A sure sign of summer: rose petal jelly
Northwest chef and Taste columnist Greg Atkinson says its time to get this old favorite back on the table. And he's got an easy recipe to get you started.
SPICY AND sweet, musky with undertones of clove, the scent of wild Nootka roses is at once innocent, exotic, familiar and mysterious. And more than fresh green peas or the first berries of the season, these happy blossoms assure me that summer is upon us.
Cooking with rose petals is an age-old practice associated more closely with Middle Eastern cuisines than it is with American cooking, and it's easy to imagine that anything flavored with these petals would evoke that corner of the world. But when roses are blooming around here, the scent grounds me firmly in our own backyard.
Not long after I moved to the area in the fall of 1980, I endured the longest, rainiest winter of my life, and when springtime came in earnest in mid-May or early June, I discovered wild roses blooming along the waterfront in Bellingham.
I was immediately smitten.
Before that season ended, I had infused their essence into ice cream by using them in place of vanilla beans; I threw handfuls of the blossoms in with the tea leaves when I was brewing sun tea, and I soaked some of them in grain alcohol to capture the essence of summer in a cordial I sweetened with honey and sipped by the fire when the roses were gone and the rains of autumn returned.
It was probably five years later when Patricia Latourette Lucas, who eventually became my mother-in-law, showed me how to preserve the color and flavor of the flowers in the form of a sparkling jelly. Patty kept a summer home in the San Juan Islands then. A bank of the property was covered with the bushes, and every May she gathered wild rose petals to make jelly. I was working in a small cafe on the island, and I followed her example, then expanded on it. I was working in restaurants, and in those days, cooks in Western Washington were routinely decorating plates with edible flowers.
For a few years, after the flower-forward movement of the mid-1980s died down, it would have been possible to dine out every night and encounter nary a blossom. It seemed as if cooking and plating with flowers had become passé. But now, with foraging and flowers making a strong re-emergence, it seems that it may be time to revisit that formula for rose petal jelly and get it back on the table.
Greg Atkinson is a Seattle-area chef, author and consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rose Petal Jelly
Makes five 1/2-pint jars
Wild Nootka roses inspired this pantry specialty item, but if you do not have access to wild roses, use any unsprayed, fragrant garden rose, or look for food-grade dried rose petals in the bulk herb and tea section of your favorite food store. Whole cloves provide a spicy back note, but use them sparingly or they will overwhelm the rose scent.
3 ½ cups water
1 cup fresh, fragrant rose petals, lightly packed
2 or 3 whole cloves, optional
or 1/3 cup food-grade dried rose petals
Juice of 1 lemon
1 (1 3/4-ounce) box powdered pectin such as Sure-jel
4 cups sugar
1. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan and stir in the roses, and cloves if using. Remove from the heat and let the mixture steep for 10 minutes, as if you were making rose-petal tea.
2. Strain the "tea" into a deep preserving kettle, discarding the solids. Stir in the lemon juice and pectin and continue stirring until the pectin is dissolved.
3. Over the highest possible heat, bring the mixture to a boil and add the sugar. When the solution returns to a hard rolling boil, time it for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. After 2 full minutes, transfer the jelly to hot, sterilized glasses and seal according to manufacturer's suggestions.
— © Greg Atkinson, 2012