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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