Friday, 5 June 2015

Roses, Roses, Roses

Roses, Roses, Roses

The rose family includes trees shrubs and herbs and comprises about 100 genera and 3,000 species. Most plants in the rose family have similar flowers, with five petals. Sweet Briar, Dog Rose I could see were roses, but I had not thought that Blackberry, Japanese Quince, Geum and Avens are also rose family species.

Bulgaria and Attar of Roses

Bulgarian rose pickers in the 1870s

Last year my daughter visited us on Lemnos after attending and giving a paper in Vienna. She and her partner came to us by land and ferry, their train passing through Bulgaria on the way. She arrived with some aromatic presents for me, rose scented soaps and creams. I had not known before but Bulgaria produces a large percentage of rose oil.

I’m reading the last book of three travelogues by the author Patrick Leigh Fermor ‘The Broken Road’. These books tell of his journey, as a youth in the 1930s, across Europe to Constantinople. One part of the chapter on Bulgaria painted such a lovely picture of roses I’ll quote it here.

The entire valley is covered with rose bushes, hundreds of thousands of them, all despoiled now by the long summer and the fingers of rose-harvesters: for Kazanlik is one of the chiefly places in the world for attar of roses, that powerful distillation of rose oil which was so highly prized in the courts and harems of the Orient, especially in India and Persia…’

‘Armies of men and women toil in the valley gathering the petals, culling them soon after dawn, before the high sun ca drain them of the dew and the perfume which the night hours have been storing up…’

‘The valley is aswoon, and the petals, bursting out of their sacks on the carts and wagons in which they are piled, scatter the dusty roads with crimson like the lurching retreat to his cavern of a morally wounded ogre.’

Pot Pourri


I’ve often made lavender bags but I’ve found it hard to grow the ‘English’ variety that has the best scent here.  So this year I decided to make pot pourri. A friend told me her bowl of scented rose petals were gathered from falling roses in the garden or perhaps from those that she had in a vase in the house. She just kept added to the bowl during the year. It seemed much easier and this is what I have been doing this year in Lemnos.

There are two methods or making pot pourri, the dry and the moist methods. The first is the simplest and the prettiest but the second will last longer and has a fuller scent. Moist pot pourri is the oldest method. The petals are left to rot down into an aromatic ‘cake’, and this explains the unromantic translation of the French name pot pourri, which means ‘rotten pot’. 
I've found a great use for my hanging vegetable baskets. Drying rose petals.

Red roses have the strongest scent, and the best roses for this are the gallica, damask and cabbage varieties. I found the white roses had a light lemon scent when dried. I did not have enough red roses in my garden so enlisted a friend who has regularly added to my pot pourri bowl. Having the mix of colours is nice, and so this year I even added marigold petals and some pelargonium leaves.  

I’d read that you can add spices to the basic mixture of rose petals and so before putting into bags I added cinnamon and clove powder – you only need very little of this spice as it can overpower the rose scent. 

The bags I obtained from a local wedding shop. A shop that deals with all the paraphernalia needed for a Greek wedding. These bags are often used to give little gifts or sugared almonds to guests.

Another year I’ll try a mix of flowers, one of my books tells me I could use a large range of colourful or scented flowers and leaves, plus a variety or spices. And I think I’ll try adding cinnamon sticks and a few whole cloves rather than the powder.

Roses and Sweets

One of my favourite island sweets used to be the Loukoumi made here, especially the rose flavoured one. Loukoumi is the Greek name for what most people call Turkish Delight. Unfortunately since discovering I’ve got diabetes this is off my menu.

The rose scented geranium grows easily from cuttings and I have several plants in the garden. I find it often has to be cut back or it takes over a flower bed. Since being told by a neighbour to try it in my cooking I’ve used its fresh leaves to flavour sweet cakes and puddings as well as being added to a pot pourri. You can also dry them for use in cooking.

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