Late-Harvest Treat: Haw Jelly

Haws left after harvest. These are for the birds.

A couple of weeks ago I gazed out my back door at a Washington hawthorn, its fruit beginning to drop following a cold snap, and considered the comment that Jan Grover made in this blog in October: “A friend who teaches told me about an abandoned orchard behind her school building, and I went there, intent on foraging the apples she described—and I discovered haws! There were two small, gnarled hawthorns smothered in bright-red haws, and I picked several pounds, brought them home, and turned them into what proved to be a Kool-Aid-red/pink jelly. . . .  The taste is slightly, ummmm, feral, and goes beautifully with autumn braises. Sugar, lemon juice, water—that was all it took: Haws are evidently crammed with pectin.”

If I wanted to try making haw jelly this year, I had to act fast. So I fetched an orchard ladder and sampled a haw. The tiny, orange-red fruit had only a bit of mealy flesh wrapped around five seeds.*  The fruit was neither tart nor bitter but had a sweet, spicy flavor similar to that of rosehips and medlar fruits. This was no surprise, since the hawthorn is cousin to the rose and the medlar both. The haws ought to make good jelly indeed, I figured.

As I picked them, most of the fruits came free of their stems. In fifteen minutes I had enough haws, I figured, to make a small batch of jelly. I rinsed them, shook them in the strainer to separate the remaining stems, and picked out the stems before cooking the haws in enough water to cover them.

The juice turned out a cloudy pink but clarified when I combined it with sugar. I added plenty of lemon juice, since the haws seemed low in acid. The syrup jelled quickly and firmly.

haw jellyThe finished jelly looks much like quince jelly—almost as clear and bright, in fact, as red currant jelly. You must put your nose close to to catch the warm, spicy aroma, but the flavor blooms in the mouth. It reminds Robert of tropical fruit—passion fruit, he thinks, or guava. But I think haw jelly puts guava jelly to shame. In flavor, only rosehip jelly compares.

Here’s my recipe for—

Haw Jelly

2 ½ pounds stemmed haws
2 cups sugar
½ cup strained lemon juice

cooking hawsPut the haws into a pot, and barely cover them with water (you’ll need about 6 cups). Simmer the haws, uncovered, for about an hour, mashing them with a potato masher or spoon every 20 minutes or so.

cooked hawsDrain off the haw juice through a coarse strainer, and then let it drip through a jelly bag for at least several hours or as long as overnight. Don’t worry if the juice looks cloudy. You should end up with 2¼ cups.

In a preserving pan, combine the haw juice with the sugar and lemon juice. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. Raise the heat to high, and boil the syrup until it sheets from a spoon or reaches 221 degrees F. Pour the hot syrup into two sterilized half-pint jars, and add lids and rings. Process the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling-water bath. 

Makes 2 half-pints


* The fruits of the Washington hawthorn, Crataegus phaenopyrum, have three to five seeds; the haws of other species come in red, yellow, black, or purple and have as few as one seed per fruit. C. phaenopyrum is a native of the Eastern states that’s widely planted elsewhere in landscapes, though I don’t know why; its thorny branches shoot randomly in every direction. But the many other species of hawthorn grow in a similar fashion, and for that reason they are most appreciated as the stuff of impenetrable hedges; the word haw, in fact, means “hedge.” The genus has other virtues besides: The wood is very hard and therefore useful for making tools, and the leaves, flowers, and fruits have been used since ancient times in treating heart disease (recent medical studies are proving their efficacy). The hawthorn species most used in jelly making is C. monogyna, a native of Europe, northwest Africa, and western Asia that has become an invasive weed in Oregon and elsewhere. Native here is the Douglas hawthorn, C. douglasii. Next year I’ll have to try making jelly from the little black Douglas haws.

36 thoughts on “Late-Harvest Treat: Haw Jelly”

  1. When our kids were little, we used to buy them a candy called “Haw Flakes” at a specialty store! I think they were made in China. This reminded of that candy! I bet the jelly is yummy!

  2. Nice post! I prefer the flavor of the Black hawthorn, C. douglasii over the red haw. Although I’ve not made jelly, I have eaten raw plenty of both, and have made fruit leather, haw-infused honey, elixers, shrubs and tinctures using the black. It seems to have (to me) a richer flavor which I prefer.

