I can’t remember how I first heard about havtorn (sea buckthorn), but it was definitely within the last year because I couldn’t wait for September to arrive so I could find some. Everything I read said they were extremely laborious to pick but for an admitted berry-picking addict I thought it couldn’t be that bad. I was wrong. I can definitively say my experience with picking havtorn is the least fun I have ever had picking anything.
Havtorn are gaining popularity quickly in food as well as beauty items since they are packed with antioxidants and have fifteen times more vitamin C than oranges. They can be found in Asia as well as Europe from sub-alpine zones to semi-desert, to sea coasts. In Sweden they are found along the rocky coastlines. I found the silvery-leafed bushes growing near the observation center for the Öresund bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen.
The bright orange berries were immediately apparent and I clambered down a rocky slope with great enthusiasm, foraging gear in tow. Just as I had seen in photos, there were masses of berries clinging closely to the branches and BIG, thorns. Not to be deterred, I busted out my IKEA bag, hung it in the bush to catch the falling berries, and got down to work. It was yet another cold day with misty rain and fog horns were blaring from nearby ships. That part was kind of cool and intriguing. But it didn’t take long before the mosquitoes found me and the relentless swarming began (ok, not really swarming, but it only takes a couple of persistent mosquitoes buzzing around your noggin to make you feel like you are being hunted by the masses). At least since it was cold I was pretty much fully covered in gear that helped to deter the little menaces, but the only thing I could do to keep them from making short order of my neck was to put up my hood which always makes things less fun.
I nestled myself into the rocky slope which must have been around a 40 degree incline and started trying to pluck the berries one by one. Ummm, nope. Definitely too hard to pull them off one by one. They hung tightly to the bush and were too easy to squish. Good thing I had read a tip to use fine tipped scissors and had brought some along from an old first aid kit. Snipping away the little orange drops, one by one, did not turn out to be particularly gratifying. After snipping, and snipping, and snipping, I felt like I must have made some real progress. It was depressing to peer into the depths and see my meager orange pile nestled far, far down in the enormity of the big blue bag. *sigh* But I was determined to forage enough havtorn to be able to do something with. I persevered for nearly 90 minutes and ended up with about 4 cups of berries that I still had a lot of work to do with at home removing leaves and little bits of stem before I could use them.
I was surprised how absolutely unenthusiastic I was about cooking something up. Maybe it’s because it took about 3 hours total to go from picking and sorting to being able to do something with not-so-many berries. I had seen a havtorn, raspberry and chili marmalade in a local cheese shop and decided that was the task at hand. Something to accompany cheese.
Once the berries started to cook, my enthusiasm quickly returned as they started to give off the most divine scent. I kept walking over to the pot and breathing deeply because it was such a wonderfully intense and exotic smell, somewhat like passionfruit. As the berries broke down each one revealed a single, large seed. Lured by the smell, I couldn’t resist taking a little taste. Holy mackerel! I couldn’t get to the sink fast enough to spit it out. It was blindingly acidic and sour. But with an exotic aroma like that, it still held promise.
The end result is a tangy jam that pairs well with sharp cheddar, aged gouda, or fresh goat cheese. I was a little bit torn about adding the raspberries because I knew they would change the golden color dramatically, but I like the texture the seeds provide. On my next go round I’ll try it without the raspberries. But for now I’m enjoying this unusual blend with a hint of heat and plotting my next chance to sneak away with my fine-tipped scissors to battle mosquitoes on a rocky slope by the sea and snip away. Because now that I have some first-hand experience with the fascinating havtorn, I’m hooked.
Havtorn and raspberry jam with red chili
makes about 2 cups (480ml)
I like my jam a bit on the tart side, so if you prefer more sugar, adjust accordingly. To help cut the acidity in the berries you can pick them after the first frost or alternately pop them into the freezer for an hour.
4 cups (1kg) havtorn berries
2/3 cup (160ml) raspberries
3/4 cup (180ml) apple juice
4 tablespoons apple juice concentrate
2 1/4 cups (500g) sugar
1-2 mild red chilis, minced and seeded
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1. Put a small, white plate in the freezer.
2. Place the clean havtorn berries in a non-reactive, medium-sized saucepan and add just enough water to cover the berries. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let berries simmer until they release their seeds and break down to a liquid. Strain the havtorn liquid through a saftsil or cheesecloth. You should have about 2 cups of havtorn juice. Discard the seeds and pulp.
3. Place the strained havtorn liquid in a medium-sized saucepan and add the remaining ingredients. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and let cook undisturbed for five minutes.
3. Remove from heat and skim off any scum. Put a small amount of jam on the frozen plate. Return the plate to the freezer for a few minutes and then do the nudge test to see if it is ready. If the jam wrinkles and follows your finger when you nudge it, it’s ready to jar. If it isn’t set, put it back on the heat and keep re-testing until done.
4. Ladle the hot jam into clean jars (make sure they aren’t cold or they will break), put on the lid, and turn them upside down immediately to help seal them. Cool the jars to room temperature and store in the refrigerator for several months. You could also store them in the freezer if you leave some space for expansion in the jar, about 3/8 inch (1 cm). If you are interested in trying traditional canning which won’t require your jam to be refrigerated, you can check out www.freshpreserving.com for tips.