By Mike on Thursday, May 19, 2011, 19:53 - Permalink
May 2011 - Wild roses are in full and copious bloom. Let's see what we can do with rose petals.
Picking Rose Petals
Wild roses are common in hedgerows, parks, woods and field edges nearly everywhere in the UK. A number of different species and hybrids may be found, and to be honest, they can be a bit difficult to tell apart.
For our purposes here, however, that doesn't matter too much - insofar as any selection must be made, it can be done on the basis of fragrance - just pick petals from the wild rose plants that smell sweet.
Rose petals are best picked in the morning, after the dew has evaporated, but before the sun is at full strength. They can be picked later in the day, but will have lost some of their aroma.
Each individual flower persists for several days - it's best to pick the petals from those that are freshly-opened. These will have bright, fresh-looking yellow stamens and bright, clean petals that come away with a crisp snap when pulled.
Give each flower a few sharp finger-taps before picking the petals, to dislodge any beetles or bugs that might be resting in there. If this causes the petals to fall, then they weren't fresh enough to be worth picking anyway. It's usually possible to grasp and pick all 5 petals in one action, saving time.
I usually advise against picking wild foods into plastic bags, but this is an exception. Pick the petals into a plastic bag to keep them fresh. Try to keep the bag out of the sunshine - take the harvest straight home to use immediately.
Back at home, shake the petals out on a large tray and pick them a few at a time into a clean jug - it would be good if it were not necessary to handle them again, but regardless how careful you are out in the field, it's almost inevitable that one or two creepy crawlies will be in there.
I prefer to do this sorting outdoors, and just allow the earwigs, spiders and bugs to crawl away.
A pint jug loosely packed with fresh rose petals will yield a little under half a pint of infused rosewater.
It's possible to make a very intensely-scented rosewater by distillation - gently boiling the petals in water and condensing the steam - a mixture of the essential oils and water, or by very careful distillation, extract the essential oil alone, but there's an easier way.
For a quick and easy extraction of rosewater, just steep the petals in boiling water, cover and leave to cool.
They turn from vivid pink to a very disappointing muddy brownish colour straight away, but don't worry about that for now. They also collapse down to about one third of their loose volume. Only add enough water to cover the petals.
I used my rosewater to try to make Turkish Delight.
I started by adding the juice of one lemon to the strained rosewater. It acts as a PH indicator and the acidity of the lemon restores the colour immediately to a lovely rose pink.
I added cold water to the rose/lemon mix, to make up 500ml.
I wanted a traditional gelatin-free recipe - the one I found called for 500g of sugar and 125g cornflour (corn starch) - the cornflour is mixed with enough of the rosewater to make a creamy liquid in one pan, then the sugar is simmered to a syrup with the remainder in another pan.
Here's where it started to go off-course. The recipe called for mixing the two liquids, then bringing to the boil and simmering for an hour and a half!
The problem is, 125g of cornflour and 500ml water, with or without the sugar, cooks to a very, very stiff gel almost straight away. There's no way to simmer this for any length of time without burning it - I chickened out after 10 minutes, at which point there was already a brownish burnt layer appearing on the bottom of the pan.
I poured the mixture into a tray lined with baking parchment, spread it out with a spatula and left it to cool.
The mixture is supposed to be near-transparent, but that would presumably be after longer cooking. Maybe a double-boiler is necessary to be able to cook the mixture for a prolonged period without burning it.
After a couple of hours, the miture had set sufficiently as to be sliced into cubes.
The texture was fairly soft, but generally correct - a sort of rubbery, gelatinous paste,
I tossed the cubes in a 50/50 mixture of cornflour and icing sugar (powdered sugar).
This gave me my first opportunity for tasting - and it was pretty good - a little softer than the Turkish Delight I've bought and eaten before, but close enough to be recognisable, and the flavour was lovely, with a perfectly balanced, subtle-but-aromatic rose flavour.
Eating Turkish Delight
Probably the best way to enjoy these very sweet little morsels is in accompaniment with a cup of strong, unsweetened coffee.
My Turkish Delight had very poor keeping qualities - even in a tightly-sealed box, it just kept on turning sticky, attracting and absorbing moisture from the air and turning softer almost by the minute.
I assume this is because I didn't cook it for the required duration, however, the flavour was excellent, so I will be experimenting further...
Other Rose Petals
The petals of almost any rose species or variety may be used to make rose water - allowing for considerable variety in flavour, as some garden roses have citrus-like or other scents.
The rugosa species roses would probably be quite good for this, as the flowers have plenty of petals with abundant scent.
Other Uses For Rose Water
Any number of recipes exist for natural remedies and cosmetics based on rosewater - or it could just be used as-is to scent bath water, or as a scented rinse for the hair.