The making of successful preserves is all about formulas, and the formula for this recipe is simple: an equal quantity of Haws, Apples and sugar, and 5% of the overall quantity in vinegar. All you need then is enough chilli to suit your taste (but I’m afraid that’s your own secret formula). I gathered 350g of Haws when I went picking, and I reproduce here the precise recipe that I used. But you can gather as many or as few as you like – just apply the formula and follow the method below.
- 350g Haws
- 350g Bramley or Crab Apple
- 350g granulated sugar
- 55ml white wine or cider vinegar
- 1 or 2 fresh chillies, finely chopped
- Wash the Hawthorn berries and drain. Now, a lot of recipe books will tell you to remove the berries from their stalks before cooking, and if you want to do this then the best method is to scrape them off with a fork (see picture). Personally, I don’t bother, since we’re going to be straining the fruit anyway, but it’s up to you.
- Chop up the apple – skin, core and all – and place in a saucepan with the berries. Just about cover with cold water, and then bring gradually to a simmer.
- Cook gently for about 30 minutes, until the apple is mush and the liquid is a deep red colour from the berries. Strain through a jelly bag if you have one (see picture), or through cotton or muslin. Leave to drip for at least a couple of hours, or overnight. (Tip: As tempting as it may be, you should never squeeze a jelly bag, as this will result in a cloudy liquid. Instead, find a way to add a weight on top your cooked berries and apples. I use a jam jar filled with water, which I sit inside a bowl (see picture).)
- Pour the extracted juice into a clean pan and discard the fruit pulp. Bring the juice gently to a simmer and add the sugar, stirring until it’s dissolved. Now, you want to boil this for about 5 minutes. If you have a sugar thermometer, pop it in the pan. What you’re looking for, is for the juice to start to become ever so slightly syrupy, without the temperature ever reaching the setting point for jellies and jams (104.5°C). If this happens then it’s not the end of the world, you’ll just end up with a sauce that sets rather than pours – a jelly, rather than a dipping sauce.
- Take off the heat and allow to cool completely, then stir in the vinegar and chilli. Leave for about half an hour, then taste. It should be sweet, sour, slightly fruity, and as hot as you like it. If you think it could take more heat, or indeed be a little more sour, then add more chilli or vinegar.
- When you’re happy with the result, put the pan back on the heat and bring the juice back to 88°C on a thermometer, or until the juice just starts to bubble. Pour immediately into warm sterilized jars or bottles and seal. It will keep for about 6 months.
Sweet chilli sauce is best served with anything deep-fried and crispy. Try with crab cakes, or breaded wild mushrooms. Alternatively, use for making dressings, such as the one I used for my Warm Puffball and Celeriac Salad.
Variation: Hawthorn Hedgerow Jelly
To make a delicious sweet jelly that can be served with cheeses, cold meats, or just simply smeared on hot toast.
- Follow the recipe for Chilli Hawthorn Dipping Sauce up to the end of stage 3.
- In a measuring jug, measure the juice that you have collected in millilitres. Now work out 75% of this figure, and weigh out this amount in grams of granulated sugar. So for example, if you were left with 500 ml of strained juice, you would need 375g granulated sugar.
- Pour the juice back into the pan, and bring gently to a simmer. Add the sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
- Pop in a sugar thermometer, and boil hard until setting point is reached (104.5°C). If you don’t have a sugar thermometer, you can test for a set by placing a saucer in the fridge for at least half an hour so that it is very cold. Pour a few drops of the hot liquid onto the cold saucer – if the liquid sets and does not run after about 20 seconds, setting point has been reached and you can stop cooking.
- Pour the juice into warm sterilised jars and seal. This jelly will keep for at least a year, though probably even longer.
The way I do this is to completely submerge the jars for a couple of hours in a solution of water and sterilizing tablets that you can pick up very cheaply from the chemist. I then dry them in a very low oven (gas mark ½) for about half an hour. Fill the jars when they are still hot.