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How to make soup from wild rose hips

Rose hip soup is a Swedish comfort food. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

SARANAC LAKE — The first time I saw the tiny red berries, loading an enormous bush high above the Saranac River, I thought they had to be poisonous. The size of shooter marbles, with spiky tops like a sorceress’s cowl, they looked more like little bombs than fruit.

No, said a friend when I texted her pictures, they’re rose hips. An expert gardener and a former restaurant critic, she told me to make jam or soup out of them and be grateful, as they’re rare these days, and something she’d never seen in such gorgeous quantity.

Rose hip soup, called nyponsoppa in Sweden, is a common winter soup in Scandinavia, a healthful tonic as it’s jammed with Vitamin C. Most recipes call for dried rose hips, as increasingly roses are bred to slough off the hips, and thus finding bushes with hips as well as flowers is not so common. Unless you live in rural Sweden — or, apparently, the North Country.

Craig Bailey, the chef-owner of Fiddlehead Bistro in Saranac Lake, says he’s used rose hips in jelly and custards. (Fiddlehead is closed due to COVID-19.) Erin Cass, who launched her cidery Wildcat Cider in August at Hex & Hop Brewery in Bloomingdale, says she’s working on a rose hip cider. Other things you can do with rose hips: tea, jelly, syrup, sauces, even brandy.

Darra Goldstein, founding editor of the food journal “Gastronomica,” Russian professor emerita at Williams College in Massachusetts, and author of numerous cookbooks, sent me the recipe for rose hip soup that she included in her 1996 cookbook “The Vegetarian Hearth: Recipes and Reflections for the Cold Season,” a collection of recipes from the world’s coldest regions.

Wild roses, with their fruit called rose hips, are abundant near Saranac Lake’s Beaver Park. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

But the recipe I ended up using was from Magnus Nilsson’s “The Nordic Cookbook,” an exhaustive compendium of recipes the size and heft of a King James Bible.

Nilsson is a Swedish chef whose restaurant Faviken was listed among the best in the world until he closed it in December 2019 to operate an apple orchard. (He’s since become the academy director for MAD, a food and hospitality organization founded by Danish chef Rene Redzepi). He’s also written a number of encyclopedic cookbooks documenting Nordic home cooking.

Nilsson notes that he grew up eating rose hip soup made from a supermarket mix, served with ice cream and almond cookies. “I think that almost no one actually makes it themselves from real fruit,” he writes. “Which is a pity. It is much more delicious.”

The beauty of Nilsson’s recipe is that he tells you to leave the seeds of the hips in, which most recipes do not, and just to blend and strain the results. As rose hips are filled with tiny seeds and little fibers, removing them is neither a simple nor a quick task. In fact, until I found Nilsson’s recipe, I’d been checking out Amazon for dried rose hips, thinking that it would be much easier to order some and leave the fresh ones for the local birds and deer. (Deer love rose hips, as do cows, had we cows roaming the streets of Saranac Lake.)

So I foraged for a bag of rose hips, getting properly scratched by the thorns for my efforts and picking a lovely bouquet of the wild roses that first bloom before they form the fruits.

I washed, trimmed and halved the fruit, then simmered a pot of them, the bright bulbs bubbling in the water like jewels. Making the soup was a simple matter of finding my blender and a strainer.

The color of a weathered stop sign, the soup was faintly floral, more earthy than astringent, halfway between tart and sweet.

A ladle of hot soup into a bowl. A big spoonful of whipped cream. A handful of crushed almonds. Now if it would only snow.

Rose Hip Soup

Ingredients:

400 g fresh rose hips, trimmed, washed and halved

3 tablespoons sugar

juice of one lemon

2 tablespoons potato starch (Potato starch is available at Nori’s Village Market and online, including Amazon.)

whipped cream and almonds for garnish

Directions:

Cover rose hips with abundant water and simmer until tender.

Puree the rose hips in a blender, then push the mixture through a fine sieve back into the cleaned-out pot and discard the seeds.

Add sugar, potato starch and lemon and bring the soup back to a boil, adding water to adjust the thickness if necessary.

Ladle into bowls and top with whipped cream and almonds.

Serves 4.

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