Roses Galore - and what you can do with them

It's June, and the roses are fantastic this year, their heavy blooms bending the canes with their weight. Perhaps it was the harsh winter, and lots of nature's pruning of the canes that resulted in such bountiful flowers. I am awash with fragrant petals, and have been working on capturing their essence.

There are many ways to preserve the delightful scent of old-fashioned roses. I grow almost exclusively heirloom roses, because their scent is much more intense, and the flowers are more flavorful, as well. Right now, I have a batch of rose petals infusing in alcohol - I may use some as a tincture, and turn some into a rose liqueur. I stuffed as many roses as I could into a half-gallon canning jar, and poured grain alcohol over them. Their color has already leached from the petals into the alcohol, turning it a lovely shade of pink. As I gather more petals, I add more to the jar, pushing them down into the jar. When I harvest the petals, I grasp the petals and gently pull them from the flower, so that the bees still might pollinate the flowers and produce the hips in the fall.

Another fragrant delight is making rose sugar. A few years ago, an herbal friend of mine from the UK, Christina Stapley, was coming to the US to present lectures at Plimoth Plantation. She was not sure she could bring a supply of rose sugar into the country, so she asked me to make some for her. She instructed me on how to do it, and I have been making it ever since. It's simple, really, and truly captures the smell of the roses. It does take a little time, but the results are worth it.

Take your rose petals (never sprayed) and put them into a mortar bowl. I use a suribachi, a Japanese mortar that has incised marks in the ceramic that help crush the herbs you put into it. You can use a regular mortar and pestle, as well. Using your pestle, begin to crush the petals, adding a small amount of sugar to the bowl. Don't put too much sugar in at first, as it tends to fly out of the bowl as you crush and twist the mixture. Continue adding sugar and crushing, until the petals have been completely mixed into the sugar. The sugar will turn a purply-pink and be a little chunky. The rose sugar will keep a long time in a dark and dry environment. Use in teas, as a topping for fruit or baked goods, or use my favorite recipe for stuffed dates. Combine 3 tablespoons of the sugar in 4 ounces of cream cheese. Mix well, and then use to stuff fresh dates.

Two other easy rose-infused kitchen staples are rose vinegar and rose honey. Using white wine or chanpagne vinegar, pour the vinegar into a canning jar. Add as many rose petals as you can, pushing them down into the vinegar with a chopstick. Put on the lid and keep in a warm place about 2-3 weeks. Strain out the roses and use in fruit salads or in your own salad dressing. For the honey, add the fresh petals to the jar, pushing them down into the honey. You can strain the petals out but I usually just keep them in and use the honey in my tea.

Enjoy the roses, and don't forget to stop and smell them, as well as use them!

Karen