As a child I was a member of the Oldham Microscopical and Natural History Society. It was founded in 1864 and gave mill workers some much needed link to the natural world. That link is still just as needed.
Every year we had a country wine evening on one of the Monday night meetings, with members bringing in bottles of home-made parsnip wine, pea-pod wine and dandelion wine, together with cheese and biscuits. Despite being a young teenager, I was allowed to join in enthusiastically with the tasting. My favourites were: vine prunings wine – a beautiful tawny-coloured wine like a dry sherry, made from the prunings from a grape vine; and marrow and banana wine, which the older adult members were equally amused and worried to find that I had swiftly nicknamed ‘Marrowana’.
One of the wines was Haw wine, a wine made from the red fruit of the Hawthorn tree. One member was very unsure about trying it. “But Hawthorn berries are poisonous aren’t they?” he said.
I know that birds eat them, particularly thrushes and waxwings, but birds have acidic stomachs that can withstand the most incredible punishment. His worry put me off and I didn’t taste it. I now find that they are edible and great for Chilli Hawthorn Dipping Sauce or Hawthorn Hedgerow Jelly as well as Haw wine.
I really must go and forage. Here’s what the Hawthorn looked like in May:
Here’s what they look like now.
They are one of the wonderful gifts of autumn.