Rose Water & Drying Petals

Japanese roses (rosa rugosa) that grow in such abundance in our English hedgerows are actually an invader and not native to our shores.  They are also very hardy, look beautiful with their big brash blooms, have the most enormous hips from as early as July and smell divine with their in-yer-face scent.  So I have little compunction in making as much use of them as I can whenever they are about.

They are not about now, however.  Yesterday’s post stirred my memories of summers past and a question on Facebook prompted me to post a recipe for Rose Water.  It really could not be simpler:

Rose Water

A jam jar – size dependent on the amount of rose water you wish to make

Japanese rose petals

Pick over your petals to ensure no insects present but do not wash them as this will disturb their scent.  Pack into the jam jar.  Fill jar with freshly boiled water and leave for 24 hours.  Next day, strain through scalded muslin and bottle.  Done. Use in all manner of recipes including Rose Tiffin.

How easy is that?  I am not sure how long it keeps for.  I have had some in my fridge since August and it is still fine.

Drying petals is equally easy.  Simply spread them out over a rack or mesh (I use either my baking cooling racks or my laundry drying thingy – a Lakeland special I have never used for its proper purpose!).  Leave somewhere dark, dry and preferably warm for as long as it takes for the petals to dry out thoroughly, approximately one week.  Store in an air tight jar out of direct sunlight and use as required.

Jam, Jelly & Rellish by Ghillie James

This book was a real find in a well-known remainder bookshop.  It is still available on Amazon but I urge you to check out The Works first as it is there at a much reduced price.

Not only is it full of fabulous recipes but it is beautifully presented and would make a truly wonderful gift to any foodie.  It is a cloth-bound hardback with exquisite photos and a ribbon bookmark.  Set out in seasons, Ghillie presents a recipe for a preserve and then suggests at least one way to use it with another recipe following.  This is such sensible advice and so helpful as frequently I have found myself enthusiastically making a batch of something obscure and then wondering what on earth I am going to do with it.

It was from this book that I got the idea for making the Bloody Mary Kit for my friend’s daughter.  Then there was Raspberrycello, from our own raspberries, and most recently there has been Sweet Thai Chilli Paste which made a tasty coating for some chicken.  I have also made Ghillie’s Strawberry and Rose Petal Syrup and testify to its deliciousness.  The recipe suggestion following this is Billowy Meringues with Rippled Strawberry and Rose Filling but so far I have just used it on humble vanilla ice cream.  As a taster, I’ll leave you with the syrup recipe:

Strawberry and Rose Petal Syrup

Makes 1 litre

Keeps for up to a year

900g strawberries

juice of 2 lemons

1 tbsp rose water

450g jam sugar per 600ml juice

handful of rose petals

Put the strawberries into a pan with 350ml water and the lemon juice and simmer over a medium heat until the strawberries have collapsed and softened.  Mash using a potato masher, then transfer to a jelly bag and strain.

Measure the liquid and pour into a large pan.  Add the rose-water and 450g sugar for every 600ml of liquid and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved.

The next stage is a tricky one to give exact timings for as it depends entirely on the strawberries you are using and how ripe they are.  I have found, after various testings, that the easiest method is to bring the liquid to a rolling boil, then continue to boil for a further 5 mins.  Remove from the heat and pour a little of the syrup onto a cold saucer.  After 30 seconds in the fridge, it should feel thicker and look like a syrup, but should not wrinkle when you run your finger through it.  If it is still too watery, heat it up again and boil for a few more minutes and then retest in the same way.  It’s best to be cautious: you want the end result to be a thickened but pourable syrup, so it must not reach setting point.  Once the syrup has reached the right consistency, remove the pan from the heat and cool for 10 mins.

Put 4-5 rose petals in the bottom of each of your warm, but not boiling hot, sterilised jars bottles and pour in the warm syrup.  Seal and cool completely.

BCN Challenge and SPONGE!

The Captain has finally finished his series of posts on the BCN Challenge.  He does not like to post in real-time.  He is a tad tardy in that respect.  But I cannot really complain.  Not about that at any rate.

