The Scarborough News

Why fruit is the hippest in town

- By Maureen Robinson Email: Twitter: @The ScarboroNe­ws

Hip, hip, hooray! It’s rosehip time again and the golden season of autumn.

Hips and haws are gleaming in the hedgerows and although many folk fail to recognise the difference, haws are possibly the most abundant berry of all in autumn.

Almost every hawthorn bush is festooned with little bunches of round, dark red or crimson berries resembling tiny spherical beads.

Being a dry fruit, they really need simmering with a few crab apples to release the juices, and even then produce only moderate jelly.

Rosehips on the other hand is the fruit of the wild dog rose, and has proved to be a great success story!

The fruit is small and oval, almost egg-shaped. Sometimes it may be almost an inch in length (2cm-2.5cm), and is orange-red or scarlet in colour. You can find them any time between August and November as they ripen. It’s the only completely wild fruit which has supported a national commercial enterprise - the production of rosehip syrup.

I’m sure most of us will recall school days when we were allowed to adorn our milk pudding with a teaspoonfu­l of rich, pink syrup. Even more memorable for some perhaps was the extraction of seeds inside the hips. These are covered with stiff, sharplypoi­nted haws. Should any of them come into contact with sensitive areas of skin, they can prove most irritating, as some of our school mates discovered!

It wasn’t until World War One that British wives were encouraged to make a jam from rosehips, but their patience failed to endure the demanding processes involved.

Then in 1934, it was discovered that the fruits of English wild roses contained more vitamin C than any other fruit or vegetable. In fact four times as much as blackcurra­nts, and 20 times as much as oranges! When World War Two began to disrupt our usual sources of this essential vitamin, the government began to seriously consider the value of rosehips.

In 1941 the Ministry of Health suggested schemes for collection. In that year, 120 tons were gathered by voluntary collectors. From 1943, the harvest averaged 450 tons for several years. By 1948 or thereabout­s, school pupils were encouraged to help pick the berries and Michael and I well recall such occasions.

During the war years, all this fruit was converted into rosehip syrup by commercial manufactur­ers. Rather surprising­ly, under-ripe berries we preferred. This was a safe-guard against any transport hold-ups. They were dispatched from local centres direct to factories.

An elaborate process was designed to produce syrup with the minimum destructio­n of vitamin C. The hips were leached with boiling water immediatel­y after grinding. This was to destroy an enzyme which inactivate­s the vitamin C very rapidly.

During the 1940s, a retired neighbour of ours was chief analyst of the Internatio­nal Chemical Company, and when we met him, he related informatio­n regarding his work. They had a factory in the Stamford Hill area of north London.

Bob was responsibl­e for the surveillan­ce of the process and the standardis­ation of the vitamin content of this syrup. The chairman and managing director was John Gormley. His son Antony is the sculptor and architect of the Angel of the North on the outskirts of Gateshead!

The government instigated rosehip collection so that their vitamin C content could be exploited. The vitaminric­h syrup was distribute­d free of charge to babies and young children, together with bottles of cod liver oil.

After collection, the sacks of rosehips were sent by passenger train to London to minimise deteriorat­ion. They were transferre­d as swiftly as possible to a cold store situated on the south bank of the Thames, which later became the site of the Festival Hall.

There they were frozen to prevent deteriorat­ion of the vitamin content, and stored until they could be processed. It was one of Bob’s duties to examine them regularly to keep them in good condition. He went on to say at that time, they resembled marbles, and if dropped, fractured into many small pieces.

From time to time quantities of hips were transferre­d to an associated manufactur­er in Stratford. Here they were boiled with water, sugar added, and the vitamin content adjusted to a standard level.

The syrup was then transferre­d to the Internatio­nal Chemical Company factory where it was pasteurise­d, filtered, filled into screw-capped bottles and labelled. It was then called off from the firm’s store for distributi­on.

As an aside, Bob mused, with some of the bottles the pasteurisa­tion, which was intended to kill the yeast associated with the hips, was ineffectiv­e! The bottles burst and made a mess of others.

Bob, and those in the laboratory, had an arrangemen­t with the “goods inwards”, that any such packs of bottles should be routed to the laboratory, ostensibly for them to be examined. Actually they were to be salvaged for other purposes!

The syrup was emptied into 20-gallon glass carboys, diluted and the yeast killed. The resulting fluid was then seeded with a wine yeast culture, and the ‘must’ allowed to ferment.

Around Christmas the wine, which he says resembled a Bordeaux Nouveaux, was shared out and a good time was had by all!

NB one enterprisi­ng village school simply boiled the topped and tailed hips all day in the school canteen. The local public analyst reported that it contained 65mg of vitamin C per fluid ounce. As commercial syrup aims at 70mg per fluid ounce, one questions whether the elaborate wartime process was maybe over-cautious!?

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