8 Nov 2012

Sloe and Hippy: Take a walk on the wild side

Rose hips

Putting aside my liking for the songs of Lou Reed (amazing how these things resurface when needed!), I promised the results of my trial of Rosehip Jelly and will throw in my Rosehip Syrup for good measure.  I'm finding both invaluable at the moment for warding off colds and winter ailments as rosehips are believed to contain considerably more vitamin C than just about any other food you can think of.

I've made rosehip cordial before but not jam/jelly.  I found it quite confusing sorting out the ratios of hips to apples and sugar; it seemed that every recipe I found called for something different. The recipe that first got my attention was in the October issue of 'Grow Your Own' mag. They call it Rosehip Jam and use twice the weight of rosehips to apples plus lemon juice.  Apples are needed for their pectin to get a good set.

I also had a day out at RHS Wisley (wonderful, wonderful); a quick look in a foragers' recipe book there contrarily recommended using twice the amount of apples to rosehips!  Across a range of recipes, sugar quantities varied, as did method. I discovered that the Wisley recipe was the same as one used by the Women's Institute and so plumped for that one.

Rosehip Jelly and Cordial
- Rosehip Jelly and Cordial -
Reading the method might put a few folk off but it's really not too tricky. It was hard trying to discover how much of the hip to chop off before pulping.  I settled on making the effort to wash, top and tail every hip, taking off just the very tips and being careful when removing the thorny stalks. Seeds are left in and the hips are ready for whichever recipe is being used.  By cutting the hips, vitamin C starts to be lost so it's important to process the hips quite soon after picking.

A large saucepan will do just as well as a preserving pan - I use a 4 litre stockpot - but it must not be  iron or aluminium as this will destroy the vitamin C and turn the hips black! I also don't have a jelly straining bag; instead I use muslin squares but a tea towel would do as well, as long as they're washed and ironed well to sterilise the cloth.  Jars can be sterilised by washing and put straight into a warm oven (150C) to dry for about 20 minutes, the lids should be boiled for about 5 minutes.

I strain the boiled pulp by placing a muslin cloth in a large sieve, pouring the pulp in, then gathering up the corners and tying them firmly through the handle of one of my wall kitchen cupboards in order to raise it above the bowl underneath. This is then left to drip for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Various recipes advise not to squeeze the pulp bag to extract the last bit of juice as this makes the jelly cloudy.  Well, I couldn't help myself as I don't like waste and my juice cleared when I added the sugar at the jam making stage so I wouldn't worry about that!

It might seem a faff but it's easily done in an evening and you have a delicious jelly that can't be bought in the shops!  Rosehips have a very subtle flavour and the finished jelly is delicious on toast.

Here's the WI recipe I used:

500grams of prepared rosehips
1kg unpeeled cooking apples
1lb of granulated sugar for every 1 pint of juice (or 450g to every 560ml)

Chop the apples and put in the pan, seeds and skin included. Add the topped and tailed rosehips. Cover with water so that the apples are just floating, bring to the boil and simmer until the rosehips are soft. (This can take anything up to an hour and quarter.) Stir occasionally and squish down with a potato masher to help break up the hips.

Strain the pulp through a muslin cloth into a bowl, leaving to drip for at least a couple of hours. Gently squeezing the bag at the end will probably release quite a bit more juice!

Carefully untie the bag and throw the pulp into the compost.  Pour the juice into a jug to measure it.  Work out how much sugar should be added (see ingredients). Put sugar and juice into a pan and heat gently to let the sugar dissolve completely. Bring to the boil and leave on a rolling boil (like jam) until a set is reached.  This is likely to be around 15 to 25 minutes.

Test on a cold saucer (put a couple in the freezer before boiling up the juice) by putting a teaspoonful onto the cold saucer, leave for 2 minutes and run your finger or a spoon through the jam. If it wrinkles slightly, the jelly is at setting point; if not, continue boiling for another 5 minutes and test again.

Skim the mixture and pot up into the jars as soon as ready. Carefully (so's not to burn fingers) put the lids on and they will seal tight while the jelly is setting. Leave to cool before labelling. The jelly will last unopened for several months or for a few weeks once opened.  I had 2 small jars and one jam jar from this recipe.

The 'Grow Your Own' recipe calls for the following ingredients, using the same method:
900g Rosehips, 450g apples (or 600ml apple juice), Juice of 2 lemons, water, sugar.
The lemon juice is added to the strained juice; 350g sugar is added for every 600ml of juice.

