Recently I finished the last of the blackberries I picked during the dregs of summer, before Michaelmas Day, at which point the devil pisses all over them and makes them inedible. This is the date on which the old feller is meant to have been cast out of heaven and tumbled to earth into brambles which he thus cursed.
But there are still rose hips – the fruit of the Dog Rose (rosa canina) to be had if you’re quick. A fantastic source of vitamin C and antioxidants, during the World War II children were co-opted to harvest rose hips in vast quantities to make syrup as a vitamin C replacement for the vital fruit from sunnier climes blockaded by the hunnish u-boats.
It’s connection to war is interesting, Bảo Ninh (Hoàng Ấu Phương) in his brilliant novel ‘The Sorrow Of War’, talks of NVA troops smoking the dried roots of rosa canina during what we call the Vietnam War (perhaps unsurprisingly the Vietnamese see things slightly differently and call it Kháng chiến chống Mỹ – The Resistance War Against America).
“One smoked to forget the daily hell of the soldiers’ life, smoked to forget hunger and suffering. Also to forget death. And totally, but totally, to forget tomorrow.”
I don’t need to forget tomorrow, so made a syrup. Here is the wartime Ministry of Food’s recipe for 2lb of hips.
Boil 3 pints of boiling water.
Mince hips in a course mincer and put immediately into the boiling water.
Bring to boil and then place aside for 15 minutes.
Pour into a flannel or linen crash jelly bag and allow to drip until the bulk of the liquid has come through.
Return the residue to the saucepan, add 1+1/2 pints of boiling water, stir and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
Pour back into the jelly bag and allow to drip.
To make sure all the sharp hairs are removed put back the first half cupful of liquid and allow to drip through again.
Put the mixed juice into a clean saucepan and boil down until the juice measures about 1+1/2 pints, then add 1+1/4 of sugar and boil for a further 5 minutes.
Pour into hot sterile bottles and seal at once.
If corks are used these should have been boiled for hour just previously and after insertion coated with melted paraffin wax.
It is advisable to use small bottles as the syrup will not keep for more than a week or two once the bottle is opened.
Store in a dark cupboard.