This morning the mist filled the valley and hung above the silvered lawn and powdered roof tiles. During the night, Jack Frost had crept around the House at Nab End, his cold breath and icy fingertips spreading frozen tidings through the air and across the ground.
Down the lane, the local hedgerows are adorned with the red-orange hips of the wild dog rose. Rich in vitamin C the hips are the perfect antidote to the cold, and now softened by this first frost are ready to be turned into intensely sweet and perfumed rosehip syrup.
While we might enjoy the pure pleasure of nature’s bounty at this time of year, our feathered friends rely on their hedgerow foraging for survival. And so, with the cold weather upon us, it is time to remember the birds. Favourite treats such as niger seeds for the goldfinches; sunflower hearts, popular with greenfinches, chaffinches and sparrows; and raisins for the blackbirds and robins, are doled out in plentiful supply, while breaking the ice on the stone birdbath becomes a winter ritual. In the kitchen seeds and dried fruits are mixed with breadcrumbs and melted lard to make, once set, a hearty cake for all manner of garden birds to enjoy.
But the House at Nab End is frequented by many of the bigger birds, of woodland and open field, who continue to fend for themselves. The rooks are tossed high in the cold air, the magpies continue to hop merrily across the lawn, and we watch as the pair of woodpigeons cuddle yet closer together for warmth. In the winter months the cry of the green woodpecker in the copse behind the house is less frequent, but come spring I know they will appear again, sharp beaks picking ants from the grass. I am less certain of the fate of Jack and Dora, recently evicted from our neighbour’s chimney pot, and wonder where these two old Jackdaw friends will spend the winter.
This deliciously fragrant syrup is easy to make. Add 1 kg of roughly chopped rosehips to 2 litres of boiling water in a large pan. Bring back to the boil, then take the pan off the heat, cover and leave the hips to infuse for about half an hour. Strain the mixture through a muslin cloth or jelly bag into a large bowl, then put the left over pulp back in the pan, add another litre of water, boil and infuse as before. Strain this new batch of mixture into the bowl. The pulp can now be discarded and the liquid placed in a clean pan. Bring it back to the boil and reduce it to around half its original volume. Remove from the heat and add 1kg of caster sugar, stirring gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Boil again for a further five minutes, then carefully pour the liquid into warmed, sterilised jars and leave to cool.