By Ann McCormick
We’re all familiar with the luscious scent of roses, but what about the taste? You may never have cooked with essence of rose, but your great-great grandmother certainly did. Before vanilla came to dominate the kitchen the flavor of flowers-violets, carnations, lavender, jasmine, and roses-were used to enhance baked goods and provide sauces for the table.
In Renaissance times honey was the chief sweetener. For added interest cooks would infuse the honey with various spices and essences of flowers. To make honey of roses try this recipe from 1692:
“Cut the white heels (which are bitter) from red roses, take half a pound of them and put them in a stone jar, and pour on them three pints of boiling water. Stir well and let them stand twelve hours. Then press off the liquor and when it has settled add to it five pounds of honey. Boil it well, and when it is of the consistency of thick syrup it is ready.”
The eglantine or sweet briar rose could be found almost anywhere in the English countryside. Although it blooms only once a year, it produces apple-scented leaves (which were also eaten) and bright red rose hips. Here a simple recipe for Sauce Eglantine, frequently served with roast mutton at the table of Queen Victoria:
“Remove all the seeds from the hips (of eglantine roses) and then make a puree of them with as little water as possible. Sweeten to taste and add a little lemon juice.”
These are just two of the ways roses were used in the kitchens of our foremothers. For more recipes and interesting historical tidbits, come to The Arbor Gate on March 10, where I will be talking on “The Rose as an Herb.”