Saturday, 26 September 2009

Hagebuttensirup: how to fall in love through syrup

I promised to tell you about syrups. First, I want to tell you about Lena and her boyfriends.

Last year, I escaped my traveling itinerary and companions and went to Berlin for a week by myself. Well, almost by myself. I stayed with Lena, a six foot tall Berliner with blond hair flowing down her back. Walking next to her, it was hard not to feel like something akin to a reptilian dwarf.

Lena is a law student and friend from college, and is one of those amazing people who can tell everyone that she loves them, and mean it. She would give out hugs and kisses like no one else I've met, managing to charm pretty much everyone up and down the block of student apartments we lived in.

Lena was my mother hen, in many ways. Almost five years older than me with ten years of relationship experience, we talked about boys and boyfriends, wondering at the unexpected choices people make in the name of love.

I met Lena at the tail-end of a five year relationship. She wanted someone stronger, she would say. Someone who she could get into a fighting match with. Someone who wasn't so infuriatingly nice...This boyfriend of hers - from Germany to San Diego he would send her little jars of roasted red pepper pesto he had made for her. When she returned home to Berlin, he would dress up in a suit, go to his lawyer job, promise marriage and comfort, and come home and cook her dinner.

"I want someone who is, you know, kind of an asshole," Lena would say.

So she found someone else.

When I arrived in Berlin, it was smack dab in the middle of what you might call the "transition." Both of Lena's significant others were still around and both were making their own attempts at wooing her.

Her apartment was in the East side of Berlin. Inexpensive rent, but airy with tall windows and a little kitchen facing into a courtyard, it was a wonderful apartment in a developing artist neighborhood. Her refrigerator was filled with vegetable from the organic co-op down the street, as well as with homemade condiments from various sets of loving hands.

There were several sauces and spreads, including the pesto, all made by boyfriend 1, which we ate smeared slices from the dark, heavy loaves of bread sold in every German market.

And then there was a large jar of a syrupy liquid, wrapped in a carefully positioned gold ribbon, made by boyfriend 2. Deep orangey-pink, almost the color of Mexican papaya with a scent that was sweet and floral, it was utterly intriguing. I was afraid to touch it though - it looked so special, so thought out. I didn't want to interfere with anyone's little love gifts.

One night we had vanilla ice cream, and Lena pulled out the jar. Swirled with the melting ice cream, I still had no clue what this stuff was. There was no trace of fruitiness, and yet something about it was totally addictive. I wasn't evening paying attention to the ice cream anymore (and that takes a lot).

Although Lena's English is as impeccable as any well-schooled German citizen, she couldn't think of the translation. But she described the process to me: her new boyfriend had gone out to the woods near his parent's home in the country and clipped the fruit, then boiled it and made it into a syrup for her. It had taken him all day, she explained, because he had to be very careful of the spines.

I looked at her and laughed. "You want a tough guy, and yet here you are with a new love who slaves over the stove all day to make you a sweet pink syrup!"

She slapped herself on the forehead, as if she were just realizing it. "What I am doing!" she said. And then she brought out her favorite word again: "But I really love him..."

It was rosehip syrup, and Lena had fallen in love with the same person in a different body.

I started seeing the German word for rosehip (hägenmark) all over the place. In juices, soda, and jams. The jam was especially spectacular. I had never seen anything like it in the states, and I wondered why no one had tapped into this amazing flavor.

This was one of many lessons on the German treatment of food - care. From what I saw in Berlin, people really cared about food, about how to deal with food waste, about how to grow food that was healthy for the ground and healthy for the people. And it was affordable too: I've never been to a city before with such fresh, inexpensive food, both in hole-in-the-wall restaurants, big supermarkets, and tiny fruitstands. Of course there were still potatoes and sausages and beer, but even these people took more care with them. The beer was differentiated by what village it came from. Each spice that went into the sausages was thought out, and even the pototoes seemed creamier, and dare I say healthier?

Everything seemed to have that little extra effort put in, that little extra care that made the city appear more conscientious and maybe even a little more evolved.

And so we get back to Cazadero, and my canning extravaganza schmorgasboord that has been happening the past weeks. With a handful of rosehips from a little rose garden in Healdsburg, and another handful from a sprawling bush located conveniently off the dirt road I use to drive to work every day, I attempted to recreate Berlin in a jar of rosehip syrup (hagebuttensirup, for those interested).

And it did bring me back. Poured all over my morning toast, dripping all over my fingers and down my chin, I thought about Lena's East Berlin apartment and the smell of rosehips on that dense, dark bread...and I thought about the care that prods not only one guy tredge out into the woods for a crop of rosehips, but a whole country that devotes the thought and time to nourish its people, not just feed them.

Wild Rosehip Syrup

Syrups may be my new favorite thing. Rose geranium syrup and lavender syrup have also been stirred up, all in the same process.

Swirled into tap water, bubbly water, or iced tea makes a lively drink. Poured over yogurt in the morning or ice cream at any hour of the day is also delicious. And of course the standard pancakes and waffles.

Don't let the thorns scare you - if you see rosehips growing somewhere, snap them off and hoard them. They are worth a thorn or two in your finger.

4 cups rosehips, trimmed of stems and cut in half
2 cups water
1 cup sugar

Boil rosehips and water for 20 minutes. Strain.

Add sugar, boil five minutes until slightly thickened.

Refrigerate for up to two weeks.

For longer storage, pour hot syrup into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.


  1. It is a great story my talented Tess- I only hope that none of my (ex)-boyfriends ever reads it.
    Much love from Berlin, where I am having a glas of delicious hot elderberry syrup (boyfriend-made, of course:-)
    Come to visit me again. I am living with four other people in a new appartement now - many people I can hug and kiss.
    We are having a huge party tonight with DJs and band - I wish you were here. Love, Lena