Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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Infusing pink elder and rose petals to make cordial

Nature isn't always subtle and for good reason. Colourful petals draw a bee towards a flower's nectar-filled centre, a bright white tail of a rabbit confuses its predator during a chase, a colourfully feathered bird attracts a mate.

Pink elderflowers, black lace

Colour is one of the first things my eyes register when I'm given a drink or a plate of food, smell comes second. Scientific research confirms too, that we often eat with our eyes.

Glass of pink elder and rose cordial

Not surprisingly, it was the outrageous pink followed by the familiar scent of elderflowers that my senses delighted in when making this cordial. My memory bank of colours, tastes and smells noted a while ago that rose was a flavour for me, mixed with pink elderflowers I was super excited!

Japanese Rose petals

I have plenty of elderflower recipes to share, and several delicious rose recipes too.

This is an easy cordial to make, with a stunning colour and aromatic scent of rose and elderflowers. Dilute for drinks, turn into elderflower champagne or use is desserts.

Handful of rose and pink elder flowers

Pink Elderflower and Rose Cordial Recipe

I adapted this recipe to the amount of pink edlerflower (Gerda) heads I could reach and the number of rose petals that would come away easily in my hand. Double it, if you choose, freeze it, drink it, enjoy!

Makes 750 ml

Ingredients

  • 10 elder flower heads (flowers forked off stems)
  • Handful of rose petals (fragrant ones)
  • 200 g unrefined sugar
  • 500 ml boiling water
  • 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 1 oz citric acid (if you’re going to store the cordial for a while)

Ideally pick the flowers in full sun. Fork the flowers off the stalks or snip off the main stalks, putting flowers aside and discarding the rest. Place the elderflowers and rose petals (check to remove bugs) in a heatproof bowl or container, along with the sugar. Pour over the boiling water. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon and leave for 24 hours.

Strain the mixture through a sieve, or preferably a fine muslin cloth, and funnel into clean bottles, or dilute and serve immediately!

Glass of pink elder and rose cordial

I run foraging courses throughout the year, helping you discover the colours and flavours of each season. You can view dates and content here on my foraging course calendar.

I also offer a monthly membership where I send you recipes each month as I go through my wild and seasonal year. Sign up is easy - view membership blogs here and see what you could access.

Jar of homemade rose preserve

I used to walk round my Granny’s garden and smell the roses, my sisters and I used to snap off her runner beans and eat them raw too. Luckily for Granny, I didn’t know that roses were edible then, though I still love to stop to smell them, whether in a park, someone’s garden or a hedgerow.

Roses make my heart sing, they truly do. From the scent through to the texture of the petals, they are an edible heaven to me. Eat them fresh OR this recipe is ridiculously easy and super good. It was given to me by my colleague Emma Gunn and you can't go wrong with it. Unless you don't like roses.

In this post I share the recipe, explain when to pick roses (and why) which is the best rose to eat (and my favourite) and how to use this delicious rose preserve.

Slice of homemade sponge cake sandwiched with rose preserve

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frozen rosa rugosa

Depending where you are in the country, the first frost might have been and gone weeks ago. If the temperature has already plummeted, you may have seen fruits of sloes, rosehips, rowan berries, haws and maybe even blackberries covered in a crisp and magically frosted outer.

Cornish Frost - Myth or Reality?

Here in West Cornwall I never know whether this moment is going to arrive, at all. This year that moment came last week, and it is a welcomed one for a forager. I celebrated by going out and picking a select few of the remaining Japanese rosehips (Rosa Rugosa) which I'll probably use to flavour chocolates for the February valentines foraging course. A time when we'll probably need something to lift our spirits, immune systems and hearts. Gifts and wild food always help, I think.

fruit of the hawthorn tree

(Hawthorn fruit - Crataegus monogyna - awaiting the first frost)

So, here in my beloved Cornwall, where the warm currents and breezes from the sea can help keep the temperature here more ambient. Exposed to the prevailing Southwesterly winds that blow in from the Atlantic means that Cornwall is considered the mildest and warmest place in the UK. Here we can sometimes sit on the beach on Christmas Day, and sometimes the frost, never, ever arrives. It is true that the closer to the ocean you get, the milder the winters and the cooler the summers are. Those of you who know Cornwall know that the down side is here we can get more rain. Nothing is perfect.

All this weather effects the foraging too, and in this blog I'm going to discuss how that effects wild fruits. In previous blogs I've talked about how the frost and snow effects seaweeds; that's another read, if you're interested.

Prnus spinosa, blackthorn fruits

(Frozen sloes - Prunus spinosa)

What does the frost do to wild fruits and is there an alternative?

