12 Sep 2015

How the medicine goes down: rosehip syrup


Not like the pucker and shiver engendered by Cod Liver Oil. Oh no, not at all. And much better than the Syrup of Figs which I liked the taste of so much it was almost worth being afflicted by constipation! No, this was a spoonful of sugar that was also the medicine: Rosehip Syrup. Our daily dose of Vitamin C courtesy of the National Health Service in the early 1960s. Sweet, fruity, silky. 

In 1943, The Ministry for Food published a wartime leaflet, Hedgerow Harvest, full of recipes for wild fruits, fungi and nuts. Encouraging people to forage might be fashionable now but during World War II, a  time of rationing and limited imports (in 1939 we were importing around 80% of our fruit), it was considered a necessity. Sloes, crab apples, elderberries, cobnuts, mushrooms, rowan berries and rosehips could provide those essential vitamins missing from the nation's diet. The nutritional gift that rosehips offered evidently endured for quite a number of years after the end of the war in 1945 and the end of rationing in 1954. In fact, I was surprised to find that Rosehip Syrup is still widely available today.



The unstated message behind a teaspoon of Rosehip Syrup was that it was good for me. And rosehips are high in Vitamin C. But I can't help but wonder if its 'goodness' is diluted by the quantity of sugar you need to use to make a syrup: 325gr to 500ml of unsweetened juice. But hey, I've survived to my late 50s with my teeth intact and that's more than can be said for today's kids! 

I have two memories of a spoonful of syrup. The first, in the Dew Road clinic on Sandfields Estate, Port Talbot when the nurse checked me for whatever I was there to be checked for. The second, in our kitchen at home: my mother tipping the glass bottle over a spoon, my lips already parting for the sweet, peach coloured fix before she's finished pouring. Sunlight streams through the kitchen window: it is somehow impossible to remember drinking Rosehip Syrup in grey and damp weather. 


I spotted them growing in two different places in the apple orchard last week: fat and red, and, of course, sunlit. Could they replicate that childhood taste? I had to find out.

The BBC Woman's Hour website gives the original wartime recipe. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall provides another which is a tad simpler and which I followed, but I added a little more water to the chopped rosehips as it seemed to be evaporating away too quickly during the 'boil it all up' part. 

The scent of crushed rosehips boiling is hard to describe. My first thought was hot, damp plum kernels. Now I'm thinking simmering damsons, that sharpness they have at their heart. 

And the taste? Yes, of childhood and sunlight. It's unmistakeable. 


Hungry writing prompt
Write about a memory of sunlight.

An empty maple syrup bottle I had in the cupboard was the perfect receptacle for my rosehip syrup: it feels like the right shape for my memory, unlike the plain Atkins & Potts bottles that come up on a Google search. 

'It's subtle,' Tony said when I gave him a taste while it was still warm.

Yes, subtle, like those gauzy memories I have of it, or, to be more accurate, the memories I have fleshed out with my imagination: a nurse in a crisp white apron, the dust motes that dance in the sunlight streaming in to my mother's kitchen. And what's wrong with that? That's how stories are born.  

4 Sep 2015

Resisting Apples (or not)

This time last year the apples had all been picked, crated and lorried away for juicing. This year's much improved harvest is still on the trees, still plumping from the alternate attention of rain showers and sunshine. But not for long. The Cox's Orange Pippins are mostly ripe already: the proof lies in the few windfalls.

windfalls
The Golden Delicious look a little small although that's not really a problem for apples grown for juice, but they'll probably benefit from another week. 

the weight of apples
I tend to judge the Bramleys by a creep of peachy pink across their green skin. This one's begging to be transformed into pie.

ripe bramley
But the majority of its companions are still shy of their full potential.



To determine if the fruit is ready to be picked, place a cupped hand under the fruit, lift and gently twist. If the apple doesn't come away easily in your hand, then it's not ready to harvest.

the resistible and the irresistible apple
Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about something irresistible.

And because cupping, lifting and twisting apples is a bit of an addictive pastime I ended up looking like this:
a scrumper's pockets
I don't know which came first: scrumping (stealing apples) or scrumpy (traditionally, West Country Cider). The Oxford English Dictionary quotes the noun scrump as meaning something withered or dried up, specifically apples. If this is true then perhaps the drink came first: the gathering and pressing of windfalls into cider. Collins list it as a verb, to steal, from the dialect 'scrimp', but not in the sense of penny-pinching or frugality.

Perhaps no-one will deny there's an excitement attached to stolen or forbidden fruit (forgetting for a while the act of getting caught and the price of Eve's bold disobedience!)  A strawberry picked from the field somehow tastes sweeter than the one bought at a stall or from a supermarket shelf. There's a cheeky rebelliousness attached to stealing a few apples and, let's be honest, it's quite a thrill to feel that as an adult penned inside a regimented world.

I don't think my six Cox's Orange Pippins will impinge on the juice maker's profit margin. Or the two Bramleys I'm about to slip out for. And I promise I won't take any more. I've had my cheeky rebellious fix and from now on I'll restrict myself to the windfalls, the withered, the worm-caught, with enough sweet flesh still left on them to be good pickings.

p.s.
I need the Bramleys to make this apple tart which has puree as a base layer and sliced eating apples as a top layer.

double apple tart - ready for the oven