Rose hips and Dandelions
Yesterday while stopped at a rest station on the long drive home from visiting our son I spotted what looked like rose hips in the small garden that had recently turned from it's vibrant summer beauty to the fruitfulness of fall. These rose hips were cultivated, not the wild ones I remember from my childhood, growing on the abandoned railroad tracks that ran just outside our back garden. Although we had a large garden to play in, this extra wild space became our playground. It was a safe short cut on our walk to school, a place where we met our school friends and ran races, played games, climbed piles of rubble, all unattended by an adult for the most part as we lived in a small safe village, we knew never to talk to strangers and in fact they were few and far between.
During the autumn when the wild rose hips were ready my dad would organize us three children with Tupperware containers and either send us out to pick the fruit sometimes making it a family affair. I remember it being fun, although we endured many scratches from the tiny thorns that ran along the often hard to reach bushes. The purpose of this expedition was wine making, my father's hobby for years. After what seemed like many hours of picking we would race home to have a drink of orange squash or ribena, (a blackcurrant flavored drink with extra vitamin c along with plenty of sugar I am sure)
This would be accompanied with a biscuit, my favorites were custard creams or bourbons. Depending how well behaved we had been we would be allowed one or two, usually doing our best to sneak another one onto our plates. We sat at a small table that pulled out from the kitchen counter as if by magic. My dad still has one of those in his kitchen today.
He would then get to work washing the many containers of rose hips, trimming away any remaining thorns. It was a long process, next came the process of putting them all into the collection of huge clear glass demijohns that would eventually contain wine. I don't remember if there was boiling and cooking involved, there may have been. Wine making was a popular thing for dads to do during that time as wine was rarely consumed and saved for special occasions and Sunday lunches in our home. Making wine was considerably cheaper, made good use of the varied wild and home grown produce around us as well as being a hobby.
The same process would be repeated when the dandelion flowers were out in full force, off we went to pick what seemed like endless containers of the bright yellow flowers that grew in abundance on the railroad area. There were very few in our garden as although it was a wonderful play area my dad kept our lawn as immaculate as was possible with three young children, I inherited my love of gardening from him. It became a social occasion as we would meet others families who were out doing the same thing. Blackberry picking was my favorite as we could eat the fruits, our hands and clothes were always stained a deep purple by the time we came home. The blackberries were saved for pies and jam making as well as being transformed into wine.
There was always a huge collection of these demijohns on the counter in a warm part of the kitchen, they would bubble away for what seemed like months with a comforting plopping sound as the air moved through the glass tubing on the top. I often sat on a stool watching the bubble moving slowly along, waiting for the sound it made and exclaiming loudly at each pop. I think some wines had to sit in the airing cupboard where it was warmer for awhile until the fermentation had begun, however I am not an expert on this topic so that might not be the case. I do remember my dad's one attempt to make ginger beer, it somehow over fermented and exploded all over the kitchen. A horrible sticky liquid mess was everywhere along with shards of glass. All I remember is not being allowed in the kitchen for what seemed like ages, hearing the angry frustrated voices of my parents as they did a thorough clean up. I am guessing my mother forbade any more ginger beer making dreams and with good reason.
There were so many different types of wine bubbling away over the years, parsnips from our garden made a particularly interesting color and taste. It looked much like the over dark colored urine of an extremely dehydrated person. It made an appearance for many months at our Sunday lunches. I was allowed to try a tiny sip from a sherry glass. It had a very distinct taste and I remember screwing my face up in disgust. I am sure now that it tasted more like a rich sweet port, eventually it must have been consumed and was replaced by the next interesting concoction.
Many years later I tried to follow my dad's example, instead of picking fruit, taking the easier route, buying home wine making kits from Boots our local chemist (pharmacy) soon deciding that it really was not my forte and was better left to someone with more time and patience to dedicate to the procedure.
What hobbies or food/drink productions went on in your family as you were growing up?
Did you join in? Was it fun or a chore? What are your favorite and least favorite memories of these activities?