The frost has the effect of both breaking the skins of the fruits and sweetening them. A welcomed impact for desserts, flavoured gin, jams, jellies and much more. Of course, living in the modern age means you don't have to wait for the first frost - which is lucky for us in Cornwall as it may come late or not at all.

Why? Because we have freezers. It is true, popping the fruits in the freezer is not as romantic as getting up at dawn to collect glistening fruits breaking their frost virginity. Though hey, there are benefits to our modern world and there are many other wonderful things to do with our time and mornings too.

Enjoy the weather, fruits and the convenience of freezers. Freezers also mean that you can attend to your fruits - whatever you want to create with them - when you have ample time to enjoy the process, and not in a rushed moment between dawn and sun down.

rubus fruticosus

All images by Rachel Lambert, except frozen blackberries which is courtesy of Snapguide. If you'd like to see more foraging images, why not visit or follow my Pinterest page.

I love roses, and of course they are also one of the many symbols of love. Here in the UK we have several wild varieties and the cultivated ones are, almost, infinite.

After a hot, sunny day, I particularly love to be overcome by the scent of roses; the evening aroma of rose and other wild flowers lingers evocatively in the air as the sun goes down. Pure summer heaven, I think.

I could lie in bed reminiscing about their scent, trying to conjure up these smell memories, or I could find other ways to capture and literally bottle the heavenly rose....

Making your own rose water is a wonderful way to enjoy the roses again and again. Each rose is different, not only in scent but in colour, so the range of pink tones can vary hugely too. A more technical and intense process would be distilling the rose, though here I share an easy process you can do at home.

My favourite rose to use is Rosa Rugosa, or Japanese Rose, it is abundant in coastal areas, so is perfect where I live. However I recommend experimenting with different roses and, literally, stopping to smell the roses, following your nose until you find your perfect one.

Before I share how to make wild rose water, a note on picking rose petals. This is essential to look after the roses life-cycle and to ensure that the plant can produce rosehips (fruits) later in the year for animals, birds and humans:

  • Never take more than 1/3
  • Do not take the whole rose head (take just the petals)
  • Take the petals that come away easily in your hand (do not rip or pull them off), these will have the most mature scent
  • You can also pick the petals that have freshly fallen, or even dried (they will still have the scent)

How to Make Wild Rose Water

Rose water is a satisfying and simple way to bottle the flavour and colour of roses. This recipe makes a strong rose water, add more water if you want a weaker version. Each rose will have a slightly different scent and colour, I take great pleasure in bottling and seeing different versions in clear glass bottles next to each other.

 

Ingredients

Fresh rose petals

Boiling water

 

Roughly chop the petals and place in a measuring jug, packing the petals down as tightly as possible. Pour over just enough boiling water to cover the petals. The petals will float to the top so be sure to stir them back in. Cover the jug and set aside for 48 hours, you can leave for just 24 hours, though the extra day will extract extra flavour. Strain the liquid through muslin into sterilised bottles, making sure you squeeze out every last drop of the water and store in the fridge in sterilised bottles, or freeze in ice-cube trays. Use within 3 months.

Read here about edible roses, which ones to use and how to harvest them; Roses are Red, White, Pink and Edible.

I offer wild food foraging courses where I teach about different seasonal plants; flowers, leaves, fruits, shoots, roots and seeds and share many more tips and recipes.

I love to stop and smell the roses, I love to eat them, cook and garnish with them too. See my wild rose water recipe and rose petal preserve recipe

White Japanese Rose in flower

Which Roses are Edible?

All rose petals are edible and both wild and cultivated roses can be used, though please see my tips for picking below. The most common wild roses in the UK are Dog Rose (Rosa Canina), Field Rose (Rosa Arvenis) and the Japanese Rose (Rosa Rugosa). Each rose has a different scent, so it's well worth smelling before you start picking, and finding your favourite rose types.

Cultivated roses with a good scent can also be used, but make sure they haven't been sprayed first. Some rose petals may have a bitter aftertase too. Petals can be used to decorate cakes, in cold soups, salads, meat dishes or desserts. Here's a few tips before you pick them though;

How to sustainably pick rose petals for using in recipes

  • If you're picking cultivated roses, check: have they been sprayed?
  • You can dry rose petals (then rehydrate them), or use them fresh
  • Are the petals ready to be pluck (do they come away easily)?
  • Petals that are ready to pick may have already fallen, or come away easily when touched (see below)
  • Only pick the petals, never the whole flower-head (so the fruits can ripen later in the year)

In early summer and summer I may include roses in my foraging courses, and in the autumn I include the fruits of roses; the rosehips.