What I can complain about is his very VERY brief reference to the ‘sponge’ I so lovingly prepared for him and his crew.  You may recall my post about the shortbread.  That was pleasingly well received by all who had some.  Even the Mayor.


See?  You may need to look closely.  But he looks happy, right?

But my husband, oh my husband, while he liked my shortbread, my ‘sponge’ was dismissed without even the briefest of descriptions.  Hmmphh!

Yesterday he calls me Letitia Cropley.  Today, he dismisses my Rose Petal Victoria Sponge with rose flavoured cream and rose petal jam filling as just sponge.  SPONGE!  I mean, really?

He had better take care how he crosses me in future.  All this foraging is bringing with it knowledge.  It is not just lovely yummy edibles I can find along the towpath, you know …

BCN Marathon Challenge 2011 – my part in its completion

For those who do not know, the BCN Marathon Challenge is a race involving narrowboats.  No, this is not an oxymoronic concept.  You must all stop laughing.  Now.  It is actually a gruelling endurance test involving very little sleep, ridiculous numbers of locks, little used pounds filled with weeds and old sofas, all within a time limit.

I had a very background role.  Ground being the operative word.  Many would question my involvement at all.  Indeed I believe the Captain himself would dispute my participation.  It is true I did not join the crew of Wand’ring Bark while they executed the 86 locks of Saturday.  Nor did I share the delights of the weed hatch today.  In fact, I was not exactly part of the crew at all.  You will not find me on the log sheet.  But I like to think my role was nevertheless crucial.  Baking.  That was my part.

But not just any baking.  Oh no, this was baking with foraged ingredients!  It seemed deeply appropriate to be making things with rose petals I found on the Wolverhampton 21.  Which is part of the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigations).  I had used some of the petals to make rose sugar (500g caster sugar, handful of japanese rose petals).  In fact, I had made quite a lot.  Consequently, baking seemed the Right Thing To Do.

First up, was Rose Petal Victoria Sponge Cake.  I simply added one tablespoon of rose petal syrup to the cake mix.  Then sandwiched it together with Rose Petal Jelly and whipped cream flavoured with rose petal syrup.  Finally I dusted the top with a sprinkling of rose sugar.

Next, a small batch of Lavender Shortbread.  This was just for the Captain and crew.  I really intended to concentrate on Rose Petal Shortbread but got sidetracked.  The recipe is very like the one that follows which a few changes.  Obvious changes.  I am sure you can work them out.

My main batch of baking was making wee bags of the Rose Petal Shortbread prettily packaged.  I should probably get out more …

Rose Petal Shortbread

175g plain flour

75g rose petal sugar

175g butter, softened

75g fine semolina

For topping: sprinkle with extra rose petal sugar or drizzle with icing made from rose petal syrup and icing sugar.

Pre-heat oven to 150C / gas mark 2

Grease and line a baking tin 28 x 18cm

Beat all ingredients in bowl till thoroughly mixed and soft dough formed.  Use hands to shape to a ball then press into tin evenly.  Use a fork to prick all over.  Bake for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and cool in tin for 10 mins.  Cut into fingers and place on wire rack till completely cool.

A rose by any other name really does not smell as sweet …

Availing ourselves once again of British Waterways facilities, on Saturday night we moored at The Black Country Museum.  This has become a regular last night stop for us whenever we’re crossing Birmingham and no visit is complete without a trip to Mad O’Rourke’s Pie Factory.  This time, there was, of course, the added thrill for the Captain, of me skipping hither and thither gathering rose buds.  Or rather, rose petals.  Turns out that while the beauty of the Stratford Canal and its rural surrounds are good for the soul, we needed some good old Black Country urbanisation for Japanese roses.  And sorry, Bill, when it comes to Rose Petal Jelly, it really does have to be Japanese roses.  ‘A rose by any other name’ (R&J) just does not have the heady perfume necessary.

