I was first introduced to the azarole by Claudio Bincoletto who gave me a taste of the most delicious concoction, an azarole and mulberry compote. I was intrigued, what is an azarole?
It is a species of hawthorn (crataegus azarolus) that grows wild in the arid and rocky Mediterranean basin. Much like our native hawthorn grows here, it is their commonest hawthorn, bearing yellow, orange or red haw fruits which are much bigger than the hawthorn berries you find here in Britain. They ripen late in the autumn and stay on the trees throughout the winter, not dropping to the ground. An important source of food to the wild birds, they can grow up to 2.5 cm in diameter in the warmest climates where they develop a fragrant sweet, yet sharp flesh that can be eaten raw or used to make syrups, jellies and jams. Their seeds are fascinating and are indistinguishable from little stones, to be cultivated, they need to be filed away or sulphuric acid is used to penetrate their rock hard outer layer. Nature of course has the answer to this, eaten in the wild by the birds, they act like little stones, aiding the bird’s digestion and in turn, by passing through the bird’s digestive tract the seeds are distributed far and wide, ready to germinate, ensuring they remain the commonest asiatic hawthorn.
The azarole, as with many other hawthorns, makes the most lovely ornamental tree and to my surprise, I realised that we have several of these trees in the gardens at Thyme and indeed, ornamental hawthorns are planted in the new courtyard garden at The Swan. Also known as the Mediterranean medlar their fruits have a very high concentration of vitamin C and although they don't grow as large here they still, as Claudio clearly demonstrated, can make the most delicious eating.
So the story of the azarole berry has much in common with our festive edition of Thoughts, bought first to Great Britain by the Romans, our Roman coming to Thyme this Christmas is Eleanora Galasso who will be taking a cookery class and an evening feast on the weekend of the 10th December. The Seedlip story, a fascinating one, inspired by baskets used for seed distribution and by medieval botanics, has much in common with the azarole & Thyme, with a love of the land and forgotten flavours at its heart. It is also a berry, still on the trees at Christmas time, much like the mistletoe and of course last but definitely not least another berry, Berry Bros & Rudd, who will be serving the wines for our Roman Feast and help us celebrate in style. Please do join us, it will be a wonderful weekend and you can try a little of our azarole jelly too, delicious with all things Christmassy … eat, drink and be berry merry.