Tom Doorley: Rosy in the garden
My first attempt to grow strawberries (a lovely variety called Marshmello from Marshall’s) was thwarted, to say the least, by the local bird population. And impromptu netting did little to rescue the crop.
Since then, with mixed success, I’ve grown my strawberries in the polytunnel which means they come into fruit nice and early but this year they have been a prey to the large colony of mice who live and have their being in the highly desirable residential area in the north-west corner. There have been very few strawberries this year, damn them!
As a result of this loss, I’ve been trying to enhance the flavour of the usual sort that you buy on the side of the road or from the supermarket.
One trick I thought of trying was to make rose petal cream, so I dug out Joyce Molyneux’s The Carved Angel Cookbook, she having run this famous Dartmouth restaurant which was more recently in the hands of John Burton-Race.
The Molyneux version was a disaster. It involves putting rose petals and cream in a blender and whizzing the two together. I ended up with rose petal butter and a lot of beautifully coloured whey.
On the second attempt, I improvised. A generous handful of rose petals, cleared of any animal life, went into the blender with a dessertspoon of caster sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice and a few teaspoons of water. This produced an intensely fragrant and vaguely pink puree which I folded in to thickly whipped cream. After three hours in the fridge it was dished up with fresh strawberries and was utterly delicious.
Now, the trick here is to choose your roses carefully. There’s no point in using modern hybrid teas because they have little or no scent and the petals are too fleshy. You need proper old-fashioned roses or the New English Roses from David Austin which are bred to mimic the scent and form of the old varieties but with longer flowering.
Munstead Wood, named after Gertrude Jekyll’s garden (you never know when that might crop in a pu quiz), is deep, deep velvet red and a fine candidate for the job. As it also tends to have very short stems, eating the petals provides a convenient way of enjoying the blooms.
We have had varietal wines, so why not varietal rose petal cream?
Well, as it happens, the combination I chanced to use was Zephyrine Drouhin and Fantin Latour. I’m tempted to try Rambling Rector but its intense perfume smells more of hyacinths than roses. Could be interesting…
Darina Allen has a recipe in her monumental Lost Skills of Cooking for rose petal syrup and I know that half-a-teaspooon of this elixir, stirred into a glass of nicely chilled Prosecco or Cava is absolutely delightful.
Darina’s recipe involves a lot of boiling and while this doesn’t seem to damage the rose flavour much, I like the kind of recipes for rose water that you get in the old herbals and household books. One, by Gervase Markham, dating from 1625, starts 'Take a thousand damask roses...' which must surely trump Mrs Beeton’s dozen eggs.
In those days, the general rule was to put rose petals with water into a glass vessel, cover it, and leave it in the sun for a few days so that the water gently absorbed the delicate fragrance of the flowers.
I’m tempted to try this and then reduce it by a quick boil with some sugar.
Coming back to the initial diaster with the cream, I’m happy to say that daughter turned the rose petal butter into a very rich and pretty icing for a Victoria sponge and we filled it with what was left of the successful rose cream version 2.0. It was very, very sweet, but empty calories have rarely tasted so good.
And now, I’m off to make lavender biscuits. It’s one person's way of dealing with this sorry excuse for a Summer.
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This sounds delicious.