There are certain ailments with which I hope I’m never afflicted. Itchy bum is one of them. Laugh if you must. I know I chortled when reading up on rose hips in my foraging handbook, learning that the tiny hairs inside these rosy seed pods can cause such a problem as they pass. Careful cleaning is required before eating these guys. In my diligent efforts to avoid what strikes me as equal parts agonizing and embarrassing, I sliced open each tiny hip and gently scraped its innards bare. The process taught me one lesson I’ve never forgotten: Rose hips are a pain in the butt. Still, I remained undeterred by the work ahead of me when I went foraging for the fruit last week with my friend Rowan in the Twelve Mile Creek valley. We waited patiently for a hard frost, the best time after which to start the harvest. I felt a like a kid in a candy store at the sight of the sometimes fleshy, sometimes firm orbs — think oblong cranberries — tempting me to free them from the nastiest, thorniest rose bushes of them all. We picked, we clipped and visions of tangy and tart rose hip creations danced in my head. Last year, I made tea, hoping to reap the benefits of all the vitamin C rose hips pack. This year, I’d try something else. Something more interesting.
By the end of our rose hipping excursion, I think Rowan was having unpleasant flashbacks to last year’s preparation to make rose hips edible. As we bid adieu to another successful hunt, he handed me his stash. If he wanted some, he’d just come back to the valley for them, he told me. Enter my flashback to cleaning and drying rose hips for tea last year. It was tedious work. Mind numbing, hand cramping, hard labour. And I realized at that moment that friends don’t give friends their rose hip harvest. Editor’s note: Rowan has since assured me sharing his rose hips was intended as a kind act and not because he feared the work involved. Still, I politely took our very heavy plastic bag full of hips and stressed the whole ride home about when I would ever find the time to get through them all. I had things I wanted to do in life: go back to school for my master’s degree, read War and Peace, maybe have a family, travel the world, adopt more cats, and these rose hips seemed to threaten all that. Baby steps, I told myself. So I started by throwing the entire lot into the freezer until motivation ran high. Yesterday was not that day but I was even less delighted to be making room in my freezer and seeing this bag of hips occupying valuable real estate. I set to work on what I thought would be the least labour intensive rose hip venture possible. I decided to make vinegar.
Rose Hip Vinegar is the Answer
If anyone out there has ever made homemade vinegar, let alone rose hip vinegar, I’d love to know what you did. I could only surmise from the directions I found online that there are two types of vinegar makers out there: people who have entire days and weeks to devote to the process, starting with making the vinegar mother from scratch; and those who think they’re deserving of high homemaking honours for merely dumping some rose hips into a bottle of store-bought vinegar. I am comfortably in the middle of those. I had no desire to spend weeks creating a mother, that slimy, gelatinous goo resembling phlegm that turns sweet fruit juice into a mouth-puckering masterpiece. I also refused to pour a bottle of white wine vinegar over a pile or rose hips and pat myself on the back for a job well done. I’m fortunate enough to have a bottle of unpasteurized cider vinegar in my pantry, a bottle occupied by one big mother. So, I scooped some of her out, trying to come up with clever Yo Mama jokes all the while. Realizing there’s no such thing, I dumped her into a sterilized mason jar. Next, I swished her around so her slime could slide and slither on every bit of surface inside the jar, inoculating it with bacterial breeding brilliance that would enable fermentation. Then I added a cup of topped and tailed rose hips, with their flesh scored to enable more rosiness to seep out. The good thing about this is that I didn’t have to gut them, which saved me hours of time, though some tiny hairs did poke through the incisions menacingly. Finally, I covered them all with white wine. And not the good stuff either because truth be known, I have no idea if this is going to work. I’d have to wait three weeks to six months to find out. For now, my concoction is sitting in a warm, dark cupboard, covered with cheesecloth, fermenting, I hope. Fingers crossed. Otherwise, I need to set aside several days and some serious self-loathing to work my way through the rest of my harvest.