Here's my Rosehip Tart recipe, and also my Rosehip Fruit leather recipe, both are delicious and full of vitamin C. Finally, I also share my Wild Rosehip Chocolates recipe (great for valentines!).

Sometimes I feel creative, sometimes crazy, with the ideas I come up with for using wild food. This one is a complete labour of love; a custard tart topped with rosehips and a rosehip syrup glaze. Devoured by 14 appreciative people on a hazy October afternoon.

Here's the recipe;

Rosehip Fruit and Custard Tart

 Ingredients (for pastry base)

  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cold butter, cubed
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1-4 tbsp cold water
  • a little egg white
For custard filling
  • 320ml whole milk
  • 80g unrefined caster sugar
  • 5 free-range eggs yolks (freeze the egg
  • 25g cornflour, mixed to a paste with a little cold water
For the topping and glaze
  • 200ml rosehip syrup
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 100g rosehips, fresh out the freezer

In a large bowl, add the flour, ground almonds and baking powder, mix well and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the the beaten egg and 1-tablespoon at a time of cold water (just enough to bind the dough, no more). Alternatively you can blend the mixture in a food processor, adding the water at the end. Press the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C and grease a 23cm diameter flan tin.

For the filling, in a medium saucepan bring the milk to the boil, whisking all the time. Remove from the heat and in a medium bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks for 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture falls in thick ribbons from the whisk. Slowly whisk in the cornflour paste until well combined. Slowly pour in the hot milk, stirring in well, before returning the mixture back into the saucepan. Heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until boiling. Cook for a further minute, then pour the mixture into a bowl and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge.

Roll the pastry out on a floured work surface to about ½ cm thick and line the flan tin. Brush the pastry with a little egg white to seal it and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown and crisp. Let the pastry cool a little, then carefully transfer to a wire rack. At this stage the cooked pastry can be covered and stored for a few days before using.

For the glaze, heat half the rosehip syrup in a saucepan until boiling then remove the pan from the heat. Dissolve the cornflour in the remaining syrup and quickly pour the mixture back into the saucepan, returning to the heat, stirring all the time, until the mixture has thickened. Next add the honey, bring back to the boil and remove the pan from the heat. Set aside to cool. When ready to assemble the tart, spoon in the custard filling, and with a sharp knife, carefully slice the ends off the rosehips, then slice them in half, lengthways and scoop out the ball of seeds with a teaspoon. Place the rosehips on top of the custard, cut-side down. Transfer the glaze to a pouring jug and drizzle over the glaze. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.

Valentine's Day is not everyone's cup of tea, so if you prefer walking boots to roses do read on! Personally I like to indulge in some love & decadence as well, be it with friends, family or a partner. For a few years now I've been leading a foraging walk to Men-a-Tol to mark this time of year - a mixture of those who love the outdoors, couples, friends & youngsters. Here's the story of why & what you can expect. Men-a-Tol is an ancient site in West Penwith, about four miles from Penzance, where a holed stone lies between two upright stones, and the holed stone is large enough to crawl through. It isn’t known what the site was originally used for, though speculation includes passing small children through the hole to remedy ills, and its use as a fertility site.

Men-a-Tol ancient stone site, Cornwall

Men-a-Tol ancient stone site, Cornwall

I chose this venue to focus on the fertility aspect especially for Valentines -  it’s all a bit of fun really, and you never know until you try these things! The walk involves an atmospheric wander down a hedgerow-ed track, with a 360 degree view of the moors - dressing warmly rather to impress is highly advised! The first time I led this, our walk came to its climax as we reached the stone site, one couple decided to crawl through the stone together (as is the custom if you're wanting to conceive) and I thought little more of it. However, several months later I received an email from them announcing the imminent birth of their first child - apparently 2 weeks after our Valentine's foray she was pregnant! (Men-a-Tol image courtesy of Cornwall Guide) Anyway, the story continues, when two years later I was leading another group to Men-a-Tol for that year’s Valentine’s celebration. We were just about to start the walk when an additional couple arrived, introducing themselves as that same couple who’d been with me two years back, with the fruits of their Men-a-Tol visit strapped to their back - a 13 month old boy. ‘We’re going for a second’ they announced as they strode off towards the site - what a great beginning to our walk!

A pregnant woman in a summer field

Pregnancy inspired by the fresh outdoors!

