Despite the chill in the air, the autumn foraging harvest isn’t quite ready. But I was never very good at taking no for an answer.
Visiting my parents’ house in East Sussex last weekend, I pulled on my gumboots and went for a walk. I kept my eyes peeled for berries, nuts and toadstools, as the landscape is incredibly varied and you can find pretty much anything you want if you time your search correctly, but I did have a particular quarry in mind. Rosehips. Remarkably, not everyone actually knows what these are, even when staring straight at them. They’re the seeds (and fruit, most importantly) of the rose, and are small red berries. Not to be confused with all the other small red berries you will find, most of which are poisonous. A guide on this here.
Rosehips – distinctively shaped, and easily identified once you’ve encountered them once. They’re also to be found growing on rose bushes, as opposed to any other type of tree or bush, which is a useful clue.
Hawthorn berries, are distinguished from the rosehip by being smaller, rounder, and tightly clustered together. These are actually edible, technically, but I wouldn’t go there personally.
I walked about six miles searching for rosehips, but most of those I found were still orange, or had not ripened in sufficient quantities to merit harvesting. Grazing sheep and horses watched me traipse across their fields in bemusement, and I met several lovely dogs and their owners enjoying the public footpaths and Woodland Trust land. The latter provides a fantastic harvest of sweet chestnuts every year, the ground carpeted with their prickly green cases and gleaming mahogany buttons, so I’ll be back in a month or so to make the most of it.
Wild poppies growing amongst a field of corn, through which the footpath winds.
Ripening corn. This does not count as food for foraging, unfortunately, as that would be cheating (and stealing, of course)
I also discovered a number of puffballs, and these beefsteak mushrooms. They actually taste like beef, as well as looking remarkably similar – they’re pink and marbled inside, and even bleed a reddish juice if cut when young.
You can forage for toadstools any time, though autumn is best as the conditions are perfect for them to flourish. I left these where I found them, however, and doggedly continued my search. I nibbled on blackberries as I hunted along the hedgerows and a few ripe damsons that I had to climb to reach. Finally, FINALLY, as I was reaching home on the meandering, circuitous route I had chosen, I found a large bush absolutely covered in ripe rosehips (I may have done a little dance. The sheep were not impressed). I gathered a small bagful, leaving most of them for the birds, and trotted home to brew up a lovely little potion I’d been planning.
I wanted to follow Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for rosehip syrup, for some cocktails I have planned later in the week. The syrup is delicious, and can also be diluted and used as a cordial, or drizzled over ice-cream, pancakes etc.
Chopping rosehips by hand – if I’d had more of them I would have used a blender, but I prefer chopping by hand as quality control is more effective; you’re more likely to spot mould and bugs.
Leave the seeds in and chop roughly, as you’re only going to be extracting the liquid.
After covering the pulp with boiling water, and leaving it to stew (off the heat) for half an hour, I then lined a sieve with two layers of muslin and strained the liquid through it in batches. I returned the pulp to the pan and repeated the process, then combined the two batches of liquid and simmered until it reduced by half.
I know that must look like a lot of sugar to add to 250g of rosehips, but it’s normal for preserves I promise! Once the liquid has reduced, remove it from the heat and stir in castor sugar. Once that has dissolved return and “boil hard” (Hugh’s words!) then pour into sterilised bottles or jars. If you want it thicker boil for longer, but I wanted mine for drinks so left it fairly runny.
The finished result. Hugh FW in the background there for moral support.
Is anyone else planning on harvesting the hedgerows this autumn?
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