Cut it Down

By MK Martin

Life. For humans, it’s full of lessons. In every life, a little rain must fall. The sun’ll come out, tomorrow. To grow, you must be cut down to size. You would think, with lessons like these, all humans would resonate with the plant life around us. Our folk words are their commandments. The truest, most barbaric and most necessary, is that of the cutting.

If you want bunchy blackcurrants, the wafting, floral scent of sun warmed raspberries in summer and fall, blackberry stained fingers and faces and shirts, gruesome with nutrition, you’ve got to cut those plants down to the quick. This counts too, for roses, if you like to line your shelves with ruby kissed shotglasses of vitamin C and sugar.

So, you’ve put in a few raspberry canes, and they shocked you with fruit on your first try. If they are summer bearing, your only job is to mow them down to the quick. Doing so will allow light and air to move through the plant, stimulating its growth. To minimize your raspberries taking over the world, as they ought, bury some wood planks under the dirt, in the space you’d like them to occupy.

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Blackberry bushes require a little more attention to achieve robust growth, but the steps are easy to remember after the first year: prune once, to encourage growth, and then again in fall. In spring, once the snow has melted at least once and exposed slumbering dandelions to sun, cut your canes to 24 inches. If smaller than that, just cut the first inch or so of each cane. Remove any diseased or dead canes. After fruiting, blackberry canes are spent. Cut any canes down to the ground that have fruited, and it will encourage the plant to send up more canes next year.

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We inherited a dog rose with our house, and it produces tart little blushing globes easily, ever year. I pruned it for the first time last year, being previously unaware that gardening requires a little savagery. With this rose bush, you can cut the whole thing down in spring, after enjoying its thorny stalks and a few left behind hips, in winter. There’s an old saying, ‘prune your roses when the forsythia bloom’. Forsythia is a flowering shrub, that flowers before pretty much anything else. You can loosely translate the adage to whatever first true signs of spring come your way. This could be when the robins return, when the redbuds bud, when the snowdrops slowly uncurl. Either way, do it before it gets too warm.

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To decapitate your fruit-bearing friends, you’ll want to invest in a strong pair of gardening gloves. I’ve tried a number of branded gardening gloves over the years, but the best I’ve found for most tasks is a small, streamlined work glove. They can be found at hardware stores in a variety of styles and are far more durable than traditional gloves.

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Once you’ve got your gloves on, you can wield your shears. Choose a pair of hand held ‘secateurs’, which will have an extremely sharp, curved edge and matching top shear. Make sure you can close the ones you choose easily.
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“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.”

– The Little Prince, Antoine de St.-Exupery

Changing Seasons in Tasmania – Summer’s End Rose Hip Ketchup

By Kel Flowers

I think most of us have some kind of treasured memory strongly associated with a favourite season. A particular Christmas perhaps with memories of frost-nipped fingers, the scent of peppermint and hot chocolate; a Summer spent by the river filled with the scent of sun-warmed mud and the hum of bees in the hedgerows.
My memory is of a beloved Autumnal day spent walking on the village Green. The wind was high and cold with a fine but soaking rain falling sideways; the smell of Autumn that is so hard to describe but unmistakable when encountered. Elm and Oak leaves on the turn, hedges filled with the last of the late summer berries—hawthorn, rose hip, elderberry, blackberry.

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I crave those glorious Autumnal days every year, and look forward to them more than any other. So imagine my joy when this year Autumn seems to be coming early! While my Northern Hemisphere brothers and sisters are still searching for signs of Spring, here in Tasmania we’ve already had our first frost along with a healthy slew of wet windy days and frankly quite chilly nights.
Summer will no doubt rear its head again soon for one last hurrah and have us all melting and moaning about the heat, and it can do its thing ripening the last of the berries and haws.

This year I wanted to try something a bit different. I’m not really a huge fan of sweet things—jams and jellies usually sit forgotten in the fridge. Not that they are bad! My mother makes some pretty spectacular jams and whatnots from her numerous fruit trees and berry bushes, but to be honest I’m a Vegemite girl (go on, make a face and gagging motions). Grow up in Australia and it’s kind of a given.

But then rose hips started ripening and beckoning to me. If not jelly, then what? A quick Google offered up rose hip ketchup. It’s basically a traditional tomato sauce with rose hip puree instead of tomatoes, and if like me, you suck at growing tomatoes, feel free to pillage a bag of hips from some rose bushes and make this instead.

Aside from being absolutely packed with Vitamin C, this sauce tastes pretty good too!

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups rose hips
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground clove
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar

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First collect your hips! Really this is a no-brainer, any kind of rose bush will do. You can go for the big fat cultivar hips or the small wild rose hips, and I’ve made batches from both. Either way just make sure they are spray and chemical free bushes. I steal my rose hips from my Mother’s garden so I know they are truly organic.

Gather your hips when they are a nice cheery red and a little soft. After the first frost is usually a good time.

Cut off the stems and the remnants of the flower.

Simmer your hips in water for 20 mins or so or until you can squish one between your fingers.

 

If you have big fat cultivar rose hips, you can always de-seed them before cooking by cutting them in half and scooping out the innards. Remove the seeds and ALL of the fluff. That fluff is irritating to your stomach (and can be to your skin too). If you have wild rose hips, however, skip de-seeding them this way and cook them first.

Next you need to push the soft hips through a fine mesh sieve. I won’t lie, this bit can be tedious. Put on some music and scare your neighbours with your singing. Depending on the size of your sieve, push a handful at a time through the mesh with the back of a spoon. Do this over a clean bowl. Once you are mostly just pushing on seeds, scoop out the seed/fluff and dump it into another bowl. Keep going until you’ve run out of hips.

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Now put aside your bowl of lovely thick rose hip puree, and grab the bowl of squished innards. Dump the innards back into the pot, add water so it all swims freely, and cook again for 5 mins or so. Repeat the squishing/sieving. If it looks like there’s still more to be had from the goop, go again. Three times should do it if you have the patience (or a food mill if you have one. Use it.)

You should now have a gloriously smooth and rich rose hip puree. Have a taste so you know what you’re dealing with. Sort of tangy fruity sharp.

Put your puree in a heavy-bottom saucepan along with the rest of the ingredients and some water, and simmer until the onions are nice and soft. Whiz into a smooth sauce with a stick blender, and simmer down to a thickness that agrees with you. It will thicken up a little when cooled, so allow for that.

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Taste your creation. Keep in mind that it will mellow out after a few days in the fridge. The spices will round out and the vinegar tang will mellow considerably. The quantities of spices are really just a guideline, if you think it needs more whatever, add more whatever! I like things pretty punchy, so I tend to up the garlic and spice in just about everything.

Eat it with anything you’d usually put ketchup on. And maybe with some things you’d not normally put ketchup on, who am I to say?

If you plan on bottling your ketchup (and you should, after all that effort) follow your usual rules for sterilising your bottles and lids and whatnot.
If you don’t know how to do that, well what are you waiting for. A whole world of canning and preserving fun awaits you! There are countless resources online and in print.

Get learning and happy hubble-bubbling.