Monday 26 January 2009

Wild Food Guide 'H'

Wild Foods Guide 'H'

This is the eighth of my series of 26 postings on wild foods. Each post will deal with a separate letter of the alphabet ('H' today) and will describe a wild food beginning with that letter as well as presenting a classic recipe incorporating that wild food.

Today I'm dealing with the letter 'H', the eighth letter of the English alphabet, which includes foods such as hairy bittercress, hawthorn, hedge mustard, herb bennet, hops, horse mushroom, hazel, heather, horehound, hogweed, horseradish and many others. Today, however I am going to devote this page to hawthorn and hazel.

The Hawthron (also known as May, Maythorn, Quickthorn, and Haw), Crataegus monogyna, is a monocot perennial flowering plant and member of the Cyperaceae (sedge) family. Superficially, galingale resembles a is a small tree grwoing to some 10m tall which is a member of the Rosaceae (rose) family. It is native to Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia where it generally produces flowers in May and early June. The flowers develop to numerous small bright-red fruit known as Haws which are an important foodstuff for wild birds.

The hawthorn is one of the archetypical hedgerow trees of the British countryside. In the images above the tree is shown as it is in spring (with its white intensely-scented flowers) and as it is in autumn, full of the red berries that birds love so much.

What may surprise you is that young hawthorn leaves are extremely tasty and make a great addition to any salad (but only worth picking the really young ones. The berries are also edible and are very high in vitamin C and can be made into jams, jellies and preserves. The flower buds are also edible can be made into a spring pudding.

Here I present a classic English sauce based on hawthorn berries :

Haw Sauce

750g Haws (Hawthorn Berries)
450ml vinegar
100g sugar
25g salt
1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper

Separate each berry from their sprays (removing and stems) and wash them. Throw away any damaged berries and place all the remaining berries in a pan along with the vinegar. Bring to a simmer and cook over a gentl heat for 30 minutes. Press the pulp through a sieve and return to the resultant liquid to the pan along with sugar and seasonings. Boil for 10 minutes, allow to cool then pour into warmed and sterilized bottles and seal.

This makes a delicious ketchup to go with either hot or cold meats. It's excellent with game. For a richer version of this sauce add 1 finely-chopped red chilli and 20g high cocoa content chocolate.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Haw Sauce Recipe from the English Recipes collection of the Celtnet Recipes Collection.

If you are interested in recipes for hawthorn leaves or berries then you can find a range of hawthorn berry/leaves/buds recipes.

Common Hazel Corylus avellana, (also known as Cobnut) is a species of hazel and a member of the Betulaceae (beech) family. This deciduous shrub (which rarely grows more that 7m tall) is native to Europe and Asia. It bears dark green leaves that are rounded, 6–12 cm long and across, softly hairy on both surfaces, and with a double-serrate margin. It is the hazel that bears the classic catkins (also known as 'labmbs' tails' of carly spring (though these can appear any time from December to April. The plant is monoecious (ie bears separate male and female flowers on the same plant) with the female flowers being very small and largely concealed in the buds, with only the bright red 1-3 mm long styles visible. The fruit is a true nut, produced in clusters of one to five with each nut held in a leafy husk (an involucre) that encloses up to 3/4 of the nut. The nut falls from the involucre when ripe (generally in October) some eight months after pollination.

The common hazel is an important component of traditional hedgerows where they were interleaved to form impenetrable boundaries to domestic livestock. The wood was also traditoinally grown as a coppice with poles used for wattle-and-daub housing as well as for agricultural fencing. Common Hazel is cultivated for its nuts in commercial orchards in Turkey, Europe, China and Australia. This hazelnut or cobnut, the kernel of the seed, is edible and used raw or roasted, or ground into a paste. When collecting your own clean with a dry cloth and leave the nuts in their shells, they will then keep over winter and only need to be cracked open for use. Hazelnuts work well in both sweeet (pralines and chocolate) or savory dishes (they can be used in salads, stews and even make a flour if roasted and ground). They also make a refreshing drink if ground in a blender and mixed with milk.

The recipe presented below is for a classic English cake made from hazelnuts/cobnuts.

Kentish Cobnut Cake

225g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
110g butter (at room temperature)
110g brown sugar
50g cobnuts (or hazelnuts), roasted and chopped
1 large egg, beaten

Grease a loaf tin then sift the flour into a bowl along with the ginger. Rub-in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs then add the sugar and nuts and mix well to combine. Stir-in the beaten egg (don't worry if the mixture remains dry and crumbly, this is fine). Transfer the mix to the prepared loaf tin and pat down gently with a fork.

Place in the centre of an oven pre-heated to 180°C and bake for about 25 to 35 minutes. Test with a skewer and if this emerges cleanly from the centre of the cake then it's cooked. Allow to cool completely and slice thickly before serving.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Kentish Cobnut Cake Recipe from the Celtnet English Recipes Collection.

If you are interested in recipes for hazelnuts or cobnuts then you can find a range of hazel-based recipes.

This guide is brought to you in conjunction with the Celtnet Wild Food Recipes collection.

You can find more wild foods beginning with the letter 'H' on the Wild Food Guide for the letter 'H', part of the Celtnet Wild Food Guide.

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