The Hawthorn tree is a gift that keeps on giving all year round. During the glorious spring, the leaves have a pale greenish-yellowish hue, a delicate flavour and almost melt-in-the-mouth softness. In early summer it is festooned with white blossom which gives way to round, red berries which, amongst other things, make a most intriguing ketchup substitute (when cooked correctly). Over winter the hawthorn is an ideal place to spot faeries as that’s where they live and when the leaves are gone it’s easier to see them. Obvs.
Now, if you had read my post the other day about the health benefits of eating wild, you would know that eating hawthorn is good for the body and mind. It has been used in various traditional medicinal practises throughout the world for over 2000 years to treat all manner of ills; nowadays we know it to be loaded with anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory whatsits and of actually, scientifically documented benefit in the treatment of anxiety.
I’ve heard a few people joking lately about prescriptions for Xanax being on the rise. Sure, that makes sense; certainly the anxiety factor in my house seems to be growing day by day. So if there’s something out there that can calm everybody’s nerves, has the added benefit of making the body feel better and is growing for free on bushes all over the place – then it ought to be in every breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Hawthorn leaves have lovely lobed edges and when you catch them in early spring they unfurl in a pattern that looks just like the inside of a rose. Obviously the spikes are spikey no matter what time of year it is, and you can get a bit infected if you scrape yourself too hard on the thorns, so please be mindful when you’re picking. You’ll find hawthorn in hedges, growing randomly in woodlands, along the side of the road, and well, all over the place really.
Now, the thing about hawthorn leaves that I feel compelled to point out, is that eating hawthorn leaves is exactly like – well, eating leaves. Close your eyes and imagine what a leaf would taste like: there you have it. Which is fine if you’re a giraffe, but upon tasting a few bites raw from the tree, my children were not exactly enthusiastic about the thought of a whole plate of steamed hawthorn so I tried to think of favourite dishes that include a lot of other flavours.
To make our (“really delicious”, Felix, 10) shashuka, I started with an actual recipe and then modded it – because recipes generally leave me wanting more. So in a break from tradition (which I feel I can because it’s only a one-week old tradition), I’m going to list the ingredients I used as if this was an actual recipe.
- 2 glugs oil (your choice, we’re in lockdown)
- 2 thinly sliced red onions (or leeks or white onions or whatever, see above)
- 1 sliced large red pepper (do not put a green one in. those are wrong.)
- 1 tsp ground cumin (you could use ground coriander if you haven’t got cumin because it looks similar)
- 1 tsp smoked paprika (surely you have some lingering in the back of the cupboard)
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano (I’m sure you could also use thyme or basil or just nothing)
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger (or leave it out – just adds a bit of warmth)
- 1/2 tsp salt (if you’re out of salt, I suggest crying tears of desperation into a big bowl, boiling it until dry, scraping out the salt and feeling much better for it)
- 1/8 tsp harrissa powder (I actually used even less and it was still spicy – but every family is different when it comes to spice) or any other spicy powdery stuff.
OK, so mix all this up in a large frying pan and let it cook away for about 7-8 minutes – until the onions and peppers are soft. Then stir in:
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 2x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- generous handful of hawthorn leaves
Let the whole thing come to a slow boil and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes or so – you’ll know when to stop simmering because it’ll look thicker and your children will be wailing about how hungry they are.
Give it all a stir and, using the back of the spoon to make a little dent, lower your eggs into the mix one at a time. I used 6 eggs with this quantity but we had extra tomato-ey goodness left at the end, so if you have 4 people to feed and a big enough pan, this will work perfectly with 8 eggs. (Not that I know anyone with 8 eggs in their house….)
Once your eggs are cooked (which took ours about 5 minutes with a lid on), sprinkle the top with some uncooked hawthorn leaves and serve with the toasted pita bread that your friend bought you because there was no other bread left in the store. Or the toast ends from your freezer. Or crackers. Or whatever. You get the idea.
Thank you for all of your generous donations! I’m enjoying writing as a form of therapy, I’m loving hearing stories of people getting out and cooking up some masterpieces and I’m looking forward to inspiring you all to head out walking with your families, foraging, talking and enjoying the glorious springtime. If you’d like to contribute financially for my work, I would really appreciate it. If you cannot, I’d be incredibly grateful for a share on your own social media platform. Thank you so much!