Cooking With Wild Foods

Learn how to use wild foods found in your surroundings to make some really tasty dishes the whole family can enjoy.


| January/February 1971



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Rose hips like these can be found in wooded areas.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

It is very late fall as I write this and the first flakes of snow have already fluttered to the ground in Northern Wisconsin. The wild plants that will yield food are getting scarcer . . . but we don't mind because our cellar of foraged fare is almost brimful now. For the next few weeks we'll devote most of our spare time to laying in the winter's supply of big and small game. Our luck with rod and reel will be good too as fish, sensing the approach of winter, are sure to feed madly during the next few weeks. Still, we'll find an afternoon or two to gather four wild foods of the season: Rose hips, walnuts and hickory nuts, Staghorn sumac and cranberries.

Rose Hips

Rose hips are the berries that form on the several different kinds of rose bushes that grow almost all over the world. These berries vary in size from the pea-sized hips of the Rosa Multiflora (Multiflora Rose) to the almost prune-sized berries of Rosa Rugesa, (Japanese Rose). Between these extremes are approximately 33 other varieties that bear hips. I find that, unlike other fruits, the biggest varieties of rose hips are the sweetest and, of course, the easiest to prepare. Rose hips have two characteristics that make them a very important wild food: (1) They cling to the rose bush all winter—even when the leaves have fallen and, indeed, even when the frost has sheared the thorns off the rose bush—and (2) They are perhaps the richest source of vitamin C of any well-known plant.

Two medium rose hips have as much vitamin C as an orange and three pounds of rose hips, uncooked, can contain enough vitamin C to last an adult for a year. Cooking the hips destroys some of the vitamins, of course, but no one should complain if the following recipes are used:

Wild rose jelly is best made after the first frost. Pick about a pound of rose hips. Cut off the blossom. Barely cover with water and simmer until the fruit is very soft. When tender, extract the juice with a jelly bag. Add a box of commercial pectin. Bring to a high boil and quickly add an amount of sugar equal to the amount of juice. Bring to a high boil and hold for one minute. Stir and skim. Pour into sterilized glass jars and cover with melted paraffin.

Rose hip syrup is used to cover steaming pancakes, french toast or hot biscuits at our place. It is made by picking a quart of rose hips, cutting the blossoms away from the hips, placing them in a saucepan and covering them with water. Boil until soft and strain the juice through a jelly bag. Return the hips to the saucepan, cover with water again and make a second juice extraction. After the second extraction add half as much sugar as juice. Boil until the mixture thickens enough to drip from a spoon. Pour into a sterilized, recycled corn syrup bottle and seal. If you find, after trying, that you don't care for rose hip syrup or jelly try adding cinnamon or lemon juice to the product until it pleases your palate.

There are other ways to get the vitamin C from the hips. The simplest way probably is just to eat the hips outdoors right from the bushes when you're gathering other wild foods. Or, you can dry the hips, powder them and sprinkle the powder over any food you eat. As I write this I am eating a dish of acorn breakfast food sprinkled with a teaspoon of dried rose hips. They give a faint apple taste to the acorns.

In my opinion the easiest way to preserve rose hips is to dry them. Dried and packed in a clean container they will keep for months and drying is simplicity in itself. Pick the hips. Cut the blossom away and split the hips in half. Place them on a flat pan and toast them in the oven at 200° until they are as crisp as popcorn. Never mind what you've read elsewhere about removing the seeds and just toasting the skin and pulp. Toast them seeds and all. The seeds contain plenty of vitamin C and they will roast to a delicious crispness. When I am done making rose hip syrup or jelly I press the skin and seeds into a thin wafer and dry this wafer in the oven as described before. This fruit is too good to go to waste.





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