Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wild Food Spotlight 5: Rose Hips

This is the fifth in a series of foraging-related articles I'm writing for our local bulletin.
Re-posted from the Artisan Office Bulletin.
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Here we are enjoying a rare white December. Some community events have had to be cancelled due to the slippery roads, while others have carried on despite the hazards, and we've trouped out in our boots and snow gear to join our friends and loved ones in celebrating. What a joy to see the sun hit the solid crystalline snow like a crash of diamonds; to see drooping snowmen ornamenting so many driveways. I saw a large white Mike Wazowski in the meadow! Before the big melt began this week, the sides of streams and edges of bluffs were adorned with the most intricate icicles; children's faces were pink from eating them, and from all the frolicking that happens when we're given the gift of snow.

So who really thinks about foraging while skating on the lake? Well... you might. Or especially while trudging through the rained-on snow we've got right now. After all... the snow is beginning to crush like snow-cone ice and you'd need a tasty syrup to flavour that. Mmmm... syrup. What about winter berries? Most of them aren't particularly edible – some are even poisonous. But rose hips - those are a gift from the winter to your health. And your snow-cone, should you desire one.

If you cut into a rose hip, you'll find they're mostly seeds, which frankly are hardly useful and very scratchy. It's the thin layer of meat just under the skin that we're after, whether for jam, jellies, or syrup. Rose hips are best harvested after the first frost, which further develops their sugars and renders that outer layer of meat soft and pulpy. In the interior I used to squeeze this pulpy jam out and eat it straight off the bush. However, in our area they won't develop enough sugar to balance out the sour taste of their extremely high ascorbic acid (vitamin C) content.

Rose hips actually have such a high vitamin C content that they have been used by many cultures as a winter immune booster, and to prevent scurvy. Of course, heating does greatly diminish the vitamin C content, but thankfully rose hips seem to retain more than many other fruits. In war-time Britain, vitamin C was in short supply due to lack of imports, and people ate a lot of rose hip preserves. In a study conducted in 1942, the British Medical Journal found rose hip syrup to contain equal to more than twice as much vitamin C as other foods such as blackcurrant jam, fresh and tinned orange juice, and tomato juice (1). One final note about vitamin C: It's important to cook rose hip preserves in non-aluminum pans, as aluminum also destroys vitamin C.

Now back to those snow-cones. I'm writing this as the syrup is cooling in the kitchen, and my kids are eager for taste-testing. But you can't pour hot syrup over snow, so they'll just have to keep waiting!

Harvesting rose hips is simple: Nothing more than twisting off the hips until you have a bowlful. Choose rose hips that are plentiful and bright red. They'll darken after freezing, and the skin of some will split open, revealing a bright red or orange paste underneath. You don't want the hips that are becoming black or brown, and those that are still pale and hard are better for making tea.

Tea: Just chop up a tiny handful of rose hips and steep in hot water until it's as strong as you like it!

Syrup: cut the rose hips in half, and dump them into a non-aluminum saucepan. Add enough water to fully cover them all, plus an extra centimetre or so; an inch higher if you've filled a medium-sized pan.

Bring to a boil, and after a couple of minutes of boiling, mash with a fork or potato masher until the concoction begins to resemble tomato soup.

When you don't see many chunks of pulp floating around anymore, and it's quite thick and creamy, strain it through a sieve or jelly bag into a ceramic bowl.

Pour the strained juice back into the saucepan (make sure no seeds remain on the sides of the pan), and bring to a boil again. Add sugar or honey to taste. Turn the heat down just enough so that it keeps boiling, and cook until it's thick enough to stick to the back of a spoon (or as thick as you like!)

Snow Cones: Let it cool, and pour it over a clean cup of this nice slushy ice we have. You can store whatever you don't consume right away in the fridge (or outside in a sealed container!) for a couple of weeks. I dare you try and make it last that long – it's also excellent on pancakes, drizzled over trifle, cakes, or even mixed with sparkling water for a special drink.

Happy winter!



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