I have a beautiful Queen Elizabeth Rose bush in my front yard. If I am slack about trimming it when it gets done putting out its lovely, simple pale pink blossoms, I end up with bright orange rose hips. I had never done anything with them until this year, and now that I have, I can’t believe what I’ve been missing!
I had the opportunity to do a talk for the Chattahoochee Herb Guild this week. This group has been meeting for decades and has some very devoted herbalists, authors and lecturers. Trying to find a topic they weren’t already really familiar with was a challenge, but we finally hit on the idea of Herbs of the Vikings as something they had never done and were excited to learn about. It gave me a fantastic opportunity do delve further into Norse cuisine and medicine. There are very few written records from that time period, and so a lot of the research takes the form of studying the cultures around them, those they interacted with, and what sorts of trade goods would have been available at the time. I had a great time putting this talk together and it deserves a post of its own. I don’t know how often I’ll get a chance to do this one for different groups, but it is a good one!
One of the resources I used was the Ribe Viking Center based in Denmark. Their premise is that ‘Nordic Food is Viking Food’, and they base their conjectured menus on food stuffs they knew were available to the people of the time, paired with common dishes still prepared in modern Nordic regions. They had a recipe for Stewed Rose Hips with Berries and Apples. That gave me the jumping-off point to utilize the 5 beautiful rose hips I had growing on my bush. Cutting up rose hips was a first for me so we wanted to get pics, but we documented the process on a not-very-good cell phone, so the resolution isn’t great. Next year I’ll be better prepared!
I started by trimming the bush and snipping off the viable rose hips. Sources all tell me that if you wait until the first frost the rose hips will be much sweeter, but the date for the talk was in early October, a few weeks before our typical first frost date here in Atlanta. I decided to make a stewed apple and rose hip dish, thinking that the berries would overpower the rose hips that I really wanted to be the featured part of the dish. I found some cute little Lady Apples at the market, which are similar to a medieval period apple. I quartered and seeded those, and then proceeded to clean the rose hips.
Rose hips come in all sizes. Some bushes produce really small ones, which are generally dried to be used in tea. Some varieties are used to produce Vitamin C supplements. Some are bred specifically to produce so-so flowers but very large rose hips. My Queen Elizabeth bush produces hips that are about an inch across, with a good 1/8 – 1/4 inch of flesh around a tight core of seeds.
The inside is full of seeds and tiny fibers. Sources tell me that those tiny hair-like fibers can be used to make itching powder, so you have to clean the hips carefully to get them all out! There are more fibers in the flesh of the rose hip, but not the itching kind. I tried several tools before settling on a grapefruit spoon as the best implement to get inside and scrape all of the seeds and fibers out of the flesh. I used a small paring knife to trim the stem and blossom ends as well.
I sliced the hips into crescents because I wanted the shape to be retained in the final product. I ended up peeling them after they cooked, which was tedious but fairly easy as the peel slipped off, leaving the crescent shape intact.
I stewed the Lady Apples and the Rose Hips in a little water for several hours. It took a long time for them to soften, and next time I think I might do this in a small crock pot. Since I was featuring various herbs and spices available to the Viking culture, I steeped some cardamom pods in warm honey and mixed that with the cooled and peeled apples and rose hips.
For the class, I sweetened some Icelandic yogurt called Skyr with some honey and spooned the apple and rosehip mixture over it. It was a big hit. The rose hips have a fleshy texture and a fruity taste. This batch was mildly sour, so I’d like to try some that have been through a frost to see how much of a difference it makes in the sweetness. I found that there were some tough fibers left inside the flesh of the crescents. I think stewing them and putting them through a strainer would probably be the best way to get rid of those, but obviously that wouldn’t have served my purposes for this particular use. I can definitely see making some Vitamin C rich fruit spreads this way however.
While it does mean not having a second blooming of roses on my bush, I’ll be saving my rose hips next year for sure so I can play around with them some more. I will never look at a rose bush the same way again!