Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bottled Roses: How to make your own rosewater

This is a fun little project which allows me not only to show you photos of the crazy insane mess of roses in my garden, but how to use them to make something useful. I don't know if it's the cold spring or the damp weather, but I have at least 500 blooms on my Geoff Hamilton, the Gertrude Jekyll is pumping out intense rose fragrance, and the Lady Emma Hamilton is doing her tequila-sunrise/Cointreau thing with vigor. It has been a beautifully rosy summer! So, I thought to myself, how about preserving that delicious smell by making homemade rosewater? This is a fun and easy project, and it's lovely to have a bottle of beautiful rose fragrance long after the petals have dropped away.
Rosewater has been used for centuries as both a fragrance and a flavoring for Middle Eastern sweets such as Turkish Delight. I like to use it as a toner after washing my face, and can say full-throatedly that a spritz of rosewater during a long airplane ride is just the thing to make you feel like a million bucks. And making your own rosewater is so delicately ladylike, a perfect activity to do while wearing your 1950's sundress.
First, collect your roses. I gathered a whole colander full in the process of normal deadheading; at least a dozen of my fattest blooms. I don't use pesticides on my roses, but if you do or you buy them from the florist, it might be worth giving them a little rinse before starting your rosewater project. 
Select a large nonreactive pot with a curved lid. A canning pot would be ideal, but I don't have one of those so I used my stainless steel spaghetti pot. Dump your rose petals in, and swoon from the delicious fragrance. 
When you have recovered, place a heatproof metal steamer basket or a brick at the bottom of the pot, arranging the roses around it, and fill the pot with water, enough cover the petals/basket/brick completely. Rest a nonreactive bowl on top of the brick, ensuring that it is not so high that the lid of the pot won't close, or that it is so low it is bobbing in the water. 
Cover the pot with the inverted lid, and take it to the stove. Pretty much what you've done is to create your own homemade still! Now: bring the petals to a rolling boil then turn the heat down and simmer gently for about 40 minutes. The steam from the simmering roses will rise and collect on the inverted lid, and drip down into the bowl (I have seen a version of this project that calls for 2-3 trays of ice cubes to be placed on the pot lid to accelerate the distillation process, but my freezer doesn't hold that much ice, so I didn't do it but I think it came out fine).This distilled liquid is pure rosewater. Simmer for about until the rose petals in the pan lose all their color. Remove the bowl from the pot and allow to cool. Transfer to a bottle with a tightly-fitting lid, and keep in the fridge for a cool rosy spritz whenever you need it.
The volume of roses I used made about half a cup of rosewater, which will be more than enough to last a few weeks. So there you go! Pretty skin, lovely smell, fun afternoon project. Summer in a bottle. 

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