    1. Thanks–I will definitely try black haws, and for more than jelly.

      Note that there is another sort of black haw that’s not a hawthorn at all but a species of viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium. Native to the eastern United States, this is the black haw that’s used medicinally for easing menstrual cramps and afterpains and for preventing miscarriage. For culinary purposes, the berries are used much like true haws.

  3. Aww rats, I think I missed ours between bird invasions and the cold snap just now ending. We have 2 large and stately trees on the fence line. I’ll have to take a look at the number of seeds for an identification but the fruit are red, so not C douglasii. Anyway, testament to the invasiveness of these and Holly both are everywhere in the riparian areas either side of our seasonal creek. Jelly next year. What can i do with the flowers???

  4. Linda—So glad to hear you gave the haws a try and liked them! To me, there’s nothing like getting beautiful food from a plant that produces and finds no one, neither bird nor mammal, interested in them.

    Just across the Mississippi from my home in St. Paul, there’s a big old highbush cranberry that produces fruit prodigally each late autumn. The shrub sits back about 40 feet from the street alongside a bank building. Every year around Halloween, I drive across the bridge to glean fruit from the bush and make highbush cranberry jelly. Its color puts even haw jelly to shame. Have you ever highbush cranberry jelly or jam? I think the shrub grows in Oregon . . .

    1. Yes, Jan, I’ve made highbush cranberry jelly twice, because I couldn’t believe how bad it tasted the first time. I ended up throwing it out both times. Your bushes must be different from mine. Mine were sold as the European species, with supposedly better-tasting fruit, but I’ve just read (at that the American species is actually the one with tasty fruit. Maybe I’ll try planting an American highbush cranberry bush. In any case, I’m leaving the highbush cranberries that I have now for the birds.

      1. Yes, the American ones definitely taste better. Even so, while I’m plucking off their stems and while I’m simmering them, I pretty much need to grit my teeth: they possess a pungent, dirty (and I don’t mean *earthy*) scent that can drive some people out of the kitchen. Even after turning them into jelly, I’ve found that people’s taste for/against them varies a lot; some, like me, think they’re terrific: tart, plush, slightly wild. Other people just think they taste like old gym shoes—the fruit equivalent of cilantro, in terms of how they affect people’s taste buds.

        1. Hmmm . . . I would describe the flavor as fecal, so maybe I wouldn’t like the American highbush cranberries, either. I’ll have to find out if a local gardener has berries to share before I plant my own bush.

          1. Oh, my! So you taste that unpleasant quality in them. Absolutely doesn’t work that way for me. I wonder if it has something to do with when they’re harvested? the soil they grow in?

          2. I’ve tried the highbush cranberries at different times, and they always taste bad. The soil may make a difference, but perhaps I’m just extra-sensitive to a particular aroma compound.

  5. Do you know whether or not all species of hawthorn are edible? We have several that were placed as beautiful landscape bushes in the front yard by the previous owner of our house, which is in Dallas. Every year they are exceedingly prolific, but I haven’t been daring enough to try any.

    1. Arlo, I’ve searched in the past for an answer to that question, and I’ve found none. My conclusion is that no hawthorn species is known to have toxic fruit. Tasting one haw certainly won’t kill you, and if it tastes good you may be encouraged to harvest a bunch.

      1. Haws have been used in so-called “hedgerow jam/jelly” in the UK as long as people have been making preserves with sugar/. No harm there, or here, for that matter.

  6. You know, one year, I painstakingly collected 1 gallon of berry from a Washington Hawthorne in a friend’s year, and cooked them. It was bland bland bland. So I never bothered extracting the juice to make jelly or syrup. Have you ever tasted the cooked fruit? how was it for you? Does sugar really transform it into something good – I don’t mean just sweet, but with another flavor of its own? Certainly the jelly is the picture is a delightful rose!

    1. I didn’t bother tasting the fruit, Sylvie, because I was extracting the juice and figured that the fruit would be tasteless once it had simmered long enough to yield the juice. *The juice,* however, was extremely tasty (and very, very tart), so I was sure it would make terrific jelly, and it did.

      My suspicion is that with hard little haws and other hedgerow fruits with rather mealy interiors, all or most of the flavor ends up in the liquid. Did you use a lot of water? How long did you simmer it? The simmering takes a sweet while, at least with the haws I used . . .

