Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Rose Hip Syrup

I made my first ever homemade rose hip syrup last autumn. It was dead easy. But first a bit of background.

The Robert Redford film, Jeremiah Johnson, came out in 1972, apparently. I remember seeing it with a then boyfriend. We were both fairly inspired by the film, he perhaps even more than I. A few years later we went our separate ways, but I've always been slightly astounded that said boyfriend named his only child Jeremiah, with a middle name equally as Biblical. I always felt rather bad for the kid, but perhaps he has thrived in spite of his name and ... all. 

Anyhow, at some point I found a book that purported to be the foundation for this film's screenplay: Mountain Man, by Vardis Fisher. I read it several times over several years and it eventually also went a separate way, but one thing in it always stuck with me: rose hips. In the book the main character picks rose hips and does something with them because of their vitamin C. I remember at the time, in the Dark Ages Before Internet, wondering what on earth was a rose hip?

To my knowledge, I never set eyes on one in all the 39 years I lived in the US, but then I didn't get out a lot then and we didn't have 'hedgerows' along 'public footpaths'. I was rather excited when Bill identified a rose hip for me on one of our walks. Bill told me that as a child, in post-war (WWII) Britain, he and other children were encouraged to pick rose hips and take them to school, where they would be paid for them. The rose hips were then made into rose hip syrup which was given to school children - again, because of their vitamin C content. This was just after food rationing ended, so there must still have been concern about children's nutritional needs being met. 

My friend, Vivien, heard me witter on about rose hip syrup for so long she bought me a small bottle one year, for Christmas or a birthday. It was lovely but I was sure it cost more than I was prepared to pay for something I could make at home.

So, (we're getting to the real point) this autumn Bill and I noticed that foraging was particularly good. We found a small wild tree with a few green apples, we picked quite a few blackberries, a friend from my crafting group told me where to find a vast number of damson trees, we found a few sloes and quite a few rose hips. In the midst of starting various other fruit alcohols and crisps I found a rose hip syrup recipe and had a go. This is the one I used, and it couldn't be easier.

I think I spent a few minutes cutting off the stems and ends, but I'm not even sure that was necessary before setting them to boil in a prescribed amount of water. When it came time to strain the solution (twice) I used two very stained linen tea towels, saved for use as strainers.  I remember Simon asking me if rose hips were the things with 'itchy powder' in them and Bill said yes. Their really isn't a lot of 'meat' on rosehips and the inside has what looks like a lot of very tiny needles in. You really don't want to be dealing with those, hence the double strain. So as with crab apples you just boil them, filter the liquid and add sugar, heating til the sugar dissolves. I filled almost three empty gin bottles with the syrup from one afternoon's harvest. The ladies at my craft group wanted to know where all that gin went. They seemed almost disappointed when I said it was in the loft with damsons and sugar added. We used the partial bottle right away, the other two went into the freezer until closer to Christmas when I decanted the syrup into small wine bottles (Bill and I drank the wine) for gifts. 

Bill loves this stuff and I'm pretty fond of it myself. It's fairly sweet, of course, but has a rich kind of flavour Bill says takes him back to his childhood. We've been using it on breakfast cereal instead of sugar or honey.

One of the Christmas presents I got Bill was membership in a local foraging class, Wild North Discovery, with several meetings scheduled over the year. Of course I joined myself as well, to make it an activity we could share. I'm looking forward to learning what else we can pick up around here to eat!

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