I subscribe to Gardens Illustrated. It’s my monthly fix of looking at inspirational and aspirational gardens from all around the world. I envy the gardeners their climates in South Africa, the Mediterranean and indeed the South of England. Cumbrian gardeners have more of a challenge on their hands.
The magazine is full of information about plants, the everyday and the rare, there are always features on gardeners and people pushing the boundaries of horticulture.
In June’s issue, I read a fascinating article about two women, Desdemona Freeman and her friend Denise Jones of Petals of the Valley in Monmouthshire, Wales.
In 2009, with little experience of cultivating roses, the two women planted and nurtured a rose ‘orchard’ behind Desdemona’s farmhouse, they researched the process of distillation and set up a copper still to produce a totally natural, additive free rosewater.
From May to July the roses are picked every day, starting at 5.30am, before the bees arrive and the sun burns off the essential oils. The baskets of blooms are left for a few hours to allow any insects to escape and then the roses are bagged and popped in the freezer, the freezing process breaks down the petals so more will fit into the still.
Denise and Desdemona share the painstaking distillation process, watching over the still for hours with its contents of roses and pure spring water, nothing else is added. Three types of rose are used, Rosa Gallica, deeply perfumed, it’s the traditional Apothecary Rose. Alba Maxima is another, a white rose with a gentle citrus note and Rosa Damascena ‘Kazanlik’ which has the strongest fragrance and is therefore ideal for use in cooking.
By the time I’d got to the end of the Gardens Illustrated article, I had resolved to try out this wonderful-sounding rosewater. I contacted Denise and Desdemona and ordered a bottle of the ‘Rosa Damascena’ rosewater to experiment with in my ‘Just Rhubarb and Rose Extra Jam’. I also have a bottle of the Rosa Gallica but that one’s going to be trialled in a new preserve which I hope to launch next year so I’m not letting you in on that one yet!
The Rosa Damascena rosewater is beautiful. I’m now using as my standard in the ‘Just Rhubarb and Rose’. The house smells wonderful when that jam is on the bubble, it’s such a pure scent, and being totally natural, it has no artificial harshness.
Denise and Desdemona very kindly sent me a gift of their rosewater ‘spritz’, I keep the bottle in the fridge and it delivers a fine, cool mist to my face. It’s ideal right now when labouring over a hot jam pan in the summer heat can make one rather hot and bothered.
Denise and Desdemona have published a charming little book – ‘Rosewater Recipes’. It’s full of delicious things.
Check out Petals of the Valley on their website – petalsofthevalley.co.uk – I’m so pleased I did.