Rose-hip jam is rarely sold commercially, probably because of how labor-intensive it is, but it is a delicious foraged food that few people have ever tasted. I imagined it would have a rose-like perfume, instead it tastes a bit like sun-dried tomato or prune but is really different and indescribable. And, if you have wild roses nearby, it's loaded with Vitamin C and free! Depending on where you live, you may have ripe rose-hips ready to make into jam right now.
We have lots of wild roses on our three acres in southern Oregon and even more by the lake down the hill. Rosa canina, or dog rose is European native that has gotten firmly established in the USA. In the spring we get tiny pink buds that open into pale pink or white blossoms with five petals. After they bloom they spend summer and fall developing the hips which are the seed capsule of the rose. They swell and turn bright red in the fall so the hillsides are graced with swaths of soft red. The hips look tempting but are hard and inedible until after a few frosts. I begin checking the hips after about a week of hard frosts, usually nights in the 20's. The layer of flesh around the seeds dulls in color and gets soft, like a prune or a date and the flesh is sweet/tart. Taste a bit of flesh but don't eat any seeds as they are very irritating to the digestion. Time to pick!
I picked about 3 gallons of rose hips this year. I got a few thorns in my fingers but managed to avoid any big scratches this time. Usually I make jam right away but this year I was so busy I tried something new. I stored them in a tupperware-like container that kept them from getting bruised, stuck them in the back of the refrigerator and got through Xmas and New Years before I had the time to make jam. This year there are still plenty of ripe hips on our bushes so I could have just waited, but you never know how long they will stay nice. Yesterday, with a cold and foggy day looming, I pulled out my rose-hips and got to work.
Each hip has a dark spot at the blossom end which must be removed and sometimes a bit of stem that should also be cut or pinched off. I use a small paring knife, which I often rinse in a bowl of hot water as some rose goop always gets on the knife and my fingers. I discard any with bruises, diseased spots or mold and any that are not soft. This is the most time-consuming part of the process, so put on a movie or some nice music and get in the hip cleaning zone.
After they are all cleaned, rinse and drain a couple of times. Place in a big heavy pot, cover with water, say three inches above the hips and let them boil gently for about an hour until the seeds are releasing from the hips and your house smells great. Then, I use a big potato masher or even better, an immersion blender to make a big pot of seedy rose hip soup.
Now the straining. Put a large wire strainer over a big bowl (NOT a colander) and ladle the rose hip soup into the strainer, pressing it through with a rubber spatula when it stops flowing. Put the seeds in another bowl as you go. After you've strained all of the soup, clean your big pot and return the strained puree to the pot. Now, add water to the already strained seeds and strain them again to get a few more cups of puree out of them. Discard the seeds in the trash. DON"T COMPOST THEM! Rose seeds are incredibly hardy and you don't want them in your garden. Put the rose puree on a very slow burner or use a diffuser or flame tamer to cook down to a thicker puree, between tomato soup and ketchup. From three gallons of rose hips I ended up with almost a gallon of thick puree. To that I added two cups of sugar (organic, natch) figuring one cup of sugar to four cups of puree to start. Taste its deliciousness. I let it cool down and sit overnight to see how thick it was at room temperature and also because I usually make something and then can it the next day.
I use Pomona's Universal Pectin because you can use less sugar, or no sugar or honey or agave with it. I measured the puree to figure the pectin amount. I used 1/2 teaspoon of pectin per cup of puree and 1/2 teaspoon of calcium solution per cup as well (all in the Pomona's directions). Stir the pectin into a cup of warm puree then add it all back to the big pot and stir hard as it is heating up until it is all incorporated. Add the juice of one lemon. As I heated the puree I got my canning pot heating up and all of the canning supplies ready; jars washed and kept hot on a rimmed baking sheet in a 200º oven, lids and bands washed and heating in a small pan of boiling water, funnel and tongs, clean dish towel to put the jars on. Fill the hot jars and process for 10 minutes. The canning instructions are brief here so if you need more detail on general canning, look to the internets. The finished jam will have a texture similar to apple butter and a dark ruby color.
Listen as the jars of delicious Rose-hip jam make that satisfying popping sound as they seal and enjoy the raves of friends who have never tasted anything so lovely.
*(Update) Thanks! Community Spotlight! Woo Woo!