So, this recipe was inspired by the whole Valentine, hearts, and chocolate theme. I wanted to give it a wild twist, and came up with this. Then, I didn't usually provide snacks for participants on a wild food walk, though in the spirit of love and open-heartedness I set about making these as gifts to share with everyone. It was a cold and wet day as we walked across the moors learning about wild food. When we reached Men-a-Tol this chocolate was a welcomed treat, and the mood changed from damp, tolerant walkers to of jovial celebration - such is the power of chocolate! Rosehips are naturally both sweet and tart, and I thought they’d be an excellent fruity chew in chocolate. Because the fruits are an autumn harvest, I used ones I’d frozen the previous year. I now provide similar chocolates at each Valentine's walk, here's the recipe;

 

Stirring Rosehip flesh into melted chocolateSeeing the seeds inside the rosa rugosa fruit

WILD ROSE-HIP CHOCOLATE

Ingredients

500g bar Green & Black Chocolate

100g rosehips (fresh or frozen, rosa rugosa are the easiest to use for this as they’re larger)

Carefully and patiently remove the flesh from around the outside of the fruit, careful not to dislodge the tight ball of hairy seeds (see also 'how to make rosehip fruit leather'). You want to avoid these seeds as they can irritate the digestive tract. This is a messy and fiddly job, so take your time, you’ll be left with a pile of fleshy rosehip pulp, and a pile of hairy seeds. Discard the latter. You may want to chop the pulp a little, to ensure that you don’t have too bigger pieces of flesh or fruit skin. To melt the chocolate, place it in a pirex/glass bowl and rest over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir gently until it’s throughly melted then stir in the rosehip pulp. Line a dish with greaseproof paper and spoon in the mixture. Leave to cool. When set, cut the chocolate into chunks and enjoy!


I recently led a group of families on a foraging walk & as part of the day I provided sweet biscuits with rosehip fruit in them. I wanted to show how this fruit can be utilised in ways other than just for syrup. The biscuits went down really well, though what I didn’t provide was guidance on how to process the fruit into a versatile ingredient for many recipes, so here it is!

This is a labour of love. It is a process to be enjoyed, with a fruity goal in mind - a delicious and versatile sheet of pure fruit which can be used can be stored for months and used as a snack or to flavour many dishes, for example tarts, pies and ice cream. Best done when you feel you have the time, preferably with helpers - friends or family.

What
Using Japanese Rose (rosa rugosa) hips will enable you to reap more fruit for your work, they’re a larger hip than our native rosehips making them easier to handle.


Where

Gather rosa rugosa ‘hips’ (the fruit), these plants have naturalised in many places, originally many were planted on sand dunes & shingle beach areas to help stabilise the ground. You can also find them on waste ground, or befriend someone who has them growing in their garden - a proportion of your foraged product afterwards is normally gratefully received.

When
Start looking out for hips from late summer & through autumn. You could of course wait for after the first frost, at the risk of the birds getting them first. Living in Cornwall, with a milder climate & being impatient to utilise these fruits, I normally pick them as soon as possible & freeze them to ‘fake’ the first frost. I’m looking for the dark red fruits, not too orange in colour. Freezing them also means you can store them until you’re ready to embark on processing them.

How

Defrost or pick the fruits after first frost. Start processing them as quickly as possible so not to loose valuable vitamin C. Carefully and patiently remove the flesh from around the outside of the fruit, careful not to dislodge the tight ball of hairy seeds. You want to avoid these seeds as they can irritate the digestive tract. This is a messy and fiddly job, so take your time, you’ll be left with a pile of fleshy rosehip pulp, and a pile of hairy seeds. Discard the latter. You may want to chop the pulp a little, to ensure that you don’t have too bigger pieces of flesh or fruit skin.

If you’re using a de-hydrator, follow the instructions for making fruit leather, and spread the fruit pulp onto the teflon sheet before drying the fruit for several hours. If using an oven, line a dish or baking tray with oven-proof clingfilm, and spread the pulp on, about 2mm thick. Put the oven on the lowest heat and leave for up to 12 hours.

The consistency of the fruit leather can be altered according to taste - slightly moist and chewy or dry and almost brittle. The latter will keep longer. When needed, rehydrate the fruit and blend of break into pieces.

The Flavour
What I love about processing fruit this way is that there is no need to add sugar. Instead, you can get to taste a mixture of natural sweetness & tarty-ness of this amazing super fruit.


What next & how to use... Now the fun bit. Once you’ve made your fruit leather, either keep it whole or cut it into strips & store in an air tight container. It will keep for over one year. Now your fruit can be used in various recipes, these are just some of the ones I’ve tried so far. Before using the leather, best to break it into small pieces & re-hydrate in a small amount of warm water.

Rosehip fruit ice cream, Rosehip fruit chocolate, Rosehip fruit biscuits or in simply in porridge. You can of course still use it in traditional recipes such as rosehip syrup or sweet soup, or simply chew on it as snack when out walking, or when you need a energy & vitamin C boost.

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