Hawthorn Jelly
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Most people have never noticed that we have hawthorn berries growing in our area in Northwestern Ontario, Canada, which is a shame, because they produce an awesome jelly. Haws tend to hang in clusters, like mountain ash berries do. The haws themselves look like tiny apples, ripening from green or yellowish to red, while the hawthorn shrub sports numerous one to five inch thorns.

I’ve made Haw Jelly over the past few years and love it. Haw Jelly ties
for first place with Mountain Ash Berry as my favourite jelly. The flavour is soft and somewhat like a pink haw cotton candy. Mmm, delicious.

As always, it’s important to make a correct identification before eating wild foods. Some good reference books include Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Healthful Herbs, Foster and Duke’s Peterson Field Guides Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, and Peterson Field Guides Edible Wild Plants.

Finding recipes for Haw Jelly isn’t all that easy, though it is often made in Europe. Here’s the standard
British Haw Recipe, this one from CeltNet:
  • 1 kg ripe hawthorn berries
  • 2 litres water
    granulated sugar (400 grams for each 500 ml of haw juice OR 1-3/4 cups sugar for every two cups of haw juice)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
The recipe doesn’t explain why my haw jelly never quite thickens enough, though. Which is why I always find myself going back to the excellent reference book Stalking the Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons.

Here is Euell Gibbon’s Recipe for Hawthorn Jelly:

To make Haw Jelly, crush 3 pounds of the fruit, add 4 cups of water, bring it to a boil, cover the kettle and let it simmer for 10 minutes, then strain the juice through a jelly bag and discard the spent pulp, seeds, and skins. If red haws are not too ripe, they will furnish ample pectin for jelly making, but if they are very ripe, add 1 package powdered pectin to the strained juice. We felt our juice could stand more acid, so we added the juice of 2 lemons. We put just 4 cups of this juice in a very large saucepan and brought it to a boil, then added 7 cups of sugar and very soon after it came to a boil again, it showed a perfect jelly test.

I love Gibbon’s books and foraging recipes, however, I’ve never been able to bring myself to add 7 cups of sugar to 4 cups of juice and have so stuck with the modern standard of 3/4 sugar to 1 cup of fruit juice. But my recipe isn’t quite right because even though I cook it down for a long time, it never really does thicken into that jelly state.

My harvested haws range from partially ripe to ripe, so pectin may be the issue. Or maybe it’s the sugar. Continuing to tinker, next year I’ll pectinize the recipe, as well as bumping up the sugar amount to match that of the British recipe.

Next year note: As I tend to harvest at the same stage of ripeness to beat the birds, I’ve left the sugar amounts as is and have added some pectin to the recipe, resulting in perfect jelly.

Flavor Variance

The haw patch I pick always produces wonderful jelly. After searching the web and finding many disappointed jelly makers, I think this is an important point: Good tasting haws may not always be the case. As Gibbons notes, if you’re making jelly, you should taste the haws on the branch until you find a bush that produces tasty rather than astringent fruit because the fruit flavour can vary dramatically from shrub to shrub.

Not good for jelly, the astringent fruit is apparently just fine for medicinal purposes, which are impressive.
Foster and Duke’s Peterson Field Guides Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs gives the following medicinal properties for haws:

Fruits and flowers famous in herbal folk medicine (American Indian, Chinese, European) as a heart tonic. Studies confirm use in hypertension with weak heart, angina pectoris, arteriosclerosis. Dilates coronary vessels, reducing blood pressure; acts as direct and mild heart tonic. Prolonged use necessary for efficacy. Tea or tincture used.

The book gives the following hawthorn warning:
  • Eye scratches from thorns can cause blindness.
  • Contains heart-affecting compounds that may affect blood pressure and heart rate.
Please note that it’s important not to tinker about with hawthorns if you have a heart condition. Go see a Medical or Naturopathic Doctor for guidance with their use.

For more hawthorn jelly and other hawthorn recipes, try the books
The River Cottage Preserves Handbook and The Rocky Mountain Berry Book.

Haws are a little-known fruit in our locale, but they are fascinating nonetheless.

If you do decide to make some Haw Jelly, it’s important to know that unlike other wild fruits, haws don’t produce abundant juice. So don’t get alarmed by the small amount you do get. It becomes all the more precious, because the resulting yummy jelly is well worth the time and effort. Just watch out for those thorns!

YouTube Vid: The Amazing Hawthorne Berry & How To Make Hedge Jam

4 measures of hawthorn berries
2 measures of crabapples
1 measure of elderberries

Place ingredients in large cooking pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about an hour. Separate juice from the pulp. Weigh the juice and add an equal weight of sugar. Bring sugar & juice back to boil and cook off until it sets. Pour into sterilized jars, allow to cool then refrigerate.

Resource Links
Practically Edible ~ Hawthorn Berries
Tasty Planner ~ Apple and Hawthorn Jelly Recipe
The Cottage Smallholder ~ Hawthorn and Apple Jelly Recipe
Eat Weeds ~ Hawthorn Jelly Recipe
Plants for a Future ~ Hawthorns

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Photo Credit: Sam Bloomfield

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