During a long walk at the Baltic Sea coast, I was greeted with hawthorn shrubs galore. Hawthorn is one of the common wild plants in Northern Germany, in some areas cultivated as bushes along fields and meadows to serve as a windbreaker. The red berries are edible, and can be used for jams and sauces.
I knew I had a recipe for a haw-sin sauce from a River Cottage episode stored away somewhere, and dug out my smartphone to google „Fearnley-Whittingstall +haw-sin sauce“. Luckily, I found a list of the ingredients, so I knew how much to forage. Usually we have a small linen bag or something like that in our backpacks. Harvesting the berries was easy because they were abundant.
(This lovely illustration of a hawthorn plant is in the public domain and part of the WikimediaCommons).
I’ve worked with hawthorn before in jams and jellies. Still, I was a bit sceptical – Hoisin sauce is made predominantly from soy beans; how would a berry-based hoisin turn out?
This is the recipe from River Cottage Autumn.
500 g haw berries
250 ml organic cider vinegar
250 ml water
250 g unrefined caster sugar
freshly ground black pepper
1. Clean and de-stalk the haw berries then rinse in cold water.
2. Place in large pan with the vinegar and water and bring to boil. Simmer for approximately 30-45 minutes until the skins start to split.
3. Remove from the heat and rub the mixture through a sieve, leaving largish stones and the skins behind.
4. Return the mixture to a clean pan, add the sugar and heat gently, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves.
5. Bring to the boil and cook for a further 5 -10 minutes, until the sauce reduces and becomes slightly syrupy.
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste then pour into warm, sterilised bottles.
To this, I have added 1/2 star anise and 7 allspice berries with the fruit, vinegar and water – a good idea. A pinch of granulated garlic in the final seasoning process would probably do some good as well.
The finished product does indeed have the consistency of Chinese hoisin sauce, but tastes a lot more like wild berries (of course). It needs to rest a day before developing its full flavor. After tasting it, I think this would make a pretty good (and interesting) substitute for hoisin, and will probably work well with game dishes and as a dipp with crisp roast duck.