At this time of year the hedgerows are peppered with pockets of bright red rosehips, gone are the pretty pink tinged flowers of summer and in their place is small oval capsule bursting with Vitamin C.
For years I have noticed the rosehip, yet rarely have I bothered to take the time to harvest it. I think this may have been due to fact that I like to harvest a morsel that can be enjoyed as part of a meal, something I can use in the solid sense and gorge myself on, rather than processing into a healthy liquid to aid me through winter.
At the ripe old age of 27 I have become more susceptible to various aspects of the wild larder as a whole, preserves, jellies and syrups all hold just as much pleasure as a chunky Burdock root. The processes involved with making these ingredients into something useful is a pleasure and the results of my work interesting, regardless if something works or not (even if something is appalling, I will still finish it and try to convince myself it was good or worthwhile, at least, a valuable lesson learned).
I have been keeping my eye out around London for Rosehips with little success, I just don’t think they are city slickers and they prefer the tranquillity of almost every woodland verge or hedgerow in the countryside (although I did find a hop plant on the King’s road the other day). It looked as if it was a perfect opportunity to pop down to Sussex for a spot of fishing and some heavy petting with Mother Nature.
It was, quite possibly, one of those perfect gathering trips. I walked out into the fields thinking Rosehips, Parasol mushrooms, Hedgehog mushrooms, Cauliflower fungus and maybe a giant puffball if I’m lucky. When I ambled up to the Gardener’s Arms (a pub I used to work in when I was 17 and just as mediocre as it ever was) I sat down next to the smouldering open fire with a pint of Tanglefoot to gloat over my impressive hoard: a bag of hedgehogs, a cauliflower the size of my head and a bag of rosehips. The best things in life ARE free! I thought. Shame I had to pay for the beer…
Back up in my Battersea kitchen, rosehips were the order of the day, and rosehip syrup was what I decided to concoct. After a bit of flick through my ever-expanding library and browse of the Internet, I had a fairly good idea of where to go with this syrup.
Rosehips have been used for centuries; in the Middle Ages they were used in puree form (with a good dose of sugar) as a filling for desserts. During World War II, in a rare show of Governmental frugality, the ministry of health put forth a scheme to begin gathering rosehips, which hold 20 times the amount of vitamin C in oranges (rosehips contain 2000mg of vitamin C/100g of fruit). Due to the lack of fresh fruit and orange juice being imported at the time, it was essential for the people of Britain to get a good dose of vitamin C from somewhere and the wild larder provided.
As useful as rosehips are, they have a nasty little secret hidden within, the seeds have a covering of very fine hairs, making them a menace to many in the past because children in the early 20th century used them as a primitive form of itching powder. Clever! The hairs themselves can cause can serious irritation of the throat if eaten, so it is imperative that they are well removed if any enjoyment is to come from rosehips.
- 500g Rosehips
- 500g Sugar/Caster sugar
- 2 pints of water (first infusion)
- 1 pint of water (second infusion)
The first task is to find out the weight of your rosehips, it’s quite difficult to guesstimate when out in the field (hmmm…. that feels like 500 grams). Then you can adjust your other ingredients accordingly.
Give the hips a good clean and remove any stalks. Place in a stainless steel pan and pummel the hell out of them with a potato masher, you can if you prefer, roughly chop them with a knife, but if you need to vent any frustration: Potato masher.
Boil 2 pints of water in a kettle, pour over the rosehips in the pan and bring to the boil, then remove from heat, cover and allow to infuse for 30-40 minutes.
Strain the infused contents through muslin or an old pair of tights (my personal favourite) into a bowl. For the second infusion transfer the pulp back into the pan, pour over a pint of boiling water and repeat the process as before. This removes all those irritating hairs.
Combine the strained liquids into a fresh saucepan and bring to the boil reduce by half. Add the sugar and boil fiercely for 5 minutes till all the sugar is dissolved.
Remove from the heat and pour into a warm, sterilized bottle or jar and leave to cool. Store in a warm place and consume within a week or two. To make it last longer, you could add a small amount of tartaric acid as you would when making elderflower cordial.
What to do?
Moving with the seasons, rosehips are only ever available at this time of year before the first frosts begin to take their toll on them. Therefore it seems only right to use the syrup for something to warm the soul. Either drizzled over a steaming apple & blackberry crumble or combined with other liquids to make a delightful hot drink…
Other than a good woman, this is the perfect fireside companion, absolutely incredible, possibly even better than the original and that’s saying something! Put a good dram of whisky in a mug (Glenmorangie original is quite delicate and a perfect partner, if not than a nice blended whisky like Famous Grouse…do NOT use Bells!) Add a little rosehip syrup and the juice of a 1/3 of a lemon and top up with boiling water. You may want to experiment with quantities as everyone has their personal preference. This drink is certainly packed to the hilt with vitamin C; it may even be useful to soothe a cold! For a children’s version, simply leave out the whisky.
For a good cocktail, hot or cold, a rich dark rum, rosehip syrup, apple juice and a slice of lemon will be enough to get any party started…a good addition to Halloween and bonfire night! The leaves make a fine aromatic tea and can be used alongside the syrup; the syrup can even be used as a cordial.
In conclusion, I would definitely recommend making a batch of rosehip syrup. It’s one of those perfect Sunday afternoon projects. Go for a walk, get your rosehips, make syrup, and enjoy a Rosehip toddy the very same day. I wonder what it would be like in mulled wine? I will have to find out later…midday is a bit early for that kind of thing!