Autumn, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, is my favourite time of year, and as October is my birthday month, autumn has always been extra special. When I drive back to Northamptonshire, the Rose of the Shires, the hedgerows burst with red hawthorn and pippy blackberries and I gather trails of hops, a prickly buckthorn branch of purple sloes and sprays of rose hips to show my classes wild food.
Red rose hips bring memories of my first childhood job, collecting rosehips and taking them to Park Road primary school to sell for thrupence a pound. Every weekend in October, I made my parents and grandmother drive in the family car to the disused wartime airfield and we’d spend our afternoons picking the hips from the prickly bushes. The thorns spiked our skins and tore at our clothes, but each week I so wanted to win the school prize for picking the most rosehips. Each time I lost out to Malcolm who lived in a farmhouse in the countryside near long hedgerows of rosehip bushes, and he spent his evenings outpicking me. No amount of begging would make my parents drive out on weekday evenings to try and compete.
The school rosehip mountain was sent to the Delrosa factory, then turned into Delrosa Rose Hip Syrup. In those days kids were given a teaspoon of rosehip syrup for a daily boost for our vitamin C. Each morning my mother would give me a dose of rose hip along with a teaspoon of National Health Orange and a horrid, greasy spoonful of cod liver oil ‘For vitamin A Jenny.’ Ugh it was awful. Thank goodness it is now added to margarine.
During the Second World War local Women’s Institutes organised for children to collect rose hips to make into syrup. Rose hips are supposed to contain twenty times the vitamin C in an orange, and during the war citrus fruit was scarce. For many years after the war, children like me harvested the rose hips to earn a small amount of pocket money. No one cared that the syrup was made with very high levels of sugar which may have rotted our teeth! You can still buy rose hip syrup – 75% sugar!