I was up with the larks on Sunday morning so having left the petals infusing overnight, got on with making the jelly before we set off.  It is quite possibly the easiest jam recipe I have yet attempted and for that reason alone should be attempted.  The results are joyous: a brilliant red, clear jelly tasting like Turkish Delight on toast.

Rose Petal Jelly

Makes 750ml approx

450ml water

400ml Japanese Rose Petals (gently pressed down)

600g jam sugar (with added pectin)

Juice of a lemon (80ml approx)

Pour the water into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and stir in the petals. Cover and leave overnight to infuse.

Next day, strain through a scalded jelly bag. Return to clean pan and place over a low heat. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then add the lemon juice and bring to a rolling boil. Boil rapidly for 4 mins, then remove from heat.

Allow the mixture a couple of minutes to calm down, then pour into hot sterilised jam jars, filling them to the brim before screwing on the lid.

Wild Flower Syrup

Yesterday we began our journey proper. The Captain always gets up first, keen to get cracking while I lounge in bed a while longer. We’d not been going more than fifteen minutes when his hand thrust through the back hatch and threw a spray of elderflower at me. Don’t knock it, as ways of starting the day go, it’s not the worst.

Besides, he knew it would cause me great joy. Indeed, I was besides myself with excitement. Especially after I’d checked with Joy. my personal guru, for confirmation. After my near miss with the very-likely-to-be-Rowan-trees I really did not want to get it wrong.

So, I shot out of bed. Well, ok, heaved my sorry ass out of bed, donned what I thought to be suitable attire (see earlier post for just how wrong I was) and joined him for the Wolverhampton 21. My job was meant to driving. I am excused locking. On account of being an invalid. Tis an arrangement I am quite keen on. Only I got distracted.

We’d only done two locks when I spotted Dog Roses. And then Japanese Roses. “Rose Petal Jelly!”, I squealed as I leapt off the boat, grabbing my trusty foraging kit as I did. I have a feeling there some ancient maritime laws about abandoning ships but what care I of that? The hedgerows were ripe unto harvest and oh, this labourer was ready to answer the call.

Pretty soon I was swamped with an abundance of Hawthorn and Elderflower too so my plans changed to make use of the mix of flowers available on the same day and Wild Flower Syrup was born.

Just after I’d finished bottling it we met Richard & Sue of Indigo Dreams.

They have a wonderful blog (http://indigodream.wordpress.com/) which is a regular on the Captain’s Blogroll and will be added forthwith to mine. They kindly invited us to join them for a delicious lunch that was washed down with one of their famous coffees. Quite heavenly. Seemed only fair to force one of my so newly bottled Wild Flower Syrups upon them. Let’s hope it’s to their liking.

It was twenty four hours in the making but I hope it was worth it. The Captain & I had some on pancakes and the sweetness of sugar perfectly matched the flowery taste of early summer. Appropriately enough, as we munched we boated past the first cricket game of the season: Elderflower, Hawthorn, Roses and leather on willow – it doesn’t come much more English than that.

Wild Flower Syrup by John Wright

Makes about 1 litre

About 1 litre of freshly picked blossoms (Dog Rose, Japenese Rose, Elderflower, Hawthorn, Dandelion)

About 1 kg granulated sugar

About 550ml boiling water

Put a 2cm layer of blossoms in the bottom of a large jug, minimum 2 litres capacity. Pack the blossoms down, then spinkle on a 1 cm layer of sugar – don’t worry if things get mixed up. Continue these alternate layers of sugar and blossoms until the jug is full, keeping a note of the amount of sugar used. Cover the jug and leave to stand for 24 hours.

Empty the mixture into a saucepan and pour on 55ml of boiling water for every 100g sugar used. Heat the mixture gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, then strain into a clean jug.

Pour any syrup that you are not using straight away into sterilised bottles and seal. Stored in a cool, dark cupboard, it will keep for up to a year.

Delicious on pancakes, ice cream, waffles. Drizzle over cakes. Use in drink mixes. Be inventive. Be adventurous!