Food is a perennial topic of interest – there are always plenty of people floating about calling themselves ‘food writers’ at any food-themed gathering – and now healthy food and foraging are bang on trend. On a recent walk around Ide Hill, my friends and I were struck by the amazing variety of mushrooms growing in the village, some tiny and bright yellow spikes, some enormous like the toadstools depicted in children’s books and some just like the ones you see in the shops. Possibly edible, but we kept clear, and besides it is not recommended to gather mushrooms after the rain.
Instead, I was after hawthorn berries, just for the chance of cooking them to see what they taste like. Luckily we took a wrong turning near the end of the walk (to be fair, the book we used is nearly 20 years old, so it is hardly surprising if there have been a few changes since then). This meant we ended up walking along a fairly quiet road – lined with hawthorn bushes. Satisfied that they wouldn’t be coated in poison from passing cars, I gathered as many as I could. The recommended method is to pick the bunches, then process the individual berries at home. This I did by soaking the lot, then picking them over, discarding any black or damaged ones.
I then boiled them for an hour, mashing every 20 minutes with a potato masher and left the pulp to drain in a sieve, without pressing, over a bowl overnight. The next morning, there was a bowl of clear, reddish liquid ready to be cooked up with an equivalent amount of sugar and the juice of a lime. (I left the browny residue in the bottom of the bowl when I tipped the contents into the saucepan). I added the last apple in the house, finely sliced, to help the jam set. Apples are the jam-makers friend, being rich in pectin. This one went to a good home. This jelly has a special taste, and I will be foraging for more hawthorn berries soon.