Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Rose Hips

Mention rose hips to people today and you're likely to receive baffled looks. Like crab apples, penny farthings and the blood sacrifice, rose hips have fallen from people's memories for the simple reason that no one uses them anymore. Where once they served as a free and plentiful supply of vitamin C to the nation, rose hips were eventually displaced from kitchen pantries by convenient commercial product. Housewives were spared the time consuming process of making the preparation; the downside however was the loss of knowledge about the rose hip's use and considerable worth, knowledge accumulated over many generations and now simply forgotten.

Rose Hips weren't the only casualty. A similar fate has befallen quince, rhubarb and crab apples, to name a few. There are however groups of people who haven't forgotten the benefits to be had from these old plants and fruits. It's not particularly hard to find books, magazine articles or posts on websites of recipes from the past using foodstuffs either forgotten or ignored. Often these ingredients are given new life as they find themselves being used in new and different ways. This revival is particularly relevant today; with the gradual rise in the cost of living and the failure of wages to keep up with these changes, finding alternative means of supplementing one's diet has become particularly pertinent.

Most baby boomers are familiar with rose hips, and it was my mum who filled me in on their use. Consumption was encouraged in an attempt to help both the young and old build up resistance to winter coughs and colds. The most common encounter was in the form of a hot drink, with a healthy slosh of syrup poured into a cup, topped with boiling water. It was also administered by the tablespoon, straight into the gobs of reluctant children. Some families would gather rose hips to make their own batches of syrup in preparation for the winter; some would simply buy it ready made. How did it taste? Mine tasted of apricots and mangoes, sweet but not lolly-sweet, with a kind of smoky, earthy note (if any of that makes sense).

So what actually are Rose hips? Basically, they are the seed pods of roses, located right behind the bloom. They don't ordinarily get a chance to develop as rose growers deadhead old blossoms to encourage the growth of new bloom. The rose bushes I found growing wild all over the orchard are the dog rose variety.

Left to their own devices, petal fall occurs and the little green ball slowly grows in size and turns orange and then a deep red. As you can see below, there are small spines to be found on various parts of the plant, so a pair of gloves are a must for protection from cuts and scratches.

The rose hip plays host to tens of little, furry seeds. Their dispersal is carried out either through birds eating the rose hip, with the seeds scattered in its faeces, or simply waiting until it becomes dessicated, whereupon the seeds simply fall out.

It's traditional to commence harvesting after the first frost. Liquid present within the rose hip freezes, rupturing cell walls, softening fruit and ultimately hastening decay. The frosts here have been late in coming (having only had two so far), and the fruit has softened over time anyway.

Having spent quite a bit of time lately gathering rose hips, it was time to put them to good use. The following recipe is from the River Cottage preserves book (I've altered the amount of sugar, originally 1kg - I thought it was a little sickly, so I reduced the amount with my second batch):

 Rose Hip Syrup

1 kg rose hips
700 g caster sugar
Large pot
Muslin bag (or a pillow slip)
Jars/bottles & lids/caps

With the rose hips in a large bowl or roasting dish, remove any vegetative parts (stalk, hairs); discard anything black or in an advanced state of decay. This is going to take a while, so do it while watching TV or have your manservant read aloud to you.

Wash and rinse clean your bottles and lids. Put a small pot of water on to boil; throw in your lids and the funnel for 10 minutes. Place your bottles into an oven set at 120°c for half an hour; once done, turn the oven off and leave the bottles inside. Scald your muslin bag with boiling water.

During the process, we want to minimise the loss of vitamin C, keeping our syrup as vital and health-laden as possible. Vitamin C starts to degrade as soon as it's exposed to air, so before cutting up the rosehips, have your water (you'll need 2L) boiling in the biggest pot you have.

Blitz your rose hips, seeds and all, but don't allow them to turn to mush. Place immediately into the boiling water. Once it comes back to the boil, remove from the heat. Cover, and allow to steep for half an hour. 

A commonly held idea is that boiling must surely break down the level of vitamin C in the rose hips. This is true up to a point; the activity of enzymes are in fact responsible for a much greater part of this loss and they are active in temperatures well below boiling point. Enzymes however cannot survive at boiling point, so subjecting the rose hips to this level of heat in a brief fashion minimises this loss.

Over a bowl, pour the mix through the muslin bag and allow the remainder to drip through. Leave overnight, supporting the bag with anything at your disposal (see photo below), ensuring it doesn't make contact with the bowl or the liquid.

The next day, remove the bag and place the pulp into a litre of boiling water.  Again, once the pulp has been brought back to the boil, remove from the heat and allow to steep for half an hour. Strain overnight as before.

