I really felt as if I was bottling sunshine when I made this delicious jelly, because as soon as I had finished picking the roses, the sky turned grey and the heavens opened - yet more torrential rain, fierce enough, once again, to damage flowers.
I found the recipe this morning, lying in bed reading old Sunday supplements unread from the weekend of our parties. It was extracted from a book which I see is due to be published tomorrow, Edible Wild Plants and Herbs: A Compendium of Recipes and Remedies, by Pamela Michael. Looks good enough to buy. As ever, I've adapted the recipe a little.
Rose petal jelly
1 litre rose petals
1 litre water
juice of two lemons
1 kilo sugar
Pick one litre of scented roses. The original recipe suggests dog roses, but as they're now over, mine was a mixture of the beautiful English rose Noble Antony (David Austen), Tuscany Superb, Gloire de Dijon, a pretty little unnamed pale pink rambler by the front door, and Compassion. I don't spray my roses (or anything, come to that), so they're okay to eat. I had no idea what a litre of rose petals looks like, so I went out with a colander which I half filled. Too many, it turned out, but no matter, they'd have needed dead-heading soon anyway. You want them blousily open, but not over. Check for scent as you pick, because some roses become more scented as the flowers develop, other lose their scent quickly.
Pull the petals off the stalk, and loosely fill a one-litre measuring jug. Check for insects - I put several earwigs back into the garden, as well as a couple of small grasshoppers. Put the petals in a stainless steel saucepan with a litre of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. They will completely lose their colour, and the water will turn a murky shade of reddish-brown, deliciously scented. Strain this into a glass bowl and cool.
Next you add the lemon juice, and a magical thing happens - the murky brown suddenly becomes a beautiful and bright pink. Pour this back into the pan, and add one kilo of sugar (I used preserving sugar because I happened to have it in the house, but ordinary sugar would do just as well, it would just take a little longer to dissolve). When the sugar has disappeared, turn up the heat a little and bring to the boil. It will take 10 minutes to reach setting point, or you can use a sugar thermometer.
Leave it to cool a little before bottling - if you do this, you'll find that much of the scum disappears. I never bother to skim the scum, because I don't enter my jellies in the produce show, and because it's perfectly edible - it disappears if you're heating up the jelly later (the main reason I make jellies is to liven up sauces).
Bottling isn't too much of a palaver, although you need to sterilise the jars. This is easily achieved in one of three ways (I am assuming that they are already clean): 1) put them in the sink and pour boiling water on them; 2) run them through a hot dishwasher cycle; 3) put them in a low oven for half an hour.
People get very worked up about making jellies, and Nigella even said in one of her books that making jelly was more trouble than jam ... but Nigella's wrong, and the whole process is quick and easy. Jelly is easier on the cook than jam, because you don't need to peel and core, top and tail, you let the sieve or jelly bag do all the work. And the key thing is never to make more than 3-4 jars at once ... in other words, never use more than one kilo of sugar - scale the recipe down if necessary (it's also true for jam). This rose petal jelly took under an hour from start to finish, in three short bursts of activity.
Incidentally, you can see from the photos below just how much colour is extracted from the petals when they're simmered. The original recipe suggests putting the petals back into the syrup when you've dissolved the sugar, but I didn't want to spoil the look of the jelly, and, besides, thought I'd probably have to sieve it before using it in a sauce.
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