Hip hip hooray for rosehip syrup

By Olivia Rzadkiewicz

I FEEL very fortunate to have spent 2020 in relative freedom in the Buckinghamshire countryside. 

I’ve watched the seasons roll round with every daily walk showing a different detail in that annual cycle of change. 

On one walk a couple of weeks ago, I noticed gleaming red rosehips punctuating the greens of the hedgerows, and I was reminded of an impulsive foray into foraging that overtook me a few years ago.  In one go, I had made a batch of rosehip syrup and an elderberry cordial. 

Nostalgia swept over me and before I knew it, I had armed myself with a plastic bag and my sturdy walking boots. 

I have never really been good at remembering exact timings for seasonal fruits, and when I got up close to the hedgerow, I realised I had cut it very fine.  The rosehips were nearly all soft and all the best ones had already gone to the birds. 

Undeterred, I picked what I could – a mixture of hard and softening fruits – and zoomed off to another site where I vaguely remembered seeing dog rose blooms earlier in the year. Alas, my fears were confirmed – I was late to the party. 

What followed was a maniacal spree around the whole of south Bucks searching my favourite walking haunts for rosehips.  The actual picking of the hips is quite meditative – you can get lost in the repetitive action of twisting the fruits away from the stems but be warned that the thorns often snap you painfully back to reality! At the end of the day, I counted hips from ten separate locations, with a meagre 1.3kg to show for it. 

Making rosehip syrup is something of a labour of love.  When you have your harvest, you have to wash each hip carefully (to get rid of animal pee and car fumes), and then top and tail each hip.  This takes some time, and I managed to get through a whole radio comedy series in the process.  Make sure you have a sharp knife and a sturdy chopping board for this. 

Next, roughly chop the hips (some recipes suggest popping the fruit in a blender for a quick whizz but I did it by hand).  You’ll notice that the insides of the rosehips have little furry seeds stuck pretty firmly to the fruit wall.  These hairs are used to make itching powder, so be careful when handling them.  You can choose to remove the hairs and seeds at this point but I didn’t- it’s too fiddly and time-consuming and everything gets strained in the end.

Pop all your chopped hips (soft ones and hard ones alike) into a large saucepan and cover with water (1 litre per kg of fruit).  Let it boil for 15 minutes.  You’ll notice the most heavenly aroma coming off the water – it really is a happy and beautiful scent.  Somewhere between rhubarb and custard boiled sweets, candy floss and strawberries. 

Next, strain everything in the pan through a muslin cloth and set aside the clear liquid in a clean pan.  Take the pulp that you have already strained once and boil it in a fresh litre of water for another 15 minutes. 

Then strain everything in that pan through a muslin cloth, letting the liquid run into the pan containing the first batch of strained liquid.  Next, add a kilogram of sugar per kilo of fruit you started with, and stir while boiling until the syrup is at your desired viscosity.  Bottle it up and it will last for a few weeks in the fridge. 

Rosehips contain more vitamin C than oranges so don’t feel too guilty if you find yourself taking shots of the stuff – it’s irresistibly delicious.  Alternatively, it goes really well on pancakes, porridge or drizzled over fruit or ice cream – all the ways you’d use maple syrup. It’s also delicious as a hot or cold cordial, so take your pick and enjoy the fruits of your labour!

BREAKFAST FEAST: porridge with grated apple, cinnamon, blueberries and rosehip syrup

Rachel relishes a taste of the wild

LOOK at a hedgerow and what do you see? Rachel Lambert sees a feast – or a satisfying meal, at any rate.

Nettles and elderflower, dandelions and heather tea, gorse and seaweed – no wild flower is too much of a challenge for Rachel to rustle up a hearty meal, it seems, and the recipes all look frankly delicious…

From pink elderflower and rose cordial to gorse flower ice cream, wild moorland tea and home-made blackberry jam, this is all about harnessing the extraordinary colours and unique flavours of nature, and Rachel’s prolific foraging has seen her featuring as a guest on morning TV and her recipes popping up in every food magazine from Sainsbury’s to Waitrose.

Her wild food journey started many years ago by a crumbling Devonshire stone wall where friends introduced her to edible pennywort. “It quenched my thirst and tasted as fresh as peas – and my world changed forever,” she recalls.

“To me, foraging is a fun and enlivening way to appreciate the environment and access to fresh, seasonal food. It’s also an excuse for outdoor adventures, as well as quirky and labour of love investigations in the kitchen.”

