I knew I should be, but I wasn’t feeling the equinox at all. This whole summer has been one long disappointing Ray Bradbury reference punctuated only by a depressing trip back to the States (all our summer heat has been shifted there; they could use some rain and cold and my vitamin D levels and butternut squash could use some sun). Around late August I kind of had a feel about the holiday but when it rolled around a few days ago, I could not muster a damn. Last year I threw literally a Dionysian revel and this year… meh. I didn’t want to do much except take a walk, maybe start a demijohn of wine, enjoy what was really clearly finally autumn weather. I’d thought about going to pick some just-ripe elderberries as a deliberate observation but I honestly didn’t care enough. My brain barely took Harvest Home as a speed bump on the way to Halloween. It keeps lying to me that it’s late October and we should really have a blowout for Halloween, even though it’s late September. (Perhaps this is because Tesco has begun seriously taking the piss and has had a slew of Christmas decorations and food out for around a week now.)
With the vague equinoctial intent of Taking A Walk and Not Getting Rained On and maybe Finding Some Elderberries For Wine, we headed out.
I haven’t foraged nearly as much as I wanted to this year, through a combination of lousy weather, haphazard fruiting and too much else to get done, though the Telegraph notes it’s been a bad year for hedgefood. We managed to get a few pounds of blackberries a week ago, on the sunny half of a blocked-off lane, but they flowered late and fruited late and most of them are still seedy and green. I’m worried about the sloes — I’ve got a few bottles of Plymouth waiting for October but blackthorn has been unusually barren. I wished I could find tasty haws because there’s plenty of those little red bastards, but I didn’t like to eat glue in elementary school so I haven’t developed a taste for them. I hadn’t been down the lane before so I was hoping for elderberries, and while I was technically granted some — enough to individually count, in a few patchy picked-over clumps hanging off a tree at the very end of the lane — we hit the jackpot on rosehips.
The syrup I tried making last year wasn’t very good (probably because I don’t recall looking up a recipe for it) in that it was very weak and therefore boring and therefore a waste of fruit and fridge space until I finally poured it out. This year, success.
We ended up picking just over a pound of dog rosehips in the course of our walk; not bad for the area and enough to mitigate having turned around halfway through to pick up a bucket and a camera. The air had that refreshing crispness and the sun stayed out for the duration. It was subtly strange, though. I’d gone to the States and driven up into the mountains, where I was hoping to see huckleberries and didn’t. Instead I’d seen several big elder bushes, covered in sprays of frothy white flowers simultaneously with generous clumps of ripe berries, for the first time I could consciously remember. Between that and the other weirdo coincidences, Ireland was stalking me Transatlantically. And when I came back, the hedgerow patterns I’ve gotten used to the last few years seemed totally wrong. Instead of the black fruits I was expecting (blackberries and sloes ripening) or the meadowsweet I’d planned to pick which seemed to vanish, leaving scarcer green budding plants behind, I kept getting red fruit. Haws. Rosehips. It was like walking through a familiar neighborhood which was changed overnight just enough to throw me off.
With a pound of rosehips, making syrup seemed the obvious choice. The next batch is for chutney, but some vitamin C rich syrup for the winter was our priority. And with the limited space in the freezer (my ice cream basin takes up most of the spare volume) we wanted something I could can. This recipe is delicious, canning-friendly and turns out an intense thick syrup with a beautiful deep reddish-salmon color.
(Our yield was 1 full 250mL Kilner jar and 3/4 of one to stash in the fridge)
1 lb. fresh rosehips, chopped coarsely in a food processor
4.5 c. water
.5 lb. sugar
Bring half the water to a boil in a large saucepan with a lid on. Once it’s boiling, add all the chopped rosehips, replace the lid and bring back to the boil. Take it off the heat and let steep 20 min. with the lid on.
Strain all the pulpy rosehips out of the liquid and save both. You can either let this drip an hour through a jelly bag or smush it around in a fine sieve.
If you’re going to can it, prepare your jars and lids for boiling water processing.
Repeat the boil/add rosehips/boil/steep/strain procedure again, with the other half of the water.
Take all the steeped solution in a saucepan and reduce over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it is only 1.5 cups. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then bring to the boil and boil 5 min.
If canning, immediately pack into jars, leaving .5 inch headspace and process 5 min. in boiling water canner. If not, allow to cool and freeze or refrigerate promptly. It keeps about 2 weeks in the fridge.
I had felt really lukewarm about rosehip syrup but this stuff changed my mind. It’s intense and slightly tart without being sour and has a vague, inexplicable vanilla undertone. The color of it makes me want to mix it with pink grapefruit juice, and that makes me want to mix both with gin, so… maybe this is going to end up going the way of a Dionysian revel after all.