As a child I was a member of the Oldham Microscopical and Natural History Society. It was founded in 1864 and gave mill workers a 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:

Hawthorn at Ham Wall - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

They are one of the wonderful gifts of autumn.

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