A Thousand Damask Roses

In pre-industrial society, common herbs and flowers were frequently used for their medicinal and culinary properties.  The rose, with its intoxicating fragrance and edible petals, leaves, and fruit, was used in food and scent preparations as well as in decorative display.  In previous posts I've discussed rosewater and cooking with roses.  Rose Recipes, a 1939 English publication by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde collects early English and French instructions for using roses in a multitude of ways.  The recipes for rosewater, dating to the 16th and 17th centuries, are quite complex and detailed, and are distinguished by specific uses such as scenting laundry, perfume, and cooking.  

For instance, "To Make a Sweet Water of the Best Kind," a recipe included from Sir Hugh Plat's Delightes for Ladies (1594) calls for a thousand damask roses to be mixed with lavender, mace, cloves, and running water (i.e. fresh, not still water) in an earthen pot and kneaded every day for four days.  As one of Queen Elizabeth's courtier's, Plat would likely have sourced this impressive amount of fresh roses from a large, local estate.  As most of the other ingredients in this and other comparable recipes are given by weight, this recipe stands out for the sheer volume required.  Rohde's own recipe is much simpler, requiring that the petals (preferably red so as to achieve a pink hue and deep fragrance) be gently heated in soft water and then strained.

A recipe for "odoriferous candles" from The Charitable Physician by Philbert Guibert Phisytian Regent in Paris (1639) ambitiously claims to act "against venome and the plague."  One wonders about the success rate of this candle, made with red roses, cloves, storax (sweetgum resin), lebdanum (a resin), benjamin, frankinscence, staechados (French lavender), citron, yellow sanders (probably satinwood), juniper, musk, and ambergreese (amber gris, a wax-like substance produced by whales).

Some of the very sage advice on cooking with roses presented in this volume includes collecting roses a few hours after dawn when the dew has dried, and removing the yellow base of petals, which imparts a bitter flavor.  Sugar is copiously used in recipes to balance the rose's natural astringency. To achieve the most concentrated rose flavor, Rohde recommends drying the petals first.  This can be done over mesh screens or in sand, as was the preference in the Elizabethan era.

Like Plat's thousand-blooms rosewater recipe, the culinary recipes in this volume reflect an elite pantry.   A lovely recipe for Rose Drops uses liberal amounts of both sugar and lemon juice, both dear commodities in the 18th centuries.  If you make these candies, however, you'll see that they were well worth the expense.  

Rose Drops from a recipe from The Complete Housewife (1736).

This recipe requires dried rose petals, ground to a powder.  A coffee grinder works well.  To a 1/2 oz. of rose powder, use 1/2 lb. granulated or superfine sugar, and the juice of 2 lemons.  This yield requires about 3 cups fresh rose petals.  Choose a dark crimson variety.  Dry completely in a single layer over a mesh screen (about 2 days).

To Make Rose-Drops 

From The Complete Housewife (1736), published in Rose Recipes (1936)

The roses and sugar must be beat separately into a very fine powder, and both sifted; To a pound of sugar an ounce of red roses, they must be mixed together, and then wet with as much juice of Lemon as will make it into a stiff paste; set it on a slow fire in a silver porringer, and stir it well; and when it is scalding hot quite through take it off and drop in small portions on a paper; set them near the fire, the next day they will come off.

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Priscilla said...

It sounds like such a delicate and sweet recipe for this time of year. I will attempt to make it and let you know how it turns out - my rose garden is in peak display
right now!

Celia said...