October 26, 2010
May. Hawthorn. Quickthorn. A Restricted Plant Pest here in New Zealand - not to be propagated, distributed or sold. And with good reason! Here in North Canterbury this hedgerow escapee is distributed by birds and resistant to our punishing summer droughts. Around Ashley, and indeed, within the Secret Garden, it is blooming now - a May Queen in October. I took this photo in the churchyard of St Simon and St Jude, where I have been gardening lately. These specimens are remnants of a double hedgerow that formed a walkway behind railway land. I can remember its overgrown tunnel in my childhood, and even now some of the plants including oak trees that made up the hedge, show signs of old-fashioned hedging techniques. Lady Mondegreen gives some of the wildings space to grow into shapely trees, arching their garlanded boughs and providing safe nesting places for birds. But I have planted other members of the family too. Stinking to high heaven at the moment, and wearing its stunning white flowers in small groups amongst the almost evergreen foliage, is the Mexican hawthorn, and my pink may is just beginning to blush. I watch eagerly three of its seedlings growing in tubs outside my kitchen window. Undoubtedly the parent has crossed with the wild hawthorn, but the seed is hard-won. One seedling flowered for the first time a couple of years ago - a double white - and another will flower for the first time any day now: a touch of pink showing in its buds.
My mother - an Englishwoman - introduced me to Bread and Cheese. "You can eat the leaves if you are hungry." And being a child, I would eat them whether I was hungry or not. And if you enjoy making the most of wild harvest here is a way to make a meal of hawthorn leaves! It is a recipe collected in Dorothy Hartley's fascinating history 'Food in England.'
Make a good light suet crust, season it well with salt and pepper, and roll it out rather more thinly than for a jam roly-poly, and as long in shape as possible. Cover the surface smoothly with the green buds, patting them down lightly. Now take a rasher of bacon and cut it into very, very fine strip, and lay them over the green. Moisten the edges of the crust, and roll it up tightly, sealing the edges as you go. Tie it in a floured cloth and boil or steam it for at least an hour, longer if very large. Unroll it on to a hot plate and serve it with gravy. Like all very simple dishes, it must be made very nicely, seasoned with care, and the crust fine and light, then I think you will be surprised how good it is.
May, hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
Pink may Crataegus laevigata 'Rosea Flore Pleno'
Mexican hawthorn Crataegus pubescens (correctly mexicana)