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From the hedgerow

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.

Haw-sin sauce 

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.


  1. Fascinating Michelle, all of the berries you mention are very unfamiliar to me but it must be lovely to forage for them. Happy autumn days in the kitchen to you!

  2. I am imagining it with a bit of slow cooked Fat pig farm pork in a vietnamese roll.

  3. Blackberries are my favourite. We used to fill ice-cream containers with them at Tinderbox and make Blackberry Pie or jam... SO delicious. Then we'd eat the pie sitting on an old shack-y chaise in the lounge room, looking from our hill over to Bruny Island or across to Snug. It was SO GOOD! Thanks for the memmmmories! xx

  4. I went off to pick hawthorn berries one day and my husband thought he was so funny to tell his maiden aunt that I'd gone off hawing! The problem with our berries is that they seem all pip with little flesh - I've used them in a hedgerow ketchup but haven't tried this sauce so I'll have to bookmark it for our autumn. Maybe I'll try it with crispy duck pancakes.

    1. Off hawing - I love it! Crispy duck pancakes would be delicious!

  5. Good Morning! I love it when my pantry is stocked with goodies that I have made. This sauce sounds delicious though I have never heard of those berries. I imagine that it's just as rewarding as when I venture to the country and pick all the wild strawberries and mulberries I can find. If there's any left by the time I get home, I love to make syrups and jams with them.

    I love reading about life there...the way you describe it, it sounds beautiful.

    Sarah xo

    1. Thank you for your kind words Sarah! I always dream of eating a wild strawberry, they sound so delicious. And we're the same with blackberries, no matter how many we pick, none make it back to the kitchen for any jam or syrups....

  6. Oh wow! how timely is this post??? I was driving home yesterday and I noticed lots of lovely bushy type trees laden with red berries. I had to pull over and have a look. From the road they looked like crab apples though I'd never seen crab apples that prolific. When I got up close I had no idea what they were. Seeing your photos has identified them for me - hawthorns! How cool and how coincidental! Thanks so much for the timely post. I'd love a hedge of these somewhere.Looks like they are almost weedy in the way they reproduce though??? Again, thanks lots x

  7. Hiya
    I buy this delicious and expensive Blackthorn Elixir from the Weleda company.
    here's what the box says
    Weleda BE is made from totally ripe sloe berries, gathered with the greatest care from certified... bla bla
    the product is completed with the addition of bd grown lemon juice maintaing the natural benefits of the Blackthorn.
    according to anthroposophical veiw of the human being and nature blackthorn invigorates and rebalances. the fruity blackthorn enlivens and strengthens the body especially after increased stresses, during phases of growth at school or work, dduring pregnancy and breastfeeding as well as in old age when the body's natural regenerative powers are rediced.
    a tbsp in a glass of water tea or milk gives a fragrant drink. elixir is ideal as a pleasant warm drink in the evening.
    it also contains, lemon juice and h9oney. it says it's the aqueous extraction of the berries. my mum used to do this with mulberries, do you know what it is?
    another option:)
    great postings

    1. Oh that is interesting, we pick sloes or blackthorns and infuse them in gin to make sloe gin. I didn't realise it had medicinal uses. I do take a small glass of sloe gin if I'm feeling stressed, so it definitely works!

    2. If you are asking what is an aqueous extraction, it is getting the good stuff out using water. I'm just searching for recipes (and found your comment) but someone I know has given me one:
      collect the sloe, wash it a bit, then pour boiling water over it (about 2 fingers above the berries) let it stand for about 24 hrs. Then pour it through a strainer, heat it up to not more than 75C and pour it over again. repeat it once more after 24 hrs. Then mix it with cane sugar about 35-40% and heat it up to 75c again and pour it into bottles.

      Putting them in gin (or vodka) is essentially making a tincture.

      I'm just picking now in the UK as it has been a superb year for sloes here.

  8. I miss berry picking! Mum used to take us (luckily we didn't have to travel far, living on the farm at the time) there were plenty of blackberries to be found - mum would make jam and then use the jam in tarts. I also have fond memories of foraging for field mushrooms and mum grilling them with butter as well.

    Apparently it was my great-great-great-great-great-great (I'm losing counts on my greats there, and not really sure how many there should be in the first place!) grandfather who brought blackberries to Tasmania when he settled here from Ireland, James Fenton. I always found it a bit ironic that my dad (who is on the Fenton side of the family) would be complaining about the blackberries on our farm, when apparently they probably wouldn't have been there in the first place if it wasn't for his ancestor!

    1. That's so fascinating Naomi! What a great stories.

      I always think about the settlers who planted those hedgerows with much gratitude for planting them Now I can say a thank you to James Fenton!

      I hope to head out this weekend for some field delicious!

    2. Michelle do yourself a favour and track down some saffron milk tops. They are delicious. A meaty texture, bright saffron in colour with a delicate flavour. Most people slice them and pan fry in butter. Don't be alarmed when you urinate after eating it will taint it a bright yellow or orange. ;)

    3. Thanks so much Rebecca, we collect mushrooms every year! I wrote about it here if you'd like to read it

  9. Brilliant! Love the photos makes me reminisce of last years autumn season and those yummy berry recipes. Blackberries for the win! :) Got my eye on your next posts.

  10. Well, that was a productive forage ... and an inspiring post. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I would be a little concerned over using hawthorn berries if they have medicinal uses for the heart without further research into the effects on healthy people. Perhaps I am overcautious but you are essentially dealing with a herbal medicine and at unknown strengths.

  12. Hi,
    Ita not arsenic that the berry contains what you need to about Hawthorn berries is you should not eat the seeds. They contain cyanide bonded with sugar, called amygdalin. In your gut — actually small intestine — that changes to hydrogen cyanide and can be deadly. You can cook the berries then discard the seeds.

    1. Good to know! But we run the berries through a fine sieve so it's only the flesh we are eating and discard the seeds.

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