As we move further into Autumn there are more and more splashes of red to be seen in the trees and hedgerows. The rowan berries are the first, in August, but as September progresses they're joined by rosehips, haws, the berries of honeysuckle, and nightshade - and of course, unripe blackberries.
Bright scarlet rowan berries hang in distinctive clusters, in contrast to the crimson haws which are distributed much more evenly amongst the hawthorn foliage.
In the hedgerows hereabouts there don't seem to be many rosehips - but there is a huge crop of haws. Some claim this signals a harsh winter ahead of us, but I tend to think it's more to do with favourable pollination conditions back in the spring when an exuberant froth of blossom covered the hawthorns.
I often think of the hawthorn as being the epitome of spring - its bright green leaves are among the first to break when the world begins to green anew, and the appearance of its flowers usually coincides pretty well with Beltane. Yet at this time of year when its leaves have darkened to glossy forest green and rich red haws jewel the hedgerow it is a striking feature in the landscape. In spring hawthorn seems full of lively joie de vivre, perfectly matched to the festivities of Beltane. As we approach the Autumn Equinox, its energy is of quiet, benevolent dignity - and generosity. There are enough haws for both us and the birds to enjoy - take advantage of this bounty and go foraging.
Embracing Autumn: Hawthorn Brandy
Haws can be used to make many delicious edibles - jam, jelly, syrup, chutney, wine etc. Just Google 'hawthorn recipes' and you will find lots of inspiring ideas to make the most of your foraging. One of the simplest recipes of all is Hawthorn Brandy. If you've ever made Sloe Gin it's made very much along the same lines - but everyone makes sloe gin, so why not try something a little different instead?
After picking your haws, pick them over and wash and dry them. Put them into a plastic bag and place them in the freezer overnight (this will soften them and begin to break down the skin so that their flavour will infuse the brandy effectively). Weigh the haws and put into a Kilner jar or similar tightly-lidded wide-mouthed container. Add sugar (half the weight of the haws), a pinch of cinnamon and some lemon zest. Pour over enough brandy to completely cover the ingredients, fasten the lid on tightly and shake well to dissolve the sugar. Store the jar somewhere dark, allowing the fruit to steep in the brandy for at least a couple of months (better yet until Yule). Shake the jar regularly. When enough time has passed, strain out the haws and lemon zest and bottle the flavoured brandy. Enjoy!