the rose season in full bloom, why not think beyond cut flowers and try your hand at making a batch of handcrafted rosewater? Its delicate, feminine flavour is most familiar in sweets and desserts, but rosewater can also add an intriguing floral note to savoury recipes, as seen in northern African and Persian cuisines.
All rose petals are edible, although some are more palatable than others and it is important to source unsprayed flowers since agricultural chemicals can transfer to your food. As a general rule, the smaller the petal, the more delicate and sweeter the flavour will be. Small blooms are therefore the best option should you want to use the petals fresh, such as in a salad.
Another rule to remember is the stronger the perfume of the rose variety, the more potent the rosewater.
The best time to harvest blooms from your garden is late morning, once the morning dew has evaporated. Enjoy them as cut flowers for a few days if you like, then, as the flower heads open fully, carefully pluck the petals for processing. If you don’t have access to fresh roses, dried rose petals from specialty food stores are an option.
Following are two ways to make rosewater. The first method uses distillation, which removes all impurities from the water so it will keep for around three months in a cool cupboard. The second method is much quicker and simpler, however your creation will need to be kept chilled and will last about a month, as the water will contain some impurities. With this method, the colour of the rosewater will be clear even if using dark petals, as it is the evaporated water that contains the essence of the roses. First set up the home-made distillery. Place rose petals in the large pan, spreading them around the edge. Nestle the heatproof bowl in the middle so it is sitting on the base of the pan, making sure no petals are caught underneath. There should be a 1-2cm space between the edge of the bowl and the pan.
Pour the boiling water over the petals, taking care not to get any in the bowl. If the bowl begins to float, place another bowl inside to hold it still.
Cover the pan with the plate to create an inverted lid and bring to a gentle simmer. As the water simmers, steam will rise and collect as condensation on the inverted plate then drip into the bowl (a similar process to drip stew, if you’ve ever made that).
Once most of the water in the pan has distilled and collected in the bowl, the rosewater is ready (be careful not to burn the petals). Take off the heat and decant the distilled rosewater into a clean bottle. Store in a cool, dark pantry or cupboard for up to 3 months. Makes about 250ml The colour of the petals will determine the colour of this rosewater, for example deep maroon flowers will create a dark water (as pictured). Be careful to strain the finished rosewater well, as residual petals reduce shelf life. Straining through cheesecloth will prevent this. Remove petals from stems and place into a colander. Gently wash under lukewarm water to remove any dirt or insects.
Transfer petals to a saucepan and cover with the boiling water. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer, uncovered, until petals have lost their colour, around 2025 minutes (if using light-coloured petals this will not be so obvious so go by the suggested time instead).
Strain rosewater through a fine sieve or clean cheesecloth into a jug then decant into a clean bottle. Makes about 300ml