As someone who can’t stop putting food in jars, I sometimes get my priorities confused. On one hand, I have a compulsion to forage. I don’t know a lot of other middle-aged, middle-class women in Marin County who scale the fences of foreclosed properties or run off into the bushes to “rescue” fruit that would otherwise go wasted. (In truth, I don’t know even one, though I would like to.) My favorite kind of canning relies on what the world outside the supermarket so generously provides.
On the other hand, I have developed an equal compulsion to compete. After I got a taste of my first county fair, I was impossibly hooked on winning shiny ribbons. (Not for the ribbons themselves, of course. It’s about that fleeting, shiny feeling.) An unfortunate byproduct of my new habit is a tendency to wander through upscale markets, paying too much money for ingredients that might give my preserves an extra edge.
I loved making this lingonberry rosehip conserve, because it brought my compulsions together without conflict. I invented it last month when we were in Alaska, using what was growing around our cabin and what we had in our stock of food supplies. It may be a contender for next year’s county fair.
This project was particularly fun because I didn’t have certain kinds of equipment I’d usually consider important. Let’s start with a refrigerator and freezer. We stash our food in a “cold hole” — a storage box dug into the permafrost.
A cold hole works great for keeping a month’s food fresh, but it wasn’t going to help with a “frozen plate” test to determine whether the conserve would set. I didn’t have a candy thermometer, either.
And no scale. This gave Stewart an opportunity to step in and impress me with his improvisation skills. How many things have you canned with a scale like this?
But I did have a forest full of lingonberries (in Alaska, they’re more commonly called lowbush cranberries) and rosehips ripe for the picking. You can see from the little wrinkles that we got to the rosehips just in time; they would have been at their peak just a few weeks earlier, in mid-August.
I have to say that wild rosehips are mealy little buggers and crazy full of seeds. To get a usable amount of pulp from them, you should put them through the food mill twice. (I explain this in the recipe.)
Some people — like the guy I live with — love to eat rosehips picked straight from the bush or made into a pure jam or butter. To that, I say, “Bleah!” But I think they’re beautiful and I know they’re full of vitamin C, so I decided to mix them up with the lingonberries, an orange from the cold hole, and some walnuts and prunes from the pantry.
I tested the conserve for doneness by using my judgment (the bubbles had moved to the center of the pot and were behaving aggressively; the mixure had thickened up nicely) and by balancing a shallow tablespoon on top of the coldest thing we had: a glass full of icy water from our deep, cold spring. I left it there for about 5 minutes and it kinda worked!
Considering this conserve was made both “in the bush” and on the fly — and that it tastes good — I’m happy. Whether my home-state judges will like it is a whole ‘nother matter.
Lingonberry Rosehip Conserve
8 cups lingonberries
4 cups rosehips, ends trimmed
6 cups sugar
2 tablespoons orange rind
juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup chopped prunes or raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts
1. Sterilize your jars.
2. Prepare the orange zest with a citrus zester or with a paring knife. (I used a paring knife because that’s what I had. I peeled the rind away from the orange in strips, then used the knife to carefully separate all the white pith from the rind. I sliced the rind finely, then chopped it into pieces about ¼-inch long.) Squeeze the orange and set the juice aside.
3. Chop the prunes into raisin-sized pieces (or just use raisins, which is what I’d have done if I had any) and place them in a small bowl. Cover them with the orange juice and let them sit for at least an hour to plump them up.
4. Chop the walnuts uniformly and set them aside.
5. Make the lingonberry puree. Place the lingonberries in a large nonreactive pot and add enough water to almost cover them. Boil until the skins burst. Put the resulting mixture through a food mill or sieve to make a puree.
6. Make the rosehip puree. Place the rosehips in a saucepan and add enough water to almost cover them. Simmer for about ten minutes, or until the hips are soft. Put the resulting mixture through a food mill or sieve. To extract maximum pulp from the rose hips, take whatever’s left in the food mill and return it to the saucepan with a little bit of water. Briefly simmer, being careful not to scorch it. Put the mixture through the food mill or sieve again.
7. Strain the prunes. (You won’t use the prune-y orange juice in the mixture, so you might want to drink it up.) Combine the lingonberry and rosehip purees in the large pot with the sugar, orange rind, lemon juice, and prunes.
8. Slowly heat the mixture to dissolve the sugar, then bring it to a gentle boil. Cook the mixture until it’s thick, about 30 minutes. As it cooks, occasionally skim the foam and stiff skin that forms on top. Add the walnuts for about the last 5 minutes of cooking time. (Truth is, I totally forgot to add my walnuts before the mixture was done. So I simmered them in water for a few minutes, added them, and cooked the mixture one minute more. We do what we have to do.)
9. Remove the mixture from the heat. Let it sit for about five minutes, occasionally giving it a gentle stir. This will help to distribute the nuts and prunes so they don’t float to the top.
10. Ladle the hot conserve into sterilized jars, leaving ¼-inch head space.
11. Process in a water-bath canner. Because of altitude at the cabin, I added 5 minutes to the ordinary 10-minute processing time and processed for a total of 15 minutes.
Yields about 7 half-pint jars.