abroad, for me, lets just say it's been a while. Starting from a small town called Mayhofren nestled in the alps of south Austria, the delight of seeing & smelling a new environment was inspiring, naturally I wanted to be out there immersing myself in it all.
I find walking & foraging a great way to experience a place & before I knew it I was walking along rivers, up & down valleys comforting myself with the pleasures of elderberries, bilberries & raspberries. Everything can taste differently in a new place - the air, earth & water contributing to a plant's unique flavour.
The raspberries were like none I'd tasted before - sweet, seedy & ripe. As an optimist, I often have a romantic idea about a place before I go & on the whole, Austria lived up to my image of it, however, armfuls of berries, hmm, I'm not sure about that! Foraging, can at times need concentration & focus, & even when I found bushes & bushes of bilberries in the alpine forests, I needed a keen eye to pick them out.
Locally, bilberry jam was delicious, I had traditional Austrian dumplings flavoured with juniper berries & a fellow walker had burger & chips with cranberry sauce - move over Heinz ketchup! The foraging highlight for me was these last two berries - juniper & cranberries. Although I've read that juniper berries grow in South England, I've never found them, ooh, & the sharp taste of raw cranberries was surprisingly pleasant as a walking snack.
So, rest assured, that learning about foraged foods in the UK can give you a broad starting point across Europe, a unique way of appreciating new landscapes & a fun way of tasting your way round many countries, mountains & lakes!