Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rose Hips

Anyone who has visited the coast of New England in summer has probably noticed the old-fashioned , wild roses that sprawl along the shores, covering dunes like a carpet, and that tumble over split rails, dense as a fence. This is rosa rugosa, an Asian import that has taken to American soil and thrives along the Atlantic’s sandy, salt-sprayed, windswept shores. In fact, we plant it there, where it takes over and helps secure the dunes from erosion while looking New England quaint and pretty.

In fall, when the pink or white flowers fade and their petals fall, the hip left behind develops into a bulbous red fruit, sometimes called a haw. They often hang in clusters and, when truly ripe, look like cherry tomatoes. The entire rose plant is edible, but historically the hips have been used more than the leaves or rose petals because they were valued for their medicinal and health properties, now being rediscovered. Among other qualities, rose hips contain substantially more vitamin C than oranges and other citrus fruits, and are popularly considered beneficial preventatives or remedies for colds, sore throats, and infections.

Rose hips themselves have a slightly citrusy tang, following on a smooth, honey-ish taste with a hint of spice. They make delicate jellies and syrups that come with the extra satisfaction of having gathered them yourself, for free.

It’s time to harvest rose hips when you notice on your walks along the coast that they have turned really red; I’ve been watching them ripen for a week or so, and decided that yesterday was the day. Bring a basket and a pair of gardening gloves down to the beach; wear closed shoes, as sometimes you need to wade into the shrubs a bit to reach for your prize, and the bushes are thorny. Choose hips that are not only true red (as opposed to orange) but also that give slightly to the touch, like a ripe tomato; they should come off the stem easily if they are at the right stage. Pass up any that are either too hard or too soft, particularly any that have begun to wrinkle. Also pass up those that have any of their internal hair-like prickers poking through the skin.

Rose Hip Syrup

In addition to pouring it over pancakes, waffles, or ice cream, rose hip syrup is a versatile flavoring and part sugar substitute for baked goods and frostings, and an interesting ingredient for salad dressings (especially for tomatoes) and even cocktails made with sugar syrups.

Most recipes for rose hips call for removing the fine hairs and seeds before cooking. This is time-consuming, and I don’t bother when making jellies or syrups because I strain the fruit through a high-thread-count bag that catches everything. Simply trim the blossom ends and any stems.

Put your rose hips into a stainless steel pan (aluminum discolors them and breaks down the vitamin C), add water to barely cover, and bring to a boil. Cook at a steady, medium boil for about half an hour, pressing the fruit down firmly toward the end of the cooking to mash it a bit. Turn it into a large jelly bag or clean pillowcase (an old one that you don’t mind staining, or even throwing out when you are done still containing the pulp, which is quite liberating) and hang it over a bowl, twisting the bag to squeeze out the juice. You will see that it already has a gelled quality, as rose hips contain a good amount of pectin.

Measure the juice and taste it before adding sugar. If it is a little tart, add more; if it seems sweet, add less—from ¾-1 cup of sugar per cup of juice. Bring the sugar and juice to a boil, and cook, skimming, for three or four minutes until it is a light syrup or the viscosity you like. Add a drop or two of red food coloring if you want, which will give it the color of rose gold. Pour into jars and seal. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Coastal Rose Cupcakes

This is a variation on an old-fashioned hot-milk cake, with an old-fashioned boiled frosting. The addition of the rose syrup to both the batter and the frosting make these a true local specialty, with a taste of yesteryear. Makes 9 cupcakes.
The hot-milk cupcakes
1 cup a-p flour
2 tea baking powder
¼ tea salt

2 large eggs
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup rose hip syrup

½ cup milk
3 T unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 F and drop muffin papers into a muffin tin. Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy, and whisk in the sugar, then the syrup, gradually until thick and well combined. Fold in the dry ingredients. Heat the milk with the butter until hot and the butter is melted; while still steaming, stir gradually into the egg-flour mixture. Fill 9 cups, starting at the center, about 2/3 full; fill the remaining 3 with water. Bake, turning once, about 20 minutes, or until the cupcakes have pulled away from the side and the tops are springy. They will not color. Remove to a rack to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then, with the aid of a table knife, remove each cupcake to the rack to cool completely before frosting.

The boiled frosting
This is not as scary to make as it sounds; it’s actually rather easy. It produces a fluffy, marshmallow-like frosting with true rose-hip flavor. You will have leftovers; it refrigerates or freezes well (as do the frosted cupcakes themselves) and, given we are now into cool mornings and nights, makes a nice topping for hot chocolate or, as in photos, a mocha cappuccino.