If you'd rather make Rosehip Cordial for adding to drinks (1part cordial to 5 parts water) or ice-cream, it's practically the same method, without the apples.  Here's how:

Take 1 kg of rosehips, remove stalks and toss into a food processor. Chop briefly. Add hips to a pan containing 2½ pints water. Bring to the boil and boil, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Strain through muslin (as before) for at least 2 hours. Reserve the juice and add the pulp to the remaining 2 pints of water. Bring to the boil and boil for 15 minutes. Strain through muslin. Put all the juice into a clean pan, add 1lb of sugar and heat gently until sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes before decanting to warm, sterilised bottles.

- Sloes, growing in the Heath hedgerows in September; now all gone -
And the "Sloe" in the post title?  Well, I've just read of a quick method of producing Sloe Gin in time for the winter festivities, providing your hedgerows still have any sloes (mine don't).  Follow this link to Vergette Gardens who has discovered a vintage handwritten recipe in an old gardening book which, in my opinion, gives it an excellent provenance!

My own sloes were picked and washed at the beginning of September, put into the freezer to emulate several frosty, skin softening nights, then pricked and put in a Kilner jar. Sugar was added until it came half way up the fruit then vodka poured in until the jar was full. Sealed and put into a dark cupboard, I give it a little shake about once a week.  It should be ready by December but will improve on keeping. Nigel Slate recommends adding a splash to your cooking; for example, apple and plum crumble or even gravy it perked up with this.  On the other hand, you can always just drink it!

Rosehip cordial and Sloe vodka
Rosehip Cordial and Sloe Vodka made mid-September 2012


  1. There's some lovely colours in this post, the sloe gin and rosehip cordial look so tempting. I always make jams rather than jellies, there just seems to be less faffing about with them.

    1. I agree, Jo. It would be much easier to lose the 'straining through muslin' step but I don't like the idea of all those little 'hairs' around the pips sitting in my jam.

  2. All your preserves look wonderful, I remember Rose Hip Syrup from when I was a child during the war. This was the only form of vitamin C that was available, good to see it is still being made.

    1. Thanks Pauline. I like to make a small amount of jam or jelly at the end of the summer season and this fits the bill, especially with all those winter colds looming! I remember VitC as a child too! It's probably the nostalgic reason that I make these things!

  3. Beautiful photos as always Caro. What camera do you use? Think that my rose hips might be too squidgy to use now but must try to do something with them next year. Was wondering what you did with the seeds :)

    1. Thank you, Anna; I use a Canon DSLR, the 550D, bought after quite a bit of research as to which camera was the best for me. Hopefully you'll remember where the recipe is when you see the rosehips next year!

  4. You have been busy! I don't like either but it's always interesting to see how it's all done.
    The hips on my dog rose seemed to there one day and all gone the next so I'm glad that I wasn't planning on using them. Flighty xx

    1. As a grower, I've been quite interested in seeing what foraging folk come up with as edible. This was one that appealed to me, mainly because I remember rosehip syrup from my childhood. I'm sure the birds appreciated the hips on your dog rose! x

  5. Lovely post. I'm afraid I haven't ventured back to rosehip syrup since my school days. I don't have fond memories of school dinners and so a lot of things I ate then have been tainted. I would love to give it a go though again. We have in our larder a jar of damson gin slowly infusing. The colour is incredible. It's the first time I've tried it so I think that'll be our Christmas Eve tipple.

    1. Making sloe vodka (or damson gin) is a first for me too - I blame Alys Fowler and her foraging book! I couldn't resist doing something with those beautiful sloes in the hedgerows. Before making my own rosehip syrup, I bought a bottle of the cordial from a health shop - it was too acidic! Maybe making your own might change your mind!

  6. Yummy! Roughly what quantity of rosehips makes 500g? There are lots of rosa rugosa around here, but I wouldn't want to denude any one plant, partly for the sake of the birds but also because of how beautiful they are on a grey day.

    1. Hi Janet - How lovely to have lots of rugosa hips nearby - lucky you! Surprisingly, 500g is not that many, especially if you're collecting the bigger hips. Mine were the smaller hips and filled the bottom of a carrier bag - roughly 2" deep in the bottom of a bag lying on the ground. See my photo here
      I weighed them once I'd washed off the spiders and topped and tailed them. I agree it's best to leave lots of hips for the birds - I was picking from a particularly abundant hedgerow on Hampstead Heath and just took a few from each plant. By taking secateurs and gloves, I was able to reach into some quite awkward, low-down spaces which I thought perhaps the birds would miss!

  7. Takes me back to my childhood growing up on a farm, my parents were always sending us out hedgerow foraging for brambles ,crab apples, sloes and anything else edible

    1. I hope that these are happy memories for you, David. I can't remember specifically being sent out to gather stuff, it was more by way of a family outing - like getting up at dawn with my Dad to gather mushrooms on the airfields where he worked! And of course my grandmother always welcomed blackberries to plump out the apples which she made into pies ... or sloes to add to gin. Happy days ... !


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