We tend to define food by what we spend on it. Food is often viewed as a commodity purchased at a market or restaurant. For vegetable gardeners there is a value in dollars saved, especially during heirloom tomato harvest time. Not too far back in recent human history the production of food was tied to the season and to a local economy. The scale was small, with food grown (and often gathered) near the home. During the mid-century increase in factory production of food, the scale changed and for many of us our cultural concept of food and gardening was redefined. Today we now think in terms of global food production. Look in any US grocery store and it is hard to guess where the vegetables were grown. This shift in the scale of production has changed our perception of the plants around us. There are the plants that grow from seeds or starts, and the rest are just weeds. Gardens may be defined spaces, but there is food growing everywhere. Weeds are really just a social construct. Many plants that we call weeds have more flavor and nutrition than the vegetables that we buy in the store. Humans have been gathering anything from chickweed to seaweed to supplement and add flavor to items cultivated.
How do you define a garden? Or food? In the early 1990’s I was waiting in line at an ATM near the 16th and Mission BART station in San Francisco. I was on my way to nearby Rainbow Grocery. This was not a particularly comfortable place to pass the time. The air was filled with the scent of old stinky pee and junkies bumped around the plaza trying to score heroin. And yet, as I waited there in line, something happened that redefined this space into a lush garden. An elderly man approached and cut in front of the line to squat down and snip a few dandelion leaves growing beneath the ATM. He carefully tucked the leaves into a plastic bag and went on his way. This incident made me realize how much I held on to certain definitions, especially those tied to food and use of public space. At the time I was happy to pay $2 for a pretty bunch of dandelions at Rainbow Grocery to saute with garlic and walnuts. Why are the dandelions in the store different from the ones growing in the cracks of a sidewalk? To be clear, I probably wouldn’t harvest dandelions from under this particular ATM because of the risk of contamination from pee, poo, or insecticides, but I definitely view the dandelions in my yard differently. And if I was very hungry, well then, resourcefulness and nutrition wins.
A few weekends ago I went for a walk to clear my head and get my blood pumping. I love what an hour or two of wandering will do. The fog and rain lifted away the cobwebs and funk. I found many things: A murder of crows, a New Year’s altar under a red cedar, and best of all, I found a huge patch of gorgeous rose hips. So many rose hips! The drops of rain made them glisten like rubies. Most of them were ripe and plump, much better than the dried, seedless ones that I have been buying. I filled my coat pockets and left the rest for other foragers and migrating birds. Did you know that the first rosary beads were made with rose hips? Someday I will make a necklace made with dried hips. Who needs rubies when we are surrounded by so many jewels, free for the harvest?
I went back the next weekend and harvested a few more. The first harvest made a lovely syrup, filled with Vitamin C and bioflavonoids. The second harvest is now infusing in vodka, to be enjoyed many months from now. Cheers to the weeds that surround us!
Bohemian Rose Cocktail
This is a variation of the lovely Jack Rose, one of the only applejack based classic cocktails. It was popular in 1920’s and ‘30’s. It is also mentioned in The Sun Also Rises. A Jack Rose is made with applejack, lemon or lime juice, and grenadine. This version subs Calvados for the more potent applejack, and rose hip syrup for the grenadine.
Makes two cocktails
4 ounces Calvados, applejack, or apple brandy
2 ounces rose hip syrup (see recipe below)
1.5 ounces lime juice
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker; shake well. Strain into chilled cocktail or coupe glasses.
Rose Hip Syrup
This is so much more than a cocktail syrup. Drizzle this Vitamin C packed syrup over yogurt, biscuits, pancakes, or a citrus cake. Use it to flavor sodas, smoothies, or tea. This syrup is so easy to make. The most important step is to filter out ALL of the tiny hairs that are attached to the rose hip seeds because these hairs can really irritate the stomach. I recommend filtering the syrup twice through a sieve lined with a jelly bag, muslin, or several layers of cheesecloth. It may take a some time for the syrup to filter through. If you want to prevent cloudiness in your syrup, resist the urge to push or squeeze the contents through, just let gravity do the work. I don’t mind a little cloudiness and my impatience usually drives me to squeeze the contents through.
Yield: About a 1¼ cups syrup
Equipment and Ingredients:
Medium saucepan, potato masher or wooden spoon, sieve or strainer, jelly bag, muslin or cheesecloth, bottle or jar to store syrup
1 ½ cups water
½ pound rose hips, sepals and stems trimmed (about 1 cup of rose hips) from unsprayed plants
1 cup honey or sugar
In a medium pan bring water and rose hips to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the rose hips are soft. Remove from heat. Mash the rose hips with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Add the honey or sugar and return to heat and simmer on low for about ten minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain through a jelly bag, some muslin or a triple layer of cheesecloth. Rinse the bag, muslin, or cheesecloth well and strain the liquid through again. Store in the refrigerator in a bottle or jar. This should be good for a week or two.
Rose Hip Infused Vodka
Adapted from River Cottage Handbook No. 12: Booze, by John Wright
Infusions are easy to make, but require time for the vodka to extract nutrients and flavor. This one is worth the long wait!
Yield: About 2 cups of infused vodka
Equipment and Ingredients: Quart jar, strainer, jelly bag, muslin, or cheesecloth, bottle to store liqueur
2 cups vodka, I used 80 proof
2 cups rose hips from unsprayed plants, washed and trimmed of sepals and stems, but left intact.
¼ to ⅓ cup sugar
Add rose hips and sugar to a clean pint mason jar. Add the vodka. Cover with a lid and shake the contents. Store the jar in a cool, dark place. Gently shake the infusion every day or so until the sugar has fully dissolved. The infusion should be ready in about 3 - 4 months. Strain through cheesecloth into a bottle. Once strained, let the infusion sit for another month or more to mature.
Sip on its own or mix into drinks.