I’ve never seen as many wild rose hips as I saw in the upper Skeena watershed of British Columbia this fall. I was there to fish for steelhead and I suppose I might have earned a few raised eyebrows if I’d put down my rod and spent the rest of the trip picking hips, but when opportunity knocked I made sure to fill a bag. The banks of the Kispiox River in particular were covered with the bright red globes. No doubt Mister Griz was picking his own share.
My first morning in steelhead camp I awoke to a shiny white veneer covering the ground. Rose hips gleamed in the sun. This is the best time to harvest your hips—after a hard frost. The hips endured a long drive back to Seattle and a month in the freezer, but this didn’t seem to matter.
Back home I did a little research before realizing that, as with most jellies and jams, a recipe is merely a guideline. Add and subtract according to your own taste. If I’d had another lemon I would have squeezed in more lemon juice. I used less sugar than many recipes because I like the tanginess of the hips. I chose jelly for the warm, diaphanous color, because it was easiest, and I was short on time, but a marmalade-like jam would be a good choice too.
If I had not have been so focused on the giant wild steelhead finning around in the river beside me, I might have picked a more reasonable amount of rose hips to preserve, certainly no less less than 8 cups. As it turned out, I came home with a scant 6 cups. Consider doubling the amounts below for best use of your time.
1. Wash and stem the rose hips, then cover with water (4 cups in this case) in a stainless steel pot and simmer for an hour or so until the hips are soft and easily mashed with a potato masher.
2. Strain the liquid. A jelly bag is ideal, but a combination of strainers and cheese cloth will get the job done. I used a food mill for the first pass and then lined a fine mesh strainer with a double layer of cheese cloth. After the liquid passed through I balled up the remaining mash and squeezed out the juice. The point is to extract as much juice and as little pulp as possible. This yielded 2 cups of juice.
3. Return juice to pot. Add lemon juice and pectin and bring to a boil. Add sugar and continue to boil for a minute or so while stirring. Remove from heat, skim off any foam, and immediately ladle into sterilized jars.
4. Secure lids and process jars in hot bath for 10 minutes.