Everything’s Coming Up Roses

I have found that the closer I get to my personal mid-century mark, the more surprised – and consequently delighted – I am to find a new food that I absolutely love. I discovered rose petal jelly during my ethnobotany apprenticeship. Years earlier, I had encountered roses-as-food at an old Victorian mansion turned into a niche brunch eatery. It featured entrees popular with earlier generations, including crepes with rose petal syrup. They were divine. Although using roses for culinary purposes remained common in Middle East cuisine, it fell out of favor here somewhere along the way. I’m guessing it was around the time we started using hot-house roses with no smell whatsoever. (Sacrilege!)

I had forgotten all about that lovely syrup until the day we made the jelly. The petals we gathered were amazingly fragrant. As the rose petals steamed in the water, the aroma permeated the kitchen and I was immediately transported back to the old Victorian house and the rose petal syrup. I couldn’t wait to taste the jelly.

It did not disappoint. That’s an understatement: the jelly was exquisite. Its color was a deep and brilliant pink. We had added more rose petals than was called for in the recipe and it rewarded us in the final product. If you have ever really breathed in a rose and allowed the fragrance to travel down into your throat, you know what a heady experience it is. Eating the jelly is similar, except the fragrance seems to infuse your senses from every direction.

If you have fewer roses or making jelly isn’t in your wheelhouse, try making rose petal syrup. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil, and add in 4 1/2 cups of sugar and the petals of 6 or 7 roses. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let steep, covered, for about one hour. Pour the syrup through a strainer into a small bowl and let cool. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for about one week and can be added to crepes or pancakes, sparkling water, cut fruit, or – fan favorite – lemonade.

Tips for gathering rose petals:

  • Choose fragrant blossoms. The more fragrant the petals, the tastier your jelly.
  • As always, choose blossoms free from pesticides or pollutants.
  • Leave the hip on the stem. Just pluck off the petals.
  • To ethically harvest, don’t use more than 1/3 of the flowers on a rose bush. Leave enough for the pollinators and others’ enjoyment. If gathering in a public area, be discreet! It should be difficult to tell you have gathered after you are done.
  • Shake the blooms to remove little critters, then rinse the flowers.

Here is the rose petal jelly recipe from the kitchen of Karen Sherwood of Earthwalk Northwest.

Rose Petal Jelly

Ingredients:

3 cups water

2 cups fresh, fragrant rose petals, fairy-packed*

1/4 cup lemon juice

1.75 oz pectin (or one package)

3 cups sugar

Instructions:

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan and stir in the rose petals. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 10 minutes.
  2. Strain the infusion into a very large cook pot, removing the rose petals. Stir in lemon juice and pectin and continue to stir until pectin is dissolved.
  3. Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil and add sugar. Return to a hard boil, then boil mixture for two solid minutes, stirring constantly. Then transfer the jelly into hot, sterilized jars and seal.
  4. Share and enjoy the gifts that roses bring!

*Fairy-packed is somewhere between lightly filling the cup with petals and jamming the petals in like you’re measuring brown sugar. Place enough petals in that a fairy could lightly dance on top without falling through. Sounds weird, but it is a really helpful image when you’re measuring! In this batch, however, we had enough flower petals for a very Rubenesque, unapologetic-about-her-curves fairy to dance on. And the jelly was heavenly.

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