There is always one of the hardened, vicious, replilian claw thorns that's going to get you. Usually the one you never saw coming. Straight into the outside edge of my hand, stinging like a hornet. I cursed and slowly pushed my arm forward to ease it back out of the trap.
Like many of the good things to forage, rosehips ask you to pay a price. Just like sloes and blackberries, you have the thorns to avoid and then bear with, when you become caught. But it's worth it.
As a boy, we all knew to collect ripe rosehips and then to peel off the fleshy red outer skin to expose the 'itching powder' - the irritating hairs surrounding the seeds. We all knew this was how you got itching powder, but we never seemed to actually use it on anyone and to this day I don't even know if that is what proper, commercial grade, itching powder is made of. Although I do know what it feels like. Once, many years ago at boarding school, one of the other boys in my dormitory loaded up my bed with the stuff. The rash and total irritation it brought on was really not pleasant. But the beating he was given by the headmaster, was probably worse, so I guess it all worked out in the end.
Anyway, the sun was shining on a lovely sunny September afternoon and I decided to go forage. I have never made anything from rosehips before, they have always seemed something that you needed to pick a lot of to be able to do anything useful with. But this day I had decided to just go for it. I took out my bag and called the whippets to join me on a ramble.
It's interesting because foraging like this always lifts my mood. I think that the combination of being outside in nature, with a purpose, and with a benefit promised for your work, is something that lifts the spirits. As I began to go over all of the spots I had seen wild rose bushes on my daily walks, I could feel mood becoming mentally lighter.
I found the first bush, dotted with the occasional hip. Beginning to gather some of the small, hard fruits I immediately thought that I was going to be a very long time collecting. You see I'd found a recipe for rosehip wine which called for about a kilo of fruit. A kilo!! I was never going to get there at this rate. I needed a better bush.
I carried on. Now I found a new target. It held larger, more filled out hips. It wouldn't take as long to build up the weight. But this bush was at the back of a thicket of dog mercury and other shrubs. I pushed in further, until I could reach one thorny branch. I hung on to the end, whilst plucking off the fruit. This was better, but not perfect, as I soon had run out of branches low enough to catch. Onwards again.
Beyond the small pond I was walking around I found another Rose. Small, wiry and with mean unripe fruit. The shade it was in had held back the hips. No good.
So I continued, calling the dogs to catch up. I was going to go back to where I started and then move into new woods. There was nothing here.
But just as I stopped looking and came around a corner, only meters away from where I had started my hunt, 'the motherload' appeared. This rose was weighed down with fat, orange-red hips. Four or five hips clumped together, so bursting with flesh that the bush seemed almost overwhelmed with them. An explosion of orange and scarlet that it looked as if the branches were on fire.
I went to work, happily, joyfully. Each time I harvested I could pick 5, 6 or more hips at at time. I was stuffing handfuls of fruit into my cotton foraging bag. The dogs became bored with me spending so much time in one spot. I started dreaming as I picked, of pale country wine with a slight scent of vanilla. And as I dreamed and picked and smiled and dreamed some more the thorn bit deeply into my hand. This was the reminder that nothing good comes freely. We have to earn our rewards. We have to pay our dues. I had to respect the rose bush.
A kilo of rosehips was had. I estimated how many by comparing the weight of my bag to an imaginary bag of sugar. It seemed similar. So now I could set off home, give the dogs a bit more exercise and start to make something special. In fact, two special things. You see my estimate of weight was off. By about half. So what to do with 1.5 kilo's of rose hips? This is what.
From River Cottage Handbook - Booze, by John Wright (one of my favourite country drink books)
- 1kg rosehips
- 1 Campden tablet, crushed
- 1 tsp pectic enzyme
- 1.3kg sugar
- Juice of 3 lemons
- Yeast and yeast nutrient
Wash the hips thoroughly and remove any that are green or rotting. Transfer to a fermenting bucket. Boil 2.5 litres of water and pour over the hips. Allow to cool, then crush the hips. Add the crushed Campden tablet and the pectic enzyme, cover and leave for 24 hours.
Heat 2 litres of water in a saucepan and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Add to the fermenting bucket. When cool, add the lemon juice and the yeast and yeast nutrient.
Allow to ferment for 6 days stirring every day except the last.
Strain or siphon into a demi-john and fit an air lock. Leave until fermentation ceases. Siphon into a second demi-john and leave until the wine is clear.
Bottle and allow to mature for a year before drinking. But while you are waiting, why not use the remaining rosehips to make something equally intoxicating but 5 months quicker to finish...
Also from River Cottage - Booze
- 300g firm rosehips
- 120g sugar
- 600ml vodka
Place the rosehips and sugar in a 1-litre Kilner jar, top up with the vodka, close the lid and shake. Store in a dark cupboard, shaking daily until the sugar has dissolved. Leave for 4 months and then decant the liquid into bottles. Allow to mature for 3 months before drinking.
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