Well this year has shown a bumper crop for most of my foraged fruits and although I use Haws as a great natural setting agent for my fruit leathers and some sweet and sour syrups, but I still had it in my mind that I was not using them to their full potential.
I remember reading some time ago about Haws being used to make flour during the war, but that’s as far as it went. I struggled to find any documentation in reference to the the process ,and flour is one of my most valued commodities within my wild food larder.
I’m relatively proficient In making flour from acorns and indeed several different nuts but it became quite apparent that the process was to be considerably different.
The first obstacle I knew I would have to overcome was the harvesting itself. As a defence to natural foragers, the Hawthorn sports a huge array of large defencive thorns and because of the fruits high moisture content, my pick would have to be quite considerable if I was to make a usable amount of flour.
I do own a berry picker to which I have become quite accustomed to, but to be honest the thorns are more than a match for the picker and getting snagged up was too regular an occurrence for this to be an effective method. Picking by hand was not difficult, but in reflection not pleasant and I was pricked quite severely each time. The following day my hands were quite sore and inflamed and this brought up the questions for me; “are the thorns poisonous? , do they carry any natural bacteria as defence”.
So the answers are;
No, they’re not poisonous. But pathogenic bacteria like Clostridium perfringens have been isolated and identified from common hawthorn (with red aposematic thorns), which can cause gangrene.
I also found a well-documented case of Curtobacterium human infection in a child with septic arthritis following puncture with a Coxspur Hawthorn plant thorn, which raises obvious concerns and a good reason to find a more productive harvesting technique .
I’ve harvested sea buckthorn by holding the branches and tapping them over a container and decided to give this a try.
At first this worked well, was much quicker and without the risk of spiking myself. I picked up quite a lot of stray leaf matter but this was no hardship ,my only thought is that next time I will simply lay a tarp out and knock the fruits straight onto that which will also remove any chance waste.
Now I don’t want to profess to be any authority on the matter as this is my first year at processing in this way and this is purely a record of my results .
The first thing you need to know about the Hawthorn berries is that you should not eat the seeds. They contain cyanide bonded with sugar, called Amygdalin. In your gut — actually small intestine — that changes to hydrogen cyanide and can be deadly.
This isn’t going to happen by eating the occasional seed but it’s a fact and you need to take this into account. I have to portray the facts as I know them ,and the chemicals are only present in the seed so removing them is a must ( another fact is that by cooking the fruit the cyanide is dispersed ).
So I decided to try three ways of processing these being; roasting and then grinding, air drying and then grinding and pulping, drying and grinding .
When air drying the berries I have had lots of experience in the past with other fruits. What I found works best is a rack I’ve made from stretched netting which are about 12×24″ and then stacked with a minimum of 50mm between each rack to allow air flow. It’s really important that you place your racks somewhere where the air is dry and constant or the drying becomes difficult as re-saturation is the main cause of mould on the berries. Daily checking is needed as if mould is present any infected berries need to be discarded as soon as possible to stop it spreading and the loss of the entire harvest .
Drying in this way, depending on the weather, can take between 10-20 days so in no way is a fast way to go about it, but it has its own apparent positives, the main being not losing any of the nutrients through the application of heat.
The next part of the process is removing the seed once dried. I did this by rolling the dried fruits under weights. This splits the fruit but there doesn’t seem to be any way of removing the seed other than simply picking them out and boy does this take time .
After this you need to grind the remainder. It seems my usual method of mortar and pestle doesn’t work too well, so I resorted to a coffee grinder ( one would presume that a grinding stone would make short work of this part of the process.)
The end result was a coarse flour which was fruity and extremely pleasant to the taste .
My next process was roasting. I adopted for the roasting method I use for “coffee from roots” which is double convection done by placing a smaller pot into a dutch oven. Initially this didn’t work as the berries release a huge amount of moisture in which they basically boiled, turning them to pulp.
So I pierced the base tray and allowed the liquid to sit in the base of the dutch oven away from the berries. My biggest tip at this point is to continually remove the liquid to prevent steaming (retain the liquid for a syrup base) .
I had a choice at this point; to grind them with the seeds in as the heat will have now neutralised the cyanide, or to remove them and process them in the same way as for the dried.
I decided that I would do both, so I removed approximately a pound of roasted berry and ground them with a mortar and pestle. This worked well but left the quite fine flour with very little taste of Haws, more a nutty taste than a fruity taste.
The second amount of the batch I rolled and removed the seeds from the mix ( I cannot stress how long this takes ), the major factor which was surprising was the very small amount of flour I ended with. It ground perfectly with a less fruity taste but probably yields a 10% product to initial harvest ratio compared to the air drying which is at a third and the with seeds roasted which is at fifty percent product return from initial harvest.
Last and not least was to pulp the berries. Use a large bowl and a potato masher or similar. You may need to add water to get a good pulp but once the berries are pulped the seeds floated to the top so made short work of the previous laborious task .
I then spread the pulp onto trays at 5mm thickness and left them to air dry .
I know from making leather that this was not going to dry to a point where I could grind it to a flour. I decided on scratching the mix up when at a point where the moisture content allowed it. This seems to work well but is very time consuming over four to five weeks every other day, also taking the same care to continually check for mould ( a pine cone works very well for the scratching up process ).
The end result is a fluffy flour with a nice fruity flavour .
So in short, each process had pros and cons. The roasting method was by far the quickest process but yielded the lowest quality regarding taste yet the consistency was the closest to conventional flour out of the three. Whereas the mulching process rewarded good flour, the labour alone made it quite difficult to allocate the time needed.
My preferred method due to taste was the air drying method, although the flour was quite course it was really much more palatable than the others and I suspect it retains more of its natural goodness, also, when dry they can be stored for later processing. My aim is to find a easier process to remove the seed which is work in progress!
So the question is WHY? Is there good enough reason to process Haws as flour?
Well I’ve found some of the reasons why consumption of the nutrients contained within Haws are well worth the efforts and these include; Lower blood pressure, Increase the effectiveness of the heart’s pumping action, Strengthen the heart muscle, Slow the heartbeat, Dilate coronary arteries, Prevent heart disease/heart attack/Stoke, Help those healing from heart surgery, Support the immune system and Increase longevity to name a few.
So, in my opinion; YES.
It’s another sustainable resource that I will be making use of and hopefully perfecting .