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Rose hips, see also Rose hip

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I have a cold again. I feel as if I’ve had a cold constantly since autumn arrived – sometimes it’s been on standby, but it’s always been ready to send me running for the tissues at a moment’s notice. And this time I’m feeling particularly self-pitying about it. Good news, then, that rosehips have twenty times more vitamin C than an orange – according to my Richard Mabey  – and that I had picked a whole stash of them in a more energetic point in the cold lapse.

I made a rosehip syrup last year but found it disappointing on the flavour front. I’ve since had it pointed out to me that I probably picked my hips too early – this may seem blindingly obvious, but like any other fruit, they ripen. While they appear from late August, at first they’ll be hard; later on they’ll soften and have more flavour. You can eat them raw if you want to see how they taste, but avoid the little seeds which are not good for your insides.  Be careful, also, if you’re picking them at the squishy stage: they have tiny inner hairs which will itch like crazy if you get them on your skin. I speak from uncomfortable experience.

This year I used the recipe in Mabey’s book, which is in fact an old Ministry of Food recipe used when citrus fruit was scarce and the aforementioned vitamin C status of rosehips became particularly valuable. It’s more time consuming than the one I used last year, so best to do it on a day you’re planning to stay in, but the results just about capture the flavour – something like a cross between apple and rose. It’s also recommended that you bottle the syrup in small portions as it will only last a couple of weeks once it’s open. Since this recipe yields a lot, you will end up with several small bottles of syrup. In other words, that’s a few Christmas presents sorted.


Rosehip syrup

Makes about 750ml

1kg rosehips
900g sugar

Wash and drain the hips (they can be frozen if you don’t want to make the syrup straight away). Bring 1.5 litres of water to the boil and roughly chop the hips in a food processor. Toss them into the boiling water, turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Pour everything into a jelly bag or piece of muslin or clean tights and leave it to drip into a bowl until just about all of the liquid has dripped through. Put the hip residue back into the saucepan, add another 750ml boiling water and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Put it back into the jelly bag and let it drip through a second time. Put the first cupful of liquid back through the jelly bag for a final time (to make sure you don’t get any of the tiny itchy hairs in your syrup). Measure the final amount of liquid and put it back into a clean saucepan. Bring to the boil and reduce until you have about 750ml left (measuring it first makes this easier to judge). Add 900g sugar and boil for 5 minutes. Pour straight into sterile bottles and seal. Store in a dark cupboard.

The syrup can be used as a cordial or flavouring for milk puddings or ice-cream – the flavour is quite delicate so it needs to be paired with something subtle.

From Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for Free’


I’m sorry if you’re sick and you’ve been desperately waiting for the third instalment of sick person food while I was banging on about barbecues and meringue-based desserts. Hopefully, though, if you’ve got to this stage you’re so relieved to be past the worst that you’re in a good frame of mind.

For stage three: the recuperation, I turn to Nigella. Always a source of comfort, I find. In fact, the ideal situation would be to have Nigella as your mum, and then you wouldn’t need to bother nursing yourself through the various stages of cold at all.

This, which Nigella calls ‘my mother’s praised chicken’, is really more of a guideline than an actual recipe. I think of it as a more substantial and easy to prepare chicken soup, and it’s one of the most soothing things both to cook and to eat – it’s very good after a particularly over-indulgent phase as well as after having been ill. There’s something very healing and strengthening, whether real or imagined, about chicken stock, and this dish provides lots of it. Then there are vegetables and chicken, gently poached to a yielding state of digestibility. And rice, which I prefer to be brown. This is not exciting food, but steadying, calming fare, almost spiritually so.

Nigella’s mother’s praised chicken

Serves 4-8, but aim to have leftovers

This is the basic recipe pretty much as written, but you can adapt it easily. Last time I made it I went down a more Oriental route, frying a garlic and ginger paste with the oil, using Shaoxing wine instead of vermouth, and coriander stalks, star anise and spring onion instead of the bouquet garni and usual stock vegetables.

1 chicken
2 tsp oil
100ml white wine or dry white vermouth
2-3 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and sliced into long chunks
2-3 carrots, cleaned and cut into chunks or batons
1-2 sticks celery, sliced
cold water
2 garlic cloves, peeled and flattened
1 bouquet garni, or whatever suitable herb stalks you can muster, plus a bay leaf or two
2 tsp sea salt flakes (or 1 tsp pouring salt)
2 tsp red peppercorns, or a lot of ground black pepper

to serve:
chopped parsley leaves (saved from the stalks that went in the stock)
dill (Nigella’s suggestion – I hate dill)

You will need a pan big enough to hold the whole chicken, preferably quite snugly.

Un-truss the chicken, put it breast-side down and press firmly on it until the breastbone cracks and you are able to flatten it out slightly. Cut off the ankle joints using kitchen scissors or cutting in between the bones with a sharp knife.

Heat the oil in the pan and brown the chicken, breast-side down, for a few minutes. Turn the chicken over and toss in its ankles. Turn up the heat and add the vermouth or wine, letting it bubble a little, then add the leeks, carrots and celery.

Pour in enough cold water to just cover the chicken. Put in the garlic, bouquet garni/herbs, salt and pepper. Bring it just to the boil, then cover the pan and turn the heat as low as it will go. Cook for 1-2 hours, depending on the size of the chicken, but obviously until it’s cooked through with no pink juices. During the cooking time, prepare your rice.

