Rosehips: Bejeweled Baubles of Fall
It isn’t over until it’s over. The days are still warm, the sun is shining and the there is still greenery around. Early fall is peak season for foragers as nature puts out its biggest bounty. With the end of the summer growing season, after everything has been blasted with sunshine, there are lots of exciting options for wild edibles. The flowers are setting seeds, jewel toned fruits are ripening and the leaves are just beginning to turn. There is no better time to be outside, and no better excuse to go foraging for a fall feast.
Summer was a little hit-and-miss in terms of weather and who knows what the remainder of September will bring, but it’s looking good so far. In the corner of my garden bright green stinging nettle is still abundant, the wild catmint is keeping my cat happy, crab apples are making an appearance as pale green orbs, dandelion roots are ready to be dug up and concocted into bitters and magenta bejeweled baubles called rosehips, are hanging from the prickly branches.
My strongest memory of rosehips was picking bright orange marble-sized balls from an old gnarly rose bush that grew in the corner of my school playground. We would pluck the balls from the tree and split open the thick, sticky flesh. The inside cavity was filled with seeds surrounded by tiny hairs. We would scoop out the seeds and hide them in our blazer pockets, and sprinkle it down the collars of unsuspecting boys, and watch as mayhem ensued. With fingers stained yellow and slightly sticky and sour when licked, rosehips created a lasting imprint, albeit at the expense of a few 10 year-old boys.
It wasn’t until I was all grown up and sipping rosehip tea at a posh aunts house that I even put the two together. Remarkably, like me, before I became interested in wild edibles, not everyone knows what these are, even when staring straight at them.
You’ll see them almost everywhere you go – anywhere wild roses grow, which in Nova Scotia is pretty much everywhere. Once the bright pink, fragrant petals drop and seeds develop, rose hips become one of the coolest features of the fall garden. They may not have the advantage that berries have of immediate consumption, but take a Ziploc bag home of rose hips and they can be cooked into all kinds of splendid things.
Roses are in the same family as apples and crabapples, and therefore their fruits similar in resemblance. Rose hips also have a bit of the tartness of crabapples.
Rose hips are one of the highest Vitamin C per weight fruits you can forage and they are loaded with antioxidants. The beauty is that hips ripen at precisely the right time as colds and flu start threatening to arrive and make us miserable. It’s no surprise that it’s history as restorative tonic dates back to medieval times.
Rose hips, also called rose haw, and rose hep, and are the fruit of any rose variety. It’s the flesh of the fruit you use, discarding the irritating (itchy powder) seeds. They are easy enough to identify that even kids can help harvest them. Picking rosehips can be as simple as making a trip to your backyard if it is graced with roses. All true roses produce edible fruit. The only trick with garden roses is to be certain they have never been sprayed with any chemicals.
Harvesting rose hips is simple. Look for the reddest and plumpest fruit, and simply pluck them off with your fingers. They are best picked after the first frost, when their fruit flesh turns soft and sticky, but they can be harvested anytime after they have turned red and as long as they remain firm enough to handle. They often stay on the trees all through winter and can be picked even when they turn hard, but they lose nutritional value as the season progresses.
Turning rose hips into a syrup is any easy way to make use of the fruit. The sharp, tropical flavors pair very well in cocktails and is delicious drizzled over ice cream.
It’s uses however, are varied and exciting and being used by innovative chefs, mixologists and distillers anywhere an abundance of wild rose hips are found. Rose hip or nypon in Swedish is a staple in Scandinavian diets and almost every Swedish child will know what rose hip soup tastes like. Scandinavian chef and wild food champion, René Redzepi pickles his rose hips in apple cider vinegar and preserves the berries as a thick puree for winter dishes.
British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has made a name for his autumn libation a rose hip and apple mojito. Closer to home Chef Martin Ruiz Salvador of Fleur de Sel roasts rose hips and then crushes them into a spice. Chef Frederic Tandy of Ratinaud serves a wild rosehip beurre blanc that he serves with blue rainbow trout, black salsify and hazelnuts. Most years’ chef Jason Lynch of Le Caveua releases his small batch Wild Rosehip Wine Jelly. Even local distillers Ironworks is using wild foraged hips in their spirits and local beer brewers Garrison and Brier Island have use the flavourful, tart hips in their brews.
To prepare your foraged hips to make jelly, or a simple syrup you will need to remove the stalks, and wash the hips well to remove the fine hairs. Blend the clean hips in a food processor and then add the pulp to a saucepan. Add water, sugar and spices like ginger, cloves, and cinnamon and simmer. Longer simmering will result in a thicker consistency, like jelly and shorter simmering will give you a an opaque, reddish-orange syrup. The flavor is a little floral with a hint of citrus.
Dilute the syrup with sparkling water or combine it with bourbon for a sophisticated fall twist on an Old Fashioned.