© Kat Morgenstern, December 2002
Rosehips are funny fruit: Gourd shaped little piglets, wafting in the wind sprinkling an unexpected dash of colour on to the winter landscape of olive greens, browns, yellows and grays. Suddenly there they are, like fireworks on a tree, impossible to ignore. And yet, despite the fact it is winter the birds and squirrels have not ravaged the branches and cleared off what they could. Presumably the reward for seed distribution is not that great from a birds point of view. The Rosehips, in their early stages are rock hard and difficult to pick. The skin is thin, the fruit flesh meager and inside they are filled with a bunch of hard little triangular seeds that are covered in fine hair, which perhaps are just as irritating to a bird's throat as they are to a human one. Not so long ago this fine hairy fluff was a prized item among school children who used it as itching powder. Though for this purpose the best rose variety to use is the the dog rose, with its big fat squash-shaped hips, which yield the greatest amount of fluff.
When the rosehips first appear I can never resist the temptation of biting into one, even though they are still hard and very sour. Inevitably I end up spitting and splattering the seeds out and trying to get rid of the little hairs. Mind you, that happens just the same when they are ripe and ready. Rosehips are best picked after the first frost, when their fruit flesh turns soft and sticky. At this point they can be picked without a struggle and are much easier to process.
One of the best ways to preserve them is to turn them is as syrup or conserves which are formidable Vitamin C bombs - sorely needed to boost the immune system at this time of the year.
When picking wild herbs or fruit I always ask the tree, bush or plant for permission and explain why I need their help to heal and nourish my friends and family and let them know that I would appreciate it very much if they would donate a few leaves or berries or whatever I am collecting, to this good cause. I find that that the plant addressed in this way will be much more cooperative in donating their gifts - something I greatly appreciate when gathering fruit from thorny friends. When I have to pull at a plant I always feel as if I am brutalizing it, scavenging rather than foraging, so I always make sure I attune to them first.
Rosebushes are covered in sharp little thorns and if one approaches them 'mindlessly' one is sure to carry forth the battle scars, the rosebush will win, even if you manage to extract some hips. So a mindful attitude really helps, I talk to the bush, gently reprimand it when it tries to tuck at my clothes or rip my collecting bag. Usually we come to an agreeable cooperative arrangement, like, I let the bush hold my bag for me while I am picking, since it tries to get at it anyway, and that leaves my hands free to pull off the hips. That is the other advantage of picking rosehips late in the year. The fact that they have turned mushy and sticky inside means that they are much looser on the bush and will come off much more easily. Still, this is not a fruit to tackle when you are in a hurry. The thorniness makes any quick moves regrettable, and the small size of the hips makes picking even a pound of them a rather slow process. When I have enough I thank the bush and go on my way.
When I first started making rosehip syrup I always went through the painstaking process of cutting off each hip's tail and snout, cutting them in halves or quarters and getting them all cleaned out and ready before putting them into the pot. This can be a very drawn out process, and very fiddley at that. A much better way of preparing them is to simply put the hips in a grinder or processor and putting the mush straight into a pot of boiling water (not too much). Not only does this save hours of time, but it also saves the most essential constituent of the rosehip, the vitamin C, from oxidation decay. The hips contain an enzyme that activates this degeneration process as soon as the hip is cut. Amazingly, the vitamin C loss from boiling is much less than the potential loss from oxidization, and what's more, the boiling kills the enzyme.
So, just wash the hips well, pull off the stalks and put them in the grinder whole, then add the resulting mush to a pan of simmering water. They will mush up very easily and in no time you will have the sticky goo of seeds and what fruit flesh there, is floating in the pot. Simmer gently for a while and add plenty of sugar or honey (1lb of sugar per 1lb of fruit) as well as any spices you might like, such as ginger, cloves or cinnamon. Simmer until it reaches the desired consistency. Longer simmering makes it thicker, so it can be used as a marmalade spread. Shorter simmering leaves it a more syrupy consistency. When it is ready, pour it through a jelly bag and let it drip into a measuring container or jar. Fill into sterilized jars and close tight. Unopened they will last as well as jams do, but once opened they should be stored in the fridge and eaten within 10 days.
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