At the edge of my garden space I have a large prairie rose, who has been trying valiantly to expand to the rest of the yard. Each year shoots creep another foot, or three, into my garden beds – which can be rather inconvenient when trying to prepare them for vegetables, as the thorns are quite impressive. While the flowers are simple and short-lived, the small-leaved bush is much more full and pleasant to look at than its spindly cousin the cultivated rose, and the flowers develop into bright red hips which will stay on the plant through winter as long as the birds (or I) don’t eat them. As such, the rose is another of my favorite uncommon, Northern-adapted small fruits.
The prairie rose is our state flower, as well it should be – as you can find wild roses growing everywhere in state parks and land left wild for animal habitat. While the hips of the prairie rose aren’t nearly so large and convenient to process as some of the varieties bred specifically for fruit production (yes, they exist), they’re still just as tasty and high in vitamin C as their larger cousins. The aroma of a big bowl of freshly-picked hips will remind you that the rose and the apple are part of the same family.
If you’re not able to add wild roses to your berry-picking excursion, look for the large-hipped Rugosa roses in your local nursery. Here’s a picture of a cultivated variety, Frau Dagmar rugosa rose, from Raintree Nursery. Oikos offers several interesting varieties as well.
The biggest problem with unusual fruits – what do you do with them?
- Of course, tea. Fresh or dried, seeded or unseeded, just steep in hot water to your taste. Straining eliminates the irritating hairs on the seeds if you’ve chosen to leave them unseeded.
- Fresh hips can be made into jam using my standard adaptable method.
- Rosemary Gladstone makes a no-cook jam with dried, seeded hips: just cover with fresh apple juice and let soak overnight.
I find the best way to learn how to use fruits which have fallen out of favor is to go back to historic cuisines and see how they were used in the past. Wild roses are native to North America, so I went back to the almost-forgotten ethnic cuisine of the First Nations.
Even living in North Dakota, I had a hard time finding a good Native cookbook — too many of the ones issued for the Lewis and Clark anniversaries reminded me of standard “condensed-soup cooking” with buffalo substituted in for the meat — but I finally found a great one, Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking, by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs, with authentic (and tasty) recipes from all regions. I’ve taken the below two recipes from that book.
Rose Hip Puree (Skokomish)
Used as a condiment for grilled salmon or meat, or stirred into soups and stews to brighten their flavor.
- 4 cups fresh or dried rose hips, seeded
- 4 – 6 cups water
Place rose hips in a large saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook uncovered until rose hips are soft enough to mash. Add more water as necessary. This will take about 20- 45 minutes, and result in 2 cups of finished puree.
Rosehip Candy (Crow) – fun for camping trips
If you come upon a good stand of rosehips in the autumn, say, while camping, try this. Remove the seeds, pound the fruit to a mash, mix in your favorite liquid fat and sugar till the mix is a very very thick paste, and form into balls. Roast these on sticks over a campfire, like marshmallows.