By Sharon Biggs Waller
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet… and a rose by any other name would taste as sweet, too. Eating roses might sound a little odd to our modern palette, but they’ve been used in culinary applications for centuries. Roses were first prized for their medicinal virtues; early on, they were used as an astringent for skin ailments. The petals were used in rosewater and cream as early as the first century AD. Believe it or not, rose hips are actually a good source of vitamin C. During World War II, when citrus was not commercially available due to shortages, the British government sent people out into the countryside to gather rose hips from wild hedgerow roses to make into syrup.
Roses first came to the West from Persia in 1240 by way of French Crusaders. The first known cultivated rose is Rosa gallica var. officinalis, also known as the apothecary rose. I had an extensive herb garden in England and I owned the apothecary rose. I loved it so much that I planted it on my farm here in Indiana as soon as I could. It’s a joy to see and smell it in bloom. I use the petals for various things: potpourri, bath fizzies, bath salts, rose water, and cooking. The petals are lovely in salads, but what I really like to do is candy them and make rose sugar.
How do I describe the flavor of candied roses? The best way I know is to say that they taste exactly how a rose smells. It’s a floral essence that releases on the tongue a moment after you chew it. A candied or sugared rose gives the petal some texture and a sweet crunch. Since my apothecary roses are in bloom right now, I thought I’d share two of my favorite historically-inspired preparations with you.
The following is a recipe from Delights for Ladies by Sir Hugh Platt, published in 1594:
Dip a rose that is neither in the bud, nor over-blowne, in a sirup, consisting of sugar, double refined, and Rose-water boiled to his full height, then open the leaves one by one with a fine smooth bodkin either of bone or wood; and presently if it be a hot sunny day, and whilest the sunne is in some good height, lay them on papers in the sunne, or else dry them with some gentle heat in a close roome, heating the room before you set them in, or in an oven upon papers, in pewter dishes, and then put them up in glasses; and keepe them in dry cupboards neere the fire. You may prove this preserving with sugar-candy instead of sugar if you please.
Now, I do not possess a bodkin or a close roome, and the recipe is a bit involved for me, so I adjusted the method, which appears below. Note that you should always choose undamaged petals from roses that have not been treated with pesticides. All of my herbal books suggest gathering the petals in the morning when they are most fragrant, but I’ve gathered them at all times of day and I’ve never noticed a difference.
Sugared Rose Petals can be used as edible decorations for cakes, puddings, candies, cookies, and pastries. Rose Sugar can be used to flavor pastries, cookies, and confections or sprinkled over their tops. Stir the rose-infused sugar into tea, lemonade, or anything you’d like to give a slight rosy flavor. It’s particularly nice sprinkled on top of scones and shortbread.
Roses are beautiful to look at, but they have so much more potential. Gather ye rosebuds (petals, in this instance!) and enjoy these old fashioned rosy treats.
Sugared Rose Petal Ingredients and Supplies
- 1 pasteurized egg white beaten with a little water (if you’re concerned about using raw eggs, you can use simple syrup or prepared meringue powder)
- Granulated sugar
- Fragrant rose petals, well rinsed and patted dry
- A small watercolor brush
Rose Sugar Ingredients and Supplies
- Fragrant organic rose petals, well rinsed and patted dry
- A clean, pretty jar, such as a Ball Kilner rubber-sealed jar
To Make Sugared Rose Petals
- Make sure your rose petals are organic (pesticide free). Remove the bottom white tip of each rose petal and discard; the tips have a bitter flavor. Assemble your supplies.
- Paint both sides of each rose petal with the egg wash, simple syrup, or prepared meringue powder.
- Sprinkle the prepared petals in sugar on both sides.Set on a piece of parchment paper or wax paper and let dry overnight. If you use simple syrup, the petals won’t hold their shape as well as they do with the egg wash.
- Use your candied petals as edible decorations for cakes, puddings, candies, cookies, and pastries. If you don’t plan to use them right away, store sugared petals in a freezer.
To Make Rose Sugar
- Make sure your rose petals are organic (pesticide free). Remove the bottom white tip of each rose petal and discard. Sprinkle sugar on the bottom of the jar and sprinkle a layer of rose petals over it. Layer more sugar and rose petals until the jar is filled. Store in a cool, dark place (such as your pantry or cupboard or "close roome") for several weeks. When you open up the jar you’ll be met with a rosy perfume. You can remove the petals before using.Use your Rose Sugar to flavor pastries, cookies, and confections or sprinkled over their tops. Stir the rose-infused sugar into tea, lemonade, or anything you’d like to give a slight rosy flavor. It’s particularly nice sprinkled on top of scones and shortbread.
Atha, Antony (2001). The Ultimate Herb Book. Collins & Brown Limited, London
Hollis, Sarah (1990). The Country Diary Herbal. Webb & Bower, London
Rohde, Eleanour Sinclair (1973). Rose Recipes from Olden Times. Dover Publications, New York