      1. Jan – I never thought of tasting the juice — because I never extracted it. I seem to recall I was going to make more of a jam and puree the fruit, like a quince jam (making sure to remove the seeds). It simmered for a long time…. That friend has moved now, so although the tree is still there, I don’t know the homeowners… Time to pay a visit in the fall and introduce myself. Or locate another tree… I am glad I found this post and all teh comments, so indeed I am encouraged to try again.

  7. Hi and thank you for your post. I have tons of the black haws and have made lots of waffle syrup but I wanted to make some jelly filled sugar cookies with this fantastic flavor so I appreciate your notes and ratios. I had forgotten that one could cook jelly to temperature–I have always used a box of pectin–but I will secure a thermometer and give it a whirl. I have started using a steam juicer and I put up 30 – 40 quarts of juice. Then I can make jelly / syrup on demand without fear of having lots of leftovers at the new harvest. The local moose herd are accustomed to us and the younger ones will approach and beg when we pick.

      1. Linda, I live in SE Idaho next to Bear river. It seems that all the country roads are thick with these. I don’t have to leave my garden area–I have about 150 feet of hawthorns growing in the riparian area. Most of what I see is what I would call scrub, but even so, the middle of my patch is higher than 15 feet. I just retread my post and need to back pedal–the 40 quarts of juice this year was mostly crab apple. This season seemed to be an extra special surpassing extraordinary harvest. The crab jelly was a deeper red but the haws were extra large and extra thick–I normally pick in an ice cream bucket but this year my 4 year old used the ice cream bucket and I graduated to a 5 gallon bucket. (ps visitors are always welcome).

    1. Delighted that you have such a seemingly endless supply of haws! My haws had lots of pectin, and yours probably do, too, so you shouldn’t have any difficulty with gelling. The winter and spring here were so severe, cold, and then wet that sadly the tree I had harvested in 2013 produced not a single haw this last season. Good luck! I envy you your trees.

  8. I have both haws and crab apples around me and make jelly from both. I like to spike the crab apple jelly with hot pepper for a kick. I enjoy the hawthorn jelly for its earthier flavors as you have described them and serve it on a cheese plate as you would membrillo. I also like to use the haws for a condiment, like a ketchup. Cook down the haws and put through a food mill, then add vinegar, is the basic method. I like to add some fresh ginger and allspice as the fruit cooks and use a cider vinegar. It is fabulous on sandwiches, with eggs, roasted meat, etc.

      1. I see that I forgot the sugar! Sorry about that. You will want to cook the berries with something to sweeten them; I like brown sugar but honey or another sweetener would work fine.

  9. I used your recipe, with one change, I used a steamer/juicer. My family loves this rosy, faintly orange tinted jelly. It’s slightly sweet with a tart finish. I tried one of the raw haws, but didn’t see any reason to eat them raw. Mine were the red haws, so apparently not the douglas type found in Oregon, in fact, the lady who let me pick said they were “Chinese haws”. Definitely a recipe to keep on file for next year!

  10. Well, after living here 15+ years, I finally decided to try using the haws on the 2 trees near me. I followed your recipe, but my yield was ~20% below the projected amount. Not a big deal, I was excited about the product itself. Absolutely delightful, and the best part is that all it cost me was a couple hours picking and processing. Now that I have done a small batch, I am going to alter the recipe a bit, using half the lemon juice and sugar. To make up the acidity will add ascorbic acid, as the lemon came through a bit strong for me, and I like my jams and jellies somewhat tart.

    Thank you for showing me what I’ve been missing all these years..

  11. You were discussing high bush cranberries awhile back. We are in Manitoba,Canada. My mother in law apparently used to make cranberry jelly . My husband and brothers in law call it “toe jam”. They didn’t like it as little boys but it was a free fruit. Lol

  12. I grew up with Haw Jelly. There is no comparison to any other jelly. A lot of cultures worshipped this tree or bush., it’s really versatile. My mom made this jam as a young girl. Making haw jelly for 70+ years. She died recently at the ripe age of 90.
    In Utah we get the black hawthorn, berries ripen by August. Has anyone tried making a sugarless version of this jelly? Did it work? Email me at put haw jelly in subject line. Thanks

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