I've written before about Tasmania's lovely hedgerows, and in autumn there's always lots to forage. You'll probably find blackberries, maybe some rose hips, and if you're very lucky, you might find some sloes or damsons.
The one thing you always will find is hawthorn, and at this time of year they are loaded with little red haw berries or haws. The reason they're so plentiful is not only do the bushes have huge thorns, but the haws taste bloody awful. A bitter red skin with a skerrick of white mealy flesh and a rather large pip - which I've read contains arsenic.
I thought there must be some use for this prolific little berry. I'd heard of people making cordial and jelly out of it, but most people grimace when they mention the flavour. A little googling revealed that the berry is used in Chinese medicine for heart conditions, and indeed, I had heard stories of the cordial being good for heart palpitations and even of a bloke who avoided a triple by-bass by dosing up on his own hawthorn tonic.
While all this information was interesting, I was kind of hoping to make something a little more useful and appealing to my family, when I stumbled on a recipe for haw-sin sauce, a foragers' take on that chinese condiment hoisin sauce. Now that was a recipe worth trying.
It's remarkable what a little vinegar and sugar can do. I can report the result is totally delicious! For not much effort and very little cost, I have four lovely jars of plum coloured haw-sin sauce, it needs a little time to mellow, just a couple of weeks, but already I love the flavour and it will only improve with age. Next time I might add more spices like star anise and maybe a little chilli.
From a few hours picking in the autumn sun, those picturesque hedgerows have provided damson jam for our toast, haw-sin sauce for our bangers and sloes for our gin. Next on the list is some rose hip jam to finish off the season. It may have not been a bountiful harvest this summer in the garden, but thanks to a little foraging, those winter stores aren't looking too bad at all.
Here's the recipe I used, based on one by HFW.
500g haw berries
250 ml cider vinegar
250 ml water
250g caster sugar
Salt and ground black pepper
Wash and de-stalk berries, (I really didn't go to too much trouble to remove the stalks because I put them through a sieve later.)
Place in a large pan with vinegar and water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until berries are very soft and starting to burst.
Put through a mouli or sieve to remove skins, seeds and those stalks you didn't manage to remove earlier.
Return the sieved mixture to a clean pan then add sugar and gently heat until sugar is dissolved, giving it the odd stir. Bring to a boil and continue to boil until mixture starts to thicken. Season to taste and pour into sterilised bottles or jars.
Allow haw-sin to mellow for a couple of weeks before cracking a bottle. I reckon this would be delicious anywhere you'd use tomato sauce or relish.