Throw the pulp onto your compost pile. Pour the liquid into a large pot and then bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, allowing it to simmer, and then leave to reduce by half. Add your sugar, stir to dissolve, then bring back to the boil. Boil hard for five minutes. The liquid will begin to clarify, and scum will form on the surface.

Remove from the heat. Take the bottles out of the oven and set up, ready for pouring. Using a soup ladle, gently remove as much scum as possible from the surface. Now, insert your sterilised funnel into the mouth of the first bottle and pour in the syrup. Fill the bottle as close to the top as possible - the less air, the better, minimising scope for bacterial activity, as well as vitamin C loss to air exposure.

And there you go! Store in a cool, dark place. Once opened, pop it in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks. Aside from its obvious use in bolstering your health, it can be drizzled over ice cream, pancakes, fruit and yoghurt. Pour some in a glass and top with soda water, or get creative and create a cocktail, probably something gin-based. Enjoy!


milliemirepoix said...

thanks for this very informative post! I've heard of rose hips before, and had seen the little red fruity bits left over on rosebushes, and sort of wondered if that was what they were but never actually put 2 and 2 together. I'm going to see if I can find some now :)

Kathleen said...

Ooooh, those rosehips are just gorgeous! Waiting patiently on our first frost to harvest mine, they're not quite red & fat & juicy enough for me just yet.

I can't wait to make my rosehip syrup, I was thinking the same thing about the sugar too :) Will have to get my cocktail creating thinking cap on!

Lou said...

Cough cough aragh I really need some!

Barbara said...

I've had rose petal jam but never rosehip syrup. I have some spinster friends in NZ who always made crab apple jelly. One of the things I miss.

Bronwyn said...

I used to steal swigs of rosehip syrup from my (much younger) brother's bottle when he was a baby. Mum wouldn't let me have any for myself. I love the stuff, and every year when I see the wonderful big red hips on the rosebushes in the Dunedin Botanic Gardens I wonder if there's any way I can get them to give me some. One day I must remember to ring them up and ask.

Unknown said...

I've never tried making this, but I've tried some that I bought at a market.

I found that it went well with lime juice in cocktails (to cut down on the sweetness), or with anything chocolate flavoured - think turkish delight...

Might have to give this recipe a go!

Alessandra said...

Uh, the syrup looks nice, good to keep for winter to pour over a glass full of snow :-).

When I was a child we used to make rose hip jam (we picked the rose hip from the wild rose bushes that abound in the mountain. In NZ I never tried, first because you need a lot and I only have 3 rose plants, second because I am never sure if roses have been sprayed or not, and thirds, because there aren't wild roses in the Waitakere bush (i suppose that this is a good thing - they would probably become another invasive weed) but once again my intake of free wild berries is limited to kahikatea.

Good on you to show that food can come from rose hips, and I love the picture with the hanging bag of dripping juice; my style of cooking :-)

Unknown said...

I grow roses, but I suppose you only can get syrup of rose hips from alba roses, or the old English roses, don't you think? I have David Austin's English roses but the hips do not appear spiky like yours here. I also have floribunda, hybrid teas, and bush roses, and their hips are huge and fat.

I'd love to try out the syrup. Might be nice for my pregnancy hehehe...

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. I've got a rose bush out front that's laden with rosehips. I was thinking rose hip tea. Now, I'm thinking maybe syrup...

Nigel Olsen said...

MOM - Try both! I've been drying some out for making tea, too.

Arfi - It'd be worth a try; I've not come across any source saying it had to be a specific type of rose hip.

Alessandra - I now have the perfect platform for anything that requires dripping - the tripod of my telescope! Perfect height, lots of support! Your jam sounds good, but I've used up all my available sources of rose hips now.

Kat - Yeah, I've seen bottles of it at my local health food store (not cheap, either). Should work with gin.

Bronwyn - Good idea, otherwise they'll just go to waste

Barb - We should do a swap...

Lou - Poor old thing! I'll send you some - batch 4 finally done.

Kathleen - Get back to me with your creation!

Millie Mirepoix - (Your name always reminds me of chef school & constantly making mirepoix!) Do it! It really is quite a unique taste & well worth the effort.

Isa said...

This looks lovely! I know rosa canina (dog rose) is the type of rose hip used medicinally by herbalists - you can make a syrup out of it too, if you can find it. It's supposed to grow like a weed but I'm yet to find it growing on the roadside.

Nigel Olsen said...

Isa - Hello! There are plenty of them growing wild all over the orchard, and closer to town, I see them growing along the stopbanks down by the river.