A little departure from Six on Saturday this week to tell you about my autumnal foraging!
I’ve always loved the berries that adorn the trees and shrubs at this time of year, dripping from branches or twinkling on bare stems like little red, orange or yellow jewels. For a few years now, I’ve been eyeing the rosehips that appear on a large shrub rose by the gate, and this year there are also some lovely, plump looking hips at the new allotment.
The question was, what could I do with them? Well, quite a lot, I discovered. My gardening group members suggested jams, jellies and even a sweet soup, which is popular in Sweden and is called Nyponsoppa (the linguists among you will notice the similarity to ‘Nippon’, and yes this translates as Japanese soup – this is because the hips come from the rose species Rosa rugosa, which colonised large parts of the Swedish coast but originally comes from Japan). I was tempted to try making this curious sounding soup – traditionally served as a dessert with small almond biscuits and a dollop of cream or vanilla icecream – but I decided that I would not overcomplicate things and would start with a basic rosehip syrup.
There are many different ways to prepare rosehip syrup, involving various ways of removing the seeds and pesky little hairs in the hips, which are an irritant and are used to make itching powder – now we don’t want that! I have a lovely little French book with recipes devoted exclusively to tree and shrub foraging, La cuisine des arbres, which suggests crushing the hips, soaking them overnight and then straining them.
I adapted this recipe and amalgamated it with a simpler River Cottage recipe which can be made in one afternoon. The time-saving trick is to roughly chop the hips in a food processor (I used the add-on of my blender for chopping nuts). I don’t recommend chopping by hand – I started this way and nearly sliced one of my fingers off – the rosehips are hard and the knife slips off easily! Then you heat them up in water and double strain them – through two layers of muslin cloth, twice, so no hairs remain.
Sugar is then added – quite a lot – this is the only unhealthy part of the recipe. Rosehips themselves are a superfood, packed to the brim with vitamin C – around 25 times more so than oranges – as well as other vitamins – and are high in antioxidants. They ward off the common cold and flu, fight the signs of ageing, reduce pain from arthritis, lower blood pressure…to name just a few of their reputed benefits.
The syrup has lovely warm, floral, rich flavour, and a beautiful amber colour. I thought it was pretty enough for a special photo shoot. I reused an old gin bottle which was the perfect size – but I should have removed the label! The syrup can be used as a cordial, or added to cereal, pancakes, yogurt…I think it would also be lovely drizzled over a simple orange sponge cake.
So if you have a little time to spare, and would like to try making this, then you just need to find a good supply of hips. The best are from Rosa rugosa because they are plump and with a good flavour – but you can do as I did and use other, smaller hips from other rose bushes too. They should be red, and in good condition (avoid shrivelled or blackened ones) – and remember to forage responsibly, leaving some for the birds and small mammals.