Some challenges are just too tempting to resist.
At the back of my garden, I have a wall full of roses – three bushes which cover the space with large, dark red blooms with a lovely heady fragrance. As roses feature in a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine, this set me thinking: could I make something with them?
A few moments online suggested something very easy to try would be to make rose jam (or more precisely, rose jelly). The idea is pretty simple – just steep the roses in hot water to extract their colour and perfume, them mix the strained liquid with pectin-rich sugar and briefly boil. So rose jam it would be.
In working out how to make this jam, I found there were two approaches. One involved just using the rose petals and leaving it at that, while others suggest adding a few drops of rose extract at the end of the cooking process to enhance the flavour. Well, this second option seemed to me to be a little like cheating – the only reason to make rose jam in the first place is to capture their perfume, so if you’re getting that perfume from a bottle, then you might as well just boil up a sugar-pectin mixture, and throw in some flavour and not bother with the real thing. Needless to say, I opted for the “natural” approach and hoped for the best.
The first part of making rose jam is both interesting and alarming. You pop the petals into a large saucepan with hot water, then watch them wilt down and turn quite pale as their colour seeps into the water. At this point, the colour of the water can be quite surprising – either a murky brown colour is you use pale petals, while dark red petals turn the liquid almost blue. You have the scent of the roses, but the colour just is not what you would imagine. However, there is an all-natural trick which helps fix things. A simple dash of lemon juice does something to the murky rose water, and it changes, in my case from dark blue to a rich red, just like wine.
This recipe is easy, and while it is very sweet, it does have the colour and scent of roses. It’s not one to spread on fruitcake or gingerbread where the flavour would be lost. You want to serve alongside something simple, like scones with cream, so that the delicate taste is not overpowered by something else. That, or get more adventurous, and use it when making baklava, on yoghurt or in various desserts that might suggest warm evenings in Persian rose fields.
If you’re going to make this, just be sure to use natural flowers – ideally from the garden or somewhere wild, where you can be sure that they have not been sprayed with any chemical nasties. Sadly this means you will probably need to avoid the spectacular roses you can buy in your local florist. Just pop those into a vase and admire them!
To make rose jam (makes around 4 pots):
• 1 litre rose petals, lightly packed
• 1 litre boiling water
• 1 lemon, juice only
• 1 kg preserving sugar
1. Put the rose petals into a saucepan. Pour on the boiling water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for around 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to steep for another 20 minutes.
2. Add the lemon juice to the liquid, which should change the colour to pink or red. Filter the liquid into a large pot and add the sugar.
3. Put the pot onto a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, then simmer until you reach the setting point.
4. Once the jam is ready to bottle, leave to cool slightly, then spoon into prepared, sterilised bottles.
Worth making? If your garden has only three roses, don’t bother, and just enjoy them in their natural form. However, this is a lovely way to use roses if you have dozens and dozens of them, and helps to make summer last just that little bit longer.