It was back in 2007 that she started teaching other people about foraging, with that early discovery of pennywort building up into an encyclopaedic knowledge of how to harness the best of more than 100 other edible wild plants and weeds.

“Foraging is the glue that brings together the things that I love; nature, good food and people,” she says.

On hand to capture something of the atmosphere of her unusual lifestyle was Rick Davy, a photographer also based in Cornwall who has produced an extraordinary visual documentary of the lives of dozens of local people from different walks on life, featured on his A Day In The Life Of website.

His pictures – some of which are reproduced here – capture Rachel on a couple of foraging expeditions, including one to pick gorse flowers.

She recalls: “Last winter I went crazy about these flowers. I even made a little video about Foraging Gorse in Winter – such was my love affair with them.

“In my first foraging book I share a Gorse Flower Rice Pudding recipe, and I’ve made so much more with them since then. That day I was trying to perfect gorse flower truffles, and also wanted to dry some flowers for future syrups and cocktails. La, la, laaaa, the joys of foraging for gorgeous drinks and food.

“Those days that I shared partly with Rick are the good days – the outdoor days. As a forager I manage to get outdoors everyday, into nature. The rest of my time is spent cooking, preparing, writing, doing administration and contemplating new ideas and adventures.”

She published her first foraging book in 2015 and it sold out withing six months. She promptly created a second a year later focusing on edible seaweeds.

Having learned from many skilled nature teachers and previously worked within the arts, health and environmental education and community food projects, she was well placed to lead group foraging expeditions with adults and children from all walks of life – some even laced with the odd song or two.

“You may also find me singing my heart out (if no one’s listening) on clifftops and beaches and occasionally sharing one of those foraging songs on courses. It is a new love; that makes me, the plants and others smile (or so I’m told!).

“Joy and pleasure are key to my teaching style and life as a forager. With a self-confessed sweet-tooth, wild desserts and sweet treats made from foraged ingredients feature regularly in my courses and blog posts, as well as savoury delights!”

Rick didn’t need much convincing about the merits of foraging. “I’d be the first to admit that I do love a bit of foraging,” he writes in his photo-essay about Rachel. “Foraging for Rachel has brought together many different things she loves, walking, nature, plants, food, the senses and creative cooking.

“I joined Rachel foraging one early spring morning. She started picking stuff from the hedgerow and to you and I it might pass off as nothing other than weeds.”

Back in her kitchen the wild alexanders were transformed into sweet filo tarts, while she uses bright yellow gorse flowers in jewelled savoury rice, sugar syrups for ice creams and rice pudding, powdered sugar for truffles and cocktails.

“I enjoyed furthering the art of foraging and discovered some new recipes and food along the way,” says Rick, who has lost count of the number of “lives” he has featured on his site, from a beekeeper to a wildlife artist.

“The project will continue to evolve – it has no end,” he says. “I’ve shot and documented the coastal lives project for the love of it. I love what I do for a living.”

Rick Davy is a creative commercial and lifestyle photographer based in Cornwall. All the photographs in this feature are reproduced with his kind permission from his website documenting the lives of individuals living and working by the Cornish coast.

Rachel Lambert is an author and forager based in Penzance who runs wild food foraging courses for groups, families and couples.

Capture the colours of Caledonia

EXILED Scots wanting to capture something of the atmosphere of the Highlands should take a trip round Stoke Common this month.

Amid the ferns and conifers on this slice of ancient Buckinghamshire heathland, the gorse and heather are springing into bloom, giving the common a distinctly Caledonian feel.

No distant mountains or deep, dark lochs to complete the illusion, of course, but the yellows, pinks and purples create a carpet of colour as the heather bursts into flower at the end of the summer.

The iconic British moorlands of Wuthering Heights and Hound of the Baskervilles fame are depicted as bleak, windswept and foreboding – but all that changes by the start of August.

A large proportion of the world’s moors and upland heaths are in the UK, making our moorland habitats internationally important – and none more so than this one, since these 200 acres of land represent the largest vestiages of a landscape that was once extensive across Buckinghamshire.

So there’s no need to head for the hills of the Scottish uplands to savour the late-summer spectacle. The lowland heaths of southern England and south Wales also have the heather showing off at is best alongside the golden yellow of gorse, and Stoke Common is a perfect example.

And if you think the yellow flowers look good enough to eat, forager and author Rachel Lambert has some intriguing recipes on her website; fancy a wild rice pudding, anyone?

Find out more about Rachel at a website documenting the lives of people living and working by the Cornish coast.