There’s no shortage of rosehips around in the hedgerows in Yorkshire, so how hard could it be to collect a few and process them into a nourishing source of vitamin C? Memories of being fed a spoon every morning by my mother merged with visions from old Hovis adverts to leave me with enough of a warm mix of nostalgia to see me heading out with my collecting bags.
The first thing I learned is that rosehips aren’t quite as easy to collect as I’d thought. Some of the hips protect themselves with a thin covering of spiky hairs. This means when you grab hold of them and try and pull them off the bush they let you know they don’t like it by pushing some of those hairs into your fingers. It isn’t particularly painful but is sufficiently discomforting to mean you don’t feel inclined to take too many hips off that bush and you need to go looking for another one.
There is a lot of variation between different rosehip bushes. Some produce hips that are almost smooth whereas others have so many sharp spikes that they dig into your hands with fierce determination. I assumed the tasty ones were probably those best protected but having not taken any gloves I spent a lot more time searching out the smooth varieties than sacrificing my hands to the cause of a bit more flavour.
Eventually I had a nice collection of hips and some slightly itchy hands so I headed back home with my treasures and started to process them. My theory was if I washed them a couple of times then I could bung them in a saucepan with some water and boil them into a mush that I could push through a sieve.
As theories go it seemed to work well at first. It was relatively easy to boil down the fruit and start to see it disintegrate into a mixture of fleshy pulp and seeds. I realised I was probably losing some of the goodness this way but figured more than enough would survive to make it worth the effort.
Then I tried to work the mixture through my best metal sieve. At this point the flaw in my plans became evident. It requires effort to push pulverised fruit through a sieve and the seeds you don’t want have a nasty tendency to settle into the bottom and block the passage of anything else. It took a lot of stirring, a bit of swearing and many small batches before I ended up with an insipid looking liquid in the bottom of a bowl.
I found a way to get rid of quite a bit of the waste by splashing it round the kitchen in a manner somewhat similar to the style of the late Jackson Pollock throwing paint onto a canvass. I speculated whether I might be able to submit my efforts for the Turner prize but concluded it might be wiser to spend time cleaning up the kitchen.
At this stage I began to realise that it might not be a bad idea to sample the product of my labours. It was tasteless in the extreme. So I added sugar. I added honey. I added lemon juice. I added lemon zest. I reduced the liquid. The results were a definite improvement. It now tasted like sweet lemons with a vague hint of something insipid in the background. It also had acquired an off brown colour that was not entirely consistent with the warm pink glow that I had been anticipating.
Nevertheless I did seem finally to have succeeded. After around four hours labour I had produced three and a half jars of passable syrup that might just be sufficient to see me through the winter in robust health.
I have been religiously taking a teaspoon a day and feel much better for the experience. Apart, that is, from the slight sniffle, the attack of sneezing and the sore throat. Do you think perhaps I might be coming down with something?