1 large egg white
pinch of cream of tartar
1 cup rose-hip syrup

Using a standing mixer or hand-held electric one, beat the egg white with the cream of tartar until it is stiff and glossy. While beating, put the syrup into an open pan and bring the syrup to a boil. Cook until it reaches the thread stage, about 223-235 F, depending on where you live (the higher your altitude, the lower the temperature; average is about 230). If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test it by dropping some of the syrup into cold water; it will remain in loose strands rather than form a soft mass. Because you are starting out with a light syrup already, this process will not take long, so watch it.

With the motor stopped and the beater lifted, add a few tablespoons of the syrup to the beaten egg white (pouring it in while the motor is running tends to spatter it against the bowl, as it hits the beaters). Beat until incorporated, then stop the motor and add and beat some more. Repeat until all is incorporated, the mixture has cooled down, and you have a beautiful fluffy, glossy frosting.

To frost: With a clean, frosting-free hand, pick up a cupcake, turn it upside down, and sink it into the center of the frosting bowl to the level of the cupcake paper. Twist it clockwise several times, exerting pressure and tilting it slightly as needed to cover all exposed areas of cake. Lift it briskly straight up to form a little peak. Voila!


Trevor said...

Can you make jelly with these as well? Also are these the same as beach plums?

Jane said...

Hi Trevor: yes, you can make jelly, following the procedure for the syrup and using equal parts sugar to measured juice, and cooking until it sheets off the spoon or sets nicely on a cold plate. A jelly is really just a syrup cooked a little longer.
I personally like the versatility of the syrup. For example, I made great rose whiskey sours this week with 1 1/2 oz V.O., 1 1/2 oz rose-hip syrup, and the juices of 1/2 an orange and 1/2 a lemon. Shaken with ice, garnished with cherry and mint. People loved them.

Jane said...

P.S.: sorry, forgot to respond to your question about beach plums: no, rose hips are not the same as beach plums, which really are a kind of plum. They are, however, another wild, coastal shrub and are native to the Northeast. I have not seen them growing in my neighborhood, unfortunately. I do know that Cornell University has a project underway to try to encourage commercial production of this fruit. Jane

Anonymous said...

Hello, somewhat late to the party, but I've recently started a blog and this cupcake of yours was one of the recipes I tried and wrote about on there.

Unfortunately I cannot report the same success, but I'm just as amateur a cook as I am a blogger so I guess there is some ways to go yet.

Just wanted to say yours was an inspiration!


Jane said...

Hello, Jenn: If at first you don't succeed--
Any number of factors could have affected your success--your syrup, your beating, your measuring, your heat, the weather, etc. The thing about baking is, it's a formula. If it is a good one, and I make a real effort to make mine precise, it's a good idea to not fool around with it until you get it right in its original form, and then adjust it according to the chemistry involved. The frosting is "easy once you know how"; it takes a little practice, so it is not at all surprising if your first effort doesn't quite work. Good luck with your blog, keep going.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice & encouragement Jane.

You are very much right. Apart from anything else, I knew there were 2 glaring sins before the batter even made it to the oven that doomed it to failure - the beating & the heat. Also I didn't actually use a natural syrup - I hope you don't think less of me for it but I simply didn't have the time & baking should be a labour of love!

To be fair, I've never made cupcakes the "hot-milk" way before & really shouldn't have tried to be clever with subbing ingredients and tweaking your formula according to what I had on hand.

Anyway, enough of that.

Hope your weekend is going well!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane, just wondering if Beach Plums and Rose Hips are the same....thanks, Judy

Jane said...

Hi Judy: No, rose hips and beach plums are different--although both make good jelly. A rose hip is the late summer "fruit," a kind of seed pod, that forms following the flowers of the rosa rugosa that lines a lot of New England's duney shore (it helps fight erosion; you can plant it at your house but it takes over!), whereas a beach plum is in fact a plum, a small native fruit that also grows near sandy shores. You can sometimes see both these plants in the same area.

Bob Manley said...

Hi Jane, I came upon your blog post in my search for fresh rose hips. We have a small winery in New Hampshire and have discovered that rose hips make a wonderful wine. We are looking to acquire several hundred pounds of fresh ripe rose hips this year. Is this something you might be able to help us with? Do you know where we might find an abundance of this fruit and if there is anyone who picks it. We will pay well for it.

Thank you,


Bob Manley
Hermit Woods Winery

Jane said...

Bob, I replied through the comment form but you may not get it, so if you do not, email me through the "contact me" button under my pic.