September to me is one of the prettiest months in the calendar. I love the scarlet stained apples and rosehips and the bluey-black hues of the damsons and sloes, and find them as beautiful on the mantelpiece as they are in the hedgerows. We held a lunch to celebrate a christening and filled the room with berries and apple boughs. Sloes and blackberries were tied to candles with garden string and, to echo my Mr McGregor mood, watering cans were used in place of vases. Rosehips were tucked into napkins and apples told people where to sit, party-favour boxes were crammed full of wild hazelnut crunch for the younger guests and even the cake reflected September’s glory.
When the last crumb had been swept away, I tied my apron strings and made apple and cinnamon jelly to have on toast on icy mornings, and rosehip syrup to keep the children’s cheeks rosy in the long winter months ahead. ‘One tablespoon-full to be taken at bedtime’ said Old Mrs Rabbit.
Decorating with Berries
Rosehips, blackberries and the dark amethyst sloe found on the blackthorn tree all respond well to being picked, unlike elderberries which droop in a tick. Sloes are, however, very prickly and you absolutely must wear thick gardening gloves when you pick them or they will tear your hands to shreds. Once you have picked them, let the branches drink from a deep bucket of water for at least a couple of hours before you start arranging them. Obviously, the ones in the watering cans are fine as they will be standing in water, so arrange these first and leave the candles until last. As with all fresh flowers, keeping the room as cool as you can until the last possible minute will make them last longer but really you are looking to do the decorations the day, not the week, before the party.
Rosehips are ruby-coloured shiny fruit of the rose tree and are abundant in the hedgerows, providing you get there before the birds from about the second week in September. They are an autumn favourite of mine and manage to creep into most aspects of decorations, and the little dog rose ones are perfect for my watering can arrangements. The bigger, fatter briar rosehips were honoured and found pride of place nestled among late autumn roses on the top of the christening cake. Traditionally, rosehip syrup was given to children to drink in winter as a daily tonic, because a single glass contains more Vitamin C than freshly squeezed orange juice.
The recipe is my grandmother’s, written in her spidery hand on a very stained piece of paper that is almost tearing where it folds. It lives in an old cigar box on the mantelpiece in my kitchen and is one of my treasures.
2.5 litres water
500g caster sugar
Wash the rosehips in cold water and remove the stalks. Chop the rosehips finely for a minute or so before putting them in a large pan with the water and simmering for about 25 minutes. Transfer to a straining bag and leave to drip for two hours (I don’t own one of those so I put a colander lined with muslin over my largest mixing bowl, which works just fine). Pour the strained liquid back into the pan and reduce to about 1 litre. Add the sugar and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Then increase the heat and boil furiously for 10 minutes. Pour the syrup into warm sterilised bottles and seal.