Divide the rice into serving bowls and spoon over ladlefuls of stock and vegetables, giving each person a portion of chicken. Sprinkle with parsley and eat with mustard and/or dill if you like.

This meal gives some of the most useful leftovers it’s possible to have. The stock and meat can be separated and either frozen or used for soups, risottos, salads, sandwiches etc., in combination or alone. Or you can just keep the leftovers as is and reheat for subsequent days when you feel a bit fragile.

From Nigella Lawson’s ‘Kitchen’


In part two of my helpful guide to what foods to eat when suffering with a cold/flu/manflu we deal with the worst stage of all: the cold sweats. In this state you have most likely moved your duvet onto the sofa where you can more comfortably feel sorry for yourself with the TV and a collection of medication within easy reach. You’ll probably want something non-challenging to watch. I like a street dance film on such occasions. Luckily there are plenty of them, and the plot is always the same, so no worries if you drop off – just make sure you’re awake for the final big competition finale.

But what if you’re feeling a bit peckish and want something equally bland and non-challenging to eat with your DVD? But both proper cooking and going to the shops seem too much effort? Well, if you have pasta and parmesan in stock (and I’m assuming if you read a food blog, you do) then I have the answer for you…

Cacio e pepe

Serves 1

I first discovered this as sick person food via Orangette, the source of many great things. Her powers of description being far superior to mine, I should probably just recommend you read her post on the subject, but should you be in need of such a simple thing I hereby present a UK-ized version of the recipe.

100g dried spaghetti
30g-ish chunk parmesan (you’re really meant to use pecorino, which is probably better, but also less likely to be in your fridge)
lots of black pepper

Cook the spaghetti in very salty boiling water.

Grate the parmesan/pecorino finely.

When the spaghetti’s done, scoop out a small amount of the pasta water in a cup. Drain the pasta, sitting the colander above the serving bowl that you will be eating the pasta from so the hot water drains into the bowl. Swill it around and empty it (this warms your serving bowl). Don’t dry the bowl, as the starchy water helps moisten the pasta.

Tip the drained pasta into your bowl.

Tip most of the grated cheese over the pasta and stir it about. If it seems dry, add a little of the reserved pasta water.

Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top and grind lots of black pepper on to finish.

Retire to sofa.

I have had a cold for two weeks and counting. It peaked a week or so ago with hot sweats, multiple body aches and a permanent fistful of tissue before gradually tailing off to its present state of lingering not-quite-wellness. After plenty of time for reflection on the various appetites of a person in the throes of poorliness, I have come to the following conclusions:

Stage one: a desire for strong tastes discernible through a blocked nose, preferably Asian and therefore with a vaguely healthy, healing aspect and a good dose of chilli, garlic and ginger to chase out the germs.

Stage two: a descent into cravings for bland, comforting stodge, junk and nostalgic childhood snacks. Anything which can be purchased on a trip to the corner shop in tracksuit/pyjama bottoms or delivered to the door.

Stage three: a determined attempt at fighting back accompanied by feeling well enough to cook again. Restorative, calming, soul-soothing preparations are the order of the day here.

I think I’ve found the perfect recipe for each of the three stages of the journey into sickness and back (sparing the worse elements of the middle stage). I hereby present to you part one: the sniffles…

Fish-fragrant aubergines

Serves 1 hungry sick person, or 1 with leftovers

Another gem from Fuchsia Dunlop’s ‘Sichuan Cookery’. There’s no fish in it, as you might think – the name refers to the method of cooking, which involves the same ingredients as would typically be used to prepare fish. Last time Tom made it for me, he inadvertently halved the recipe but left in the full quantities of garlic and ginger, which is how I’ve reproduced it here for extra immune system defence.

One more note – you really have to deep-fry the aubergines; I once tried shallow frying them and they took forever, cooked unevenly and soaked up a horrifying amount of oil. It doesn’t have to be really deep, deep frying, but the aubergine pieces should be immersed.

1 large aubergine
enough oil to deep-fry
1 tbsp Sichuanese chilli bean paste
3 tsp finely chopped ginger
3 tsp finely chopped garlic
75ml stock (preferably homemade chicken, if you have it)
scant tsp sugar
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
3/4 tsp potato flour, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water (cornflour can be substituted, but you may need to use more)
3/4 tsp Chinkiang or Chinese black vinegar
2 spring onions, green parts only, finely sliced
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Cut the aubergine into evenly sized chunks, slightly larger than bite-sized. Sprinkle the pieces with 3/4 tsp salt and leave for a minimum of 30 minutes to draw out the bitter juices (if you are using the smaller oriental sized aubergines, you can skip this step).

Heat the deep-frying oil in a wok to 180-200c, until it’s just beginning to smoke. Add the aubergines in batches and deep fry for 3-4 minutes until soft right through and golden brown on the outside. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen roll.

Drain off the deep-frying oil, give the wok a quick rinse if necessary, and return it to a high heat with 1-2 tbsp oil. Add the chilli bean paste and stir fry for about 20 seconds, so the oil is red and the paste evenly distributed. Add the ginger and garlic and stir fry for another 20-30 seconds, watching that they don’t burn.

Add the stock, sugar and soy sauce and mix well. Taste and season with salt if necessary.

Add the fried aubergines to the sauce and simmer gently for a few minutes. Sprinkle over the potato flour mixture and stir until the sauce thickens. Stir in the spring onions and vinegar and leave for a few seconds, just so the onions are no longer raw. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.

I like this with plain rice or soba noodles.

From Fuchsia Dunlop’s ‘Sichuan Cookery’