Basically, foraging is like shopping – except everything is free, so it’s better. As I’m on maternity leave, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to pick haw berries this year, so I wanted to share some of the recipes I’m trying out. I’ve heard that hawthorn berry gin has a taste a bit like sherry, so of course that was first on the list to try. Whether you live in the town or the countryside, chances are you’ll have a hawthorn bush nearby, as they’re one of the most common types of plant used for hedges in the UK.
This is a great way to transform a bottle of cheap £10 supermarket vodka into a bottle of fancy hawthorn berry gin you’d pay at least £25 for. Because yes – gin is basically just vodka that’s been flavoured either during or after the distillation process. So hawthorn vodka is hawthorn gin! Who knew?
Fair warning: this is my first time making hawthorn gin, so it’s not exactly a tried and tested recipe just yet! I’ve tried to read through a number of different hawthorn recipes and select the “average” set of instructions to follow…
Hawthorn Gin: The Recipe
1. First, pick your hawthorn berries
It’s the perfect time of year for picking hawthorn berries (also known as haw berries) in the UK! They’re also a great thing to forage, because unlike blackberries or even damsons, they’re not that popular, so it’s unlikely that other people will get there before you and pinch all the ripe berries.
The hawthorn berries are ripe when they’re a lovely bright red, from late August through to October depending on where you live. If you’re not confident identifying hawthorn, you can find a guide here. It’s not likely that you’d mix it up with another plant, so it’s a pretty safe bet for a new forager! Remember not to pick all the berries you find – they’re important food for wildlife too.
Some people say you should wait for the first frost to pick hawthorn berries, but it’s not really necessary for making gin. If you want, you can freeze the berries and defrost before using them in this recipe, to achieve the same effect.
You should also note that although hawthorn berries are edible, the seeds are mildly poisonous, which is why most hawthorn berry recipes involve cooking and then straining the berries to remove the pips.
2. Prepare your hawthorn berries
Sort through the haw berries to remove any that are discoloured, and give them a wash.
Ideally at this point you want to top and tail each haw berry, cutting off the stems and the little brown bit at the bottom. You don’t have to, but apparently if you remove these parts, it reduces the amount of sediment that you have to strain out later. Some recipes leave the berries whole – others cut out the stone in the middle (but that seemed like too much effort to me) – this seems like the most popular approach though.
3. Bottle it
Pack the haw berries into a sterilised bottle or preserving jar, adding sugar between the layers as you go. I find a lot of homemade gin too sweet, so I’ve not been over-generous with my sugar, but some recipes recommend vast quantities of the stuff. It’s basically just there for flavour, so you can add it to taste.
Leave a space at the top of the jar so you can give it a good shake. Then fill the jar or bottle with cheap supermarket gin or vodka.
4. Wait for hawthorn gin/hawthorn vodka
And now… We wait! Leave the hawthorn berry gin for about a month, giving it a shake every few days, and watch the colour change. Then, strain your gin. You can do this the traditional way through a muslin, or through filter paper.
Next, let it mature for 2 – 3 months before drinking. It will keep for about a year after that, so make sure you label the bottle.
Now, I’m updating this post one year later (has it really been a year?) to confirm that even though this was my first attempt at hawthorn berry gin, it was definitely a success. It tastes like a very fragrant, floral sherry – it works well on its own or added to prosecco if you’re feeling fancy (or perhaps lemonade, if you’re not). So what are you waiting for? Get out there and pick some haw berries!
More autumn foraging recipes
If you’re looking for more great foraging recipes for autumn in the UK, check out my recipe for damson gin or vodka (also works for sloe gin or bullace gin, depending on what wild plums you have available!) or my recipe for elderberry cordial – a perfect treat to soothe those wintery coughs and colds.
Your hawthorn berry recipes
I’ve really enjoyed making this hawthorn berry gin recipe and I’d love to know how else I can use up all these delicious haw berries! Do you have any great hawthorn berry recipes? Let me know in the comments!