Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rose Harvest & Conserve of Roses

I was at a potluck dinner with my family last evening and took a little tour around the amazing garden that my friend Joel tends. He wanted me to identify a few weeds, it was of course my pleasure as I love the weeds. One of them was a lemony sorrel that we nibbled. As we continued around the yard and gardens I found myself enamored by all the roses. One of them was an enormous climbing rose from a mountain house of my past that is still close to my heart. It had been transplanted a few years back and is absolutely magnificent.

As we wandered I was listening to my guide tell about the cippolina onions, the fava beans and all the fabulous plantings, but my mind was on the roses. After we rounded the house leaving most of the vast gardens behind, we came upon even more roses.

I asked if I could harvest some of them. “Of course” he said.

As I was walking into the house to get something to harvest them into, I found my oldest daughter and three of her friends chatting away on the porch swing. “Come with me” I said. I think they thought I was going to have them set the table or some other unwanted chore, but they did follow. I grabbed a paper grocery bag and took them to the largest rose bush, the climber.

Two of the girls are exchange students so I was a bit concerned about the language barrier, but with my first sentence I realized they could understand me perfectly. “Find the yummiest looking rose you can. One you would want to eat if it were candy or a piece of fruit.” They looked at each other and giggled.

Once they all knew what they were looking for (yumminess) I had them each harvest* 15 roses from the climbing rose, then one each of the big roses from the fancier varieties.

It was such an amazing and timeless image of these young girls, young women really, harvesting these flowers of love on this last day of May. The lyrical cadence of their voices moving together in harmony was like heaven. I thought for a moment of getting my camera, but let the thought go just as quickly. The moment would have been lost if any external attention was brought to it.

They stood together after finishing their task amongst the roses for some time. Whether it was in the teenage distraction or the scent of the roses making them linger, I don’t know, but for me (observing discreetly from a distance), it was a golden moment and perhaps one that will be remembered by them as well.

"Their lips were four red roses
on a stalk."
~ William Shakespeare

Today I awoke to the responsibility of preserving the rose petals.

I decided to try something new.

I found several old fashioned recipes for things like rose-petal soup, rose-petal scones, rose jelly and the like.

I wanted something that would be for use later in the year when the roses are not at their peak. I wanted to preserve the magic somehow.

Jelly seemed like an ok idea, except that I didn’t have any lemons and wanted to make something with what was in the house already.

I settled on taking inspiration from some medieval recipes.

This is my version of Rose Conserve:

Harvest unsprayed fragrant roses, remove the petals, let wilt overnight.

Into a glass jar pour a layer of organic cane sugar then a layer of rose petals.

Do this several times ending with sugar.

Simple. I know. The real beauty for me is the harvesting, the sorting and the smelling. I don't mind a complicated recipe now and again, but I didn't want to cook or cut or grind these. I wanted them to stay as they were.

I imagine a couple of things may happen with the sugared roses.

One is that the water in the roses will mingle with the sugar and melt it down creating interesting and fragrant syrup.

The other more hopeful outcome is that the roses will preserve between the layers of sugar and the moisture will all wick to the top and I can pour this off and use it in another recipe. (I won’t know what kind of recipe until I taste the liquid.)

The other possibility is that it will come to naught, but in any case my house smells like heaven.

For now enjoy the pictures and I’ll keep you updated with the progress.

Touch your cheek to the cheek of sugar.
Get the taste of it. Give perfume to it.
Try to alleviate the pain of separation
With the help of sugar.
Once you become the conserve of roses,
You are food for the Soul,
Light for the eyes...
When I say "conserve of roses,"
I mean the Grace of God and our existence.


*With the blossom of the flower just kissing your palm, wrap your fingers towards the base of the flower and with your thumb and fingers pinch off the flower cleanly at its base, leaving the blossom in your palm. Then toss it gently in the bag.