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!