A writing lesson gleaned from rose hips

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In the same field where I had snapped photos of purple fireweed during my August trip, last week I was greeted with a haze of red. Summer’s wild roses (Rosa acicularis) had left behind an abundance of their seed pods, known as rose hips.

Years ago in my more ambitious ‘happy homemaker’ days I had haphazardly gathered a large bucket of them during a mild fall, and taken them home to make Rose Hip Jelly. I heard rose hips contain Vitamin C in large quantities, twenty times that of an orange, but didn’t know they contain little or no pectin. I also didn’t know the seeds contain tannic acid, are covered with silver hairs that can irritate the digestive system, and should be removed first or strained out after cooking. I used an aluminum pot instead of a stainless steel one, too.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that my first attempt at making the jelly wasn’t much of a success. It turned out as a rather tasteless, tart syrup. Later years I waited until after the hips had been touched by frost. For better flavour I picked the ones that were neither orange nor deep red but scarlet red, cooked them with apples, strained out all the seeds, and added pectin. Success!

It proved that diving into the project without any real knowledge of what I was doing resulted in an inferior quality product.

I’d say that pretty well sums up what happened when I wrote my first novel, too. While I was an English major and had no problem gathering together 120,000 words, I didn’t know how to properly process them. The result was disappointing. I’ve learned a lot since then, and subsequent stories have seen the benefit of my education. But I’m still working to come up with the best recipe!

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Have you ever tackled a project without adequate preparation? What was the result?

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ROSE HIP JELLY

(This isn’t the recipe I used, but I think it’s a good basic one.)

Rose hips reduce by two-thirds during cooking, so you will need 3 cups of raw rose hips for each cup of puree. 
A good gel is difficult to achieve without added pectin.

  • 9 cups raw fresh rose hips – to make 3 cups rose hip puree
  • l pkg. powdered pectin

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 4 cups sugar

  • Add coloring, if desired

Wash berries, cut off the tops and ends. Simmer the prepared rose hips in a minimal amount of water until soft — about 10-15 minutes. Mash with a potato masher until smooth or puree in a blender. Filter through a jelly strainer or cheesecloth.

Combine 3 cups of the puree with pectin and lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Add sugar, boil hard for 2 minutes or until gel is reached. Pour into hot sterile jars, leaving 1/8″ headspace. Wipe jar rims, adjust lids and rings. Water bath for 5 minutes (or seal jars with melted paraffin).

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10 thoughts on “A writing lesson gleaned from rose hips

  1. planaquarium says:

    I admire your courage to attempt the jelly-making – and a novel! I tried once, but my own attention-span only lasted about 3 chapters.

  2. Laura Best says:

    Thanks for adding the recipe. I’ve threatened to make rose hip jelly for years now. One of these times I’ll be brave.

    I’m sure that most beginning writers make the mistake of jumping in with both feet before realizing that they are unprepared for what is ahead of them. I’m rewriting a story I wrote a few years back, this time I have a much better handle on how to tackle it. Having a good long while away from the project has taught me a valuable lesson. When we are too close to a story and can’t figure out exactly what is wrong, even though we know it is something, distance puts a whole new perspective on it.

    I’m confident that you’ll eventually come up with the just right recipe. :)

  3. Katt says:

    I’m laughing with you. Years ago I attempted to bake chocolate chip cookies. While reading through the recipe I decided they didn’t need salt– I don’t like the taste of salt in cookies—I’m sure was my thinking– I didn’t realize until later the salt and soda work together to make them soft—-ha ha—what I had were little chocolate bricks—-
    Great post and pictures! BTW you are a fabulous writer! I love reading anything you write….

  4. The pics are wonderful, Carol. Have to admit though, I’ve never attempted to make homemade jelly. I’m not a bad cook, but I stick to things like apple pie that I don’t have to confuse myself with ingredients in.
    I love the comparison you made between food and writing recipes. I can relate. Although I know I’m no where near where I should/could be, I look at stories that I penned years ago and have definitely improved. Hmm..maybe there’s hope for me yet! Ha..ha..

  5. Carol, now on top of your great photography, we also get delicious recipes :) How divine is that for a short visit? Okay, the answer regarding my writing is obvious, my first attempts at baking an apple pie, equally disastrous as my first attempt at a novel. By age 14 I was elected the official family baker and have kept that title for XYZ number of years (we girls do not reveal all). I believe in the learning process and in myself.

    No matter how long it takes, when we embark on this amazing journey, we find those secret ingredients that make what we “bake” delectable :)

  6. Darlene says:

    But at least you tried it, learned from your mistakes and tried it again, to much more success. Think of all the people who have never even tried to make rosehip jam, or to write a story, because they were afraid they might fail. Or tried it once and gave up when it didn’t work out. Mary Pickford said “This thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” This was a perfect post, thanks Carol.

  7. Good morning, everyone. Thanks for sharing your comments on this, and I’m glad you see value in the lesson learned. There’s something to be said for experience, right? :D

  8. Shari Green says:

    I was thinking of rose hip jelly a week or so ago when I was out on a walk & saw tons of rose hips down near the water. I’ve no inclination to tackle jelly-making, though, lol.

    As you know, the first novel-length fiction I tackled was during NaNoWriMo, with pretty much zero preparation. It was fun, and it hooked me on writing fiction, but the “recipe” definitely needed serious refining. Six years later, I’m still learning, still writing…. :)

    I just stumbled upon a quote yesterday that seems relevant here:

    “I am always doing that which I cannot do in order to learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso.

    Sounds like the trial-and-error method of learning, lol, and I think we need intentional learning, too, through craft books, workshops, critiques, etc. Still, by challenging ourselves, trying to write what we’re not able to write, then trying again (and again), we learn, and we get better.

  9. Oh, I’ve never seen rose hips and didn’t know what they looked like. Great post. Oh, yes, I have my share of doing before knowing. :)

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