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.
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!
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;
WILD ROSE-HIP CHOCOLATE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.