Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cooking Roses

I've got a bunch of roses heating in my cast-iron Dutch oven. They started out as the reddish-pink blooms of a semi-wild rosebush that I've allowed to grow next to our back door. It's a big, unruly bush, and the roses are nothing to write home about as far as looks go. But the scent is spicy and rich, and I cannot get enough of it.

I've been collecting these roses for the past couple of days, pulling off the petals and saving them until I had about a gallon. I put the petals in the blender with a little water and poured the resulting mush into my Dutch oven. And turned the heat on low, because if you let the rose mush boil, the scent will evaporate.

Eventually the mush will turn into a brownish paste, which I will allow to cool.

Then (and this is the really good part) I will rub a few drops of rose oil into my palms and squeeze and roll bits of the rose paste into marble-sized balls. I will impale each ball on a pin and stick the pin on a piece of cardboard. As the balls dry, I will twirl them once a day so they don't stick to the pins.

When the balls are completely dry and hard and shrunken to about half their original size, I will string them on a length of nylon thread and I will have...a rose-bead necklace.

(This, by the way, is how “rosaries” were made in medieval times.)

I made my first rose-bead necklace last summer. When I wear it next to my skin the warmth releases the rose scent up towards my face. It's different from wearing perfume, which in my experience smells fine at first but then fades. The rose necklace keeps on giving, and will last for half a century if kept in a sealed container.

But that first necklace wasn't a complete success. Because I didn't squeeze the paste hard enough, my beads have a sort of scaly texture, which makes them feel a little scratchy on the skin. Supposedly, if the beads are smooth enough, you can polish them with a cloth until they shine.

There are worse ways to spend a cloudy, damp Saturday afternoon than cooking roses. Lest it all sound too idyllic, however, you should know that over the years I have seasoned my Dutch oven in the traditional way, by letting it develop a patina of oils and who knows what. Which means that when I cook roses, their scent carries an earthy undertone of stews gone by.

2 comments :

  1. After cooking for many hours, the resulting paste was still too wet to form into beads. So I strained it through some muslin (an old diaper would do--you must have lots of those), which made it much easier to work the paste. The rose juice from the straining smells terrific. Haven't figured out what to do with it yet.

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