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Transylvanian Rose Hip Jam

(post, Linda Colwell)


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I see rose hips in the wild, in cars passing by, on the backs of Romas and in the heavy bags sitting in the sun up against Emeneni’s house. She has two full bags of hand picked wild rose hips, about forty pounds in all. These wild rose hips are small and seedy and not at all like the big beach plum rose hips of the North American Atlantic coast. The Transylvanian rose hips are more like the wild rose hips of the Nootka or Dog roses in the Pacific Northwest, maybe smaller. Good for bears and birds, a lot of work for people.

It is Friday morning and Emeneni is already working. Large red and brown enamel pots simmer on the wood stove and hips are sorted into three qualities- perfect, rotten and use immediately. Her friend, a widow dressed for years in black, comes, goes and sets the pace for the day. She brings more equipment- grinders and screens- but little labor; “the arthritis is too bad”. The cat, splayed in the warm sun on the concrete threshold, measures the morning in naps, forages, and chases. Emeneni’s husband Imre brings tools and solutions. Clouds gather in the distant sky, calling down the high cool air of late October.

During my stay, I eat rose hip jam with bread. I eat the jam mixed into polenta for dessert after a course of polenta with milk and a course of polenta with cheese. Yes, three courses of polenta for dinner. Rose hip jam is a silky good balance of sweet and tart and bridges the distance between the two. It can play with cured meat, onion, cheese, corn, nuts, butter and cream.

Sitting next to Emeneni on the old chipped chair and with our backs into the morning sun, she instructs me with hand signs and smiles and shows me what she wants- the right hips to perfect her standards. Though there is no way to tell what the process will be, the vast amounts of rose hips, the simple equipment, time of day and number of hands involved in the work all say “ long and slow”. I settle into this work meditation and remember gossamered thoughts about staying in a monastery.

Rose hip jam is a welcome gift. Not many people make it at home anymore because it is a tedious process. Mothers, daughters, daughters-in-law, aunts and friends politely disagree about the general process, about how much cooking and sugar is needed and whether or not to use pectin. This is the women’s world and the men ante their assistance without crossing the threshold. There is constant reassessment and adjusting to do.

The longest day is ten hours and we eat, at 3:30, in a tired silence. We eat Emeneni’s old school pork sausage stored in the pantry in pork fat. She cooks them in sour cabbage and serves them with mashed potatoes. We drink local bottled water. We eat in the not-for-working kitchen and then go back to the for-working one. Emeneni’s grandson comes for money to get an ice cream at the corner ABC store. The neighbor checks on our progress and shakes her head. The cat is kicked out from under the stove. There is a constant flow of work, silence, laughter and people passing through the day, the door, and the production. We leave at 8’o clock at night in a downpour and with two large pots to finish at home over the next two days. The potholed drive home sloshes the jam into the seat beds and I smile as I think of child size fingers and sticky seat belts during the next drive to school.

The Recipe
Get the rose hips after the first frost. They are sweeter. Hand-sort the rose hips. Toss the ones with black spots to the chickens and split the remaining between two buckets: softest ones for “immediate use” jam and firmer ones for stored jam. Boil the hips long enough to soften. Cool ever so slightly. Pass through a meat grinder. Loosen with boiling water. Remove the seeds by passing through a sheet metal screen with holes and mounted in a wooden frame. Bury the seeds. Loosen with boiling water. Pass through a fine mesh screen in a wooden frame to remove the hairs. Boil to reduce water content. Add sugar. Reduce more to thicken. Put in jars. Store. Use to stave off winter colds.

Yield: Enough for a winter of family and friends.
Labor: Set aside plenty of time.