Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Rose by Any Other Name

One of the delights of having multiple garden spaces around the house is the constantly changing array of blooming things.

After the spring bulbs give way to the lilacs, and the lilies-of-the-valley fade to let the peonies take center stage, June heralds the return of my roses. These beautiful red ramblers jump out from their glossy green foliage against the brick walls and add a vibrant warmth to the herb garden.

"But wait a minute," you may be saying. "Aren't you supposed to be writing about food? What's with the flower parade?"

Ah, my Dear Reader, do you not remember that I enjoy edible flowers as much as herbs and vegetables and fruits?

That's right, these lovely cherry red roses are considered more of a food crop in my household (even though one or two might get plucked and tucked into an antique salt shaker for decor). And though my canes don't produce as many flowers as they used to, I still try to dry many petals for later use in baking or even in Irish rose tea.

This year, though, my roses surprised me with a more abundant bloom than I had seen in a few years. So after another warm and sunny day encouraged more buds to open, I picked another batch of blossoms, cut the petals into shreds, covered them with sugar, and ended up making rose petal syrup.

A few years ago, I had tried to make rose petal jam, but it didn't thicken, and I ended up with a few small jars of brilliant pink syrup instead. I discovered that not only did the syrup add gorgeous streams of color and a faintly rose and berry flavor for vanilla ice cream, but it also made a magical Italian soda when combined with club soda, with the rosy pink color gradually fading like an exquisite sunset.

This year, then, I knew I wanted to try to recreate my efforts, so I spent a little time this evening simmering the rose petals and the sugar (with a little rose geranium sugar added to enhance the flavor) with water until the color leached from the petals and added a delicate, ephemeral flavor to the syrup. And when I finished, I poured the syrup into attractive bottles and let it cool.

I don't think I've ever been much of a girly girl, and pink has never been one of my favorite colors, but seeing this softly glowing rose syrup fills me with delight and makes me want to plan tea parties: Irish rose tea with rose petal scones? Berries with cream drizzled with rose petal syrup?

Any way I use them, these roses will still taste as sweet.


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