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Divers Pretty Things Made Of Roses & Sugar

We have a guest blogger here today to discuss edible Roses and what you can do with them.

Rose edited 1

Divers Pretty Things Made Of Roses & Sugar
by Mistress Renata Kestryl of Highwynds

The 1552 edition of Banckes Herbal contains a woodcut of three Tudor roses, a crown and a ribbon banner proclaiming the rose to be “The Kynge of floures” an opinion that seems to be shared by the people of 16th century England. Of course, the rose was the symbol of the royal family, but it was also a favorite embroidery motif, probably the most common floral motif in use at the time.

Herbalists and the writers of household recipe books were also fond of roses. John Gerard, whose Generall Historie of Plantes was first published in 1597, devotes no less than twelve pages to the description and virtues of roses, far more that he gives to any other herb. (The title of this article comes from his description.) Sir Hugh Plat, who published his Delightes for Ladies in 1609, has 16 recipes for preserving roses in various forms.

The recipes (or “prescriptions”, as the herbalists like to call them) are for things like rose-water, rose oil, rose honey or sugar, rose syrup and conserve of roses. All these item were used for cosmetic, medicinal and/or culinary purposes. Rose products were thought to be good for the skin, cooling and soothing to the digestive and the respiratory systems, and gentle enough that even the very old and the very young could tolerate them.

A disclaimer: While these treats were used medicinally in the 16th century (some examples follow each recipe), these recipes are not meant for anything other than culinary uses.

Harvesting Rose Petals

Warning: Most roses today are grown for ornamental purposes, and are usually treated with chemical pesticides and systemic rose food. While these help the rose plant produce more and healthier flowers, they make the flowers extremely toxic. Therefore, it is very important that no chemical pesticides or systemic rose food have been used on the rose plants for at least one year before harvesting for human consumption. You can be sure of this by a) growing the roses yourself in your own garden (but keep an eye on your gardener, if you have one — often they will feed your roses every year without mentioning it to you) or b) knowing the person who does the growing. If you are not 100% sure, do not use the roses.

Having made sure of the non-toxicity of the petals in question, they should be picked in the early morning, after the dew has dried. Cut flowers that are fully open, but the petals should not have started to wilt too much. (A few wilted petals are all right — they will be eliminated in processing) The whole flower head should be cut, as this will encourage the plant to produce more blooms.

Note: In the 16th century crimson Damask roses were grown by the acre, so cooks of that time had access to roses that a Caidan cook can only dream of. It is not necessary that all your petals be from red roses — any scented rose will do. I have made both rose petal jam and rose syrup using a mixture of petals of all colors, and as long as at least some of the petals are red, the results have still been dark red.

Once all the roses have been cut, carefully remove the petals from the rosehip, discarding any petals that are wilted or damaged. If at all possible, this should be done outdoors because there will be an incredible number of insects inside each flower (no pesticides, remember?) and you’ll want to keep them outside the house.

At the base of each petal is a small white patch, called the “nailes” by John Gerard and the “whights” by Lady Elinore Fettiplace. It should be removed using a small sharp scissors, as it will add a bitter taste to the final product.

Finally, the petals should be rinsed thoroughly with cool running water and allowed to air dry. They are now ready to be cooked.

The first rule of preserving, like that of medicine, is “Do no harm,” which means (in our case) do not let bacteria get into your preserves. Before you start, wash all pots, utensils, and kitchen surfaces with hot, soapy water and rinse well.

To Make A Conserve Of Roses

Take Red Rose budds, Cut of the whights then boyle them in water untill they bee very tender, then wey to every pound of Roses and water 3 poundes of sugar and boyle yt together till it be thicke enough stirr yt still on the fire and untill yt be colde then put yt in glasses and preserve yt to yor use.

– Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book, compiled 1604

Conserve Of Red Roses

The same can be made another way, but better by many degrees: take the Roses at your pleasure, put them to boyle in faire water, having regard for the quantity; ,for if you have many roses, you may take the more water; if fewer, the less water will serve: the which you shall boyle the least three or foure houres, even as you would boyle a piece of meat, until in the eating they be very tender, at which time the roses will lose their colour, that you would think your labor lost and the thing spoiled. But proceed, for though the roses have lost their colour, the water has gotten the tincture thereof, then shall you add unto one pound of Roses, foure pound of fine sugar in pure powder, and so according to the rest of the roses. Thus shall you let them boyle gently after the Sugar is put thereto, continually stirring it with a wooden Spatula until it be cold, whereof one pound weight is worth six pound of the crude or raw conserve, as well for the vertues and goodnesse in taste, as also for the beautifull colour.

– John Gerard, The Herbal, or General History of Plants

You will need:

1/2 pound rose petals, cleaned and trimmed as above
1 cup water
3 or 4 pounds sugar
2 8-oz (or 4 4-oz) jam jars processed according to directions on the package.

Put the petals and water in an enamel or other non-reactive pot, cover and stew gently for about 30 minutes until all color has been leached out of the petals. (Don’t worry about this — they’ll turn red when the sugar is added.)

Increase heat and add the sugar, one pound at a time, letting each pound dissolve completely before adding the next. Three pounds of sugar, as Lady Fettiplace suggests, results in a somewhat runny jam, while four pounds of sugar will most likely cause the rose petals to crystallize (not necessarily a bad thing) in the jar. The amount of sugar you add will depend on the result you want.

When the last of the sugar is dissolved, bring the mixture to a boil. Boil until the mixture thickens and a drop placed on a cold plate forms a skin when it is pushed with a spoon. Overcooking the mixture can result in the entire batch of jam crystallizing once it is in the jar.* Remove from heat and quickly ladle the jam into the hot sterilized jam jars. Carefully wipe any spilled jam away from the outside of the jars, then apply the seals and rings.

*If this happens, the jam can be re-melted by putting the entire jar (unsealed) into a bowl and adding hot water up to about an inch below the lip of the jar. Leave the jar there (changing the water as needed to keep it hot) until the jam is sufficiently melted.

Note: because the ratio of rose petals to sugar is so high, this jam does not need to be heat-processed after the jars are sealed. The high sugar content acts as a preservative and prevents the growth of bacteria. The jam should be refrigerated after the jar is opened.

This jam has a very delicate flavor and can be used for any purpose as any other flavor of jam except one: peanut butter sandwiches. The strong flavor of peanut butter totally overwhelms rose-petal jam. Lady Fettiplace used her conserve for cheer and comfort the ill, incidentally while hiding the flavor of her more noxious medicines. Herbalists tended to prescribe it for coughs, colds and lung complaints.

A Singular manner of making the sirup of Roses

Fill a silver Basin three quarters full of rain-water or Rose-water: put therein a conveient proportion of Rose-leaves: cover the basin and set it upon a pot of hot water (as we usually bake a custard) in 3 quarters of an houre, or one whole houre at most, you shal purchase the whole strength and tincture of the rose: then take out those leaves, wringing out their liquor gently, and steepe more fresh leaves in the same water: continue this iteration seven time, then make it up in a sirup: and this sirup worketh more kindly than that which is made meerly of the juice of the Rose.

-Sir Hugh Plat, Delighes For Ladies, published 1609

To Make A Serop Of Roses

Take damask rose buds six handsfulls, & cut of the tops, and take a quart of faire running water, & put the roses therein, & put them in a basin & set them over the fire, that the water may be warm one day and night, then in the morning squise the roses hard between your hands out of the water, & put in as many fresh, & let them stand still on the fire, this doe nine times, then take out your roses, cleane out of the water, & put in as much sugar as will make it sweet, and boyle it till it come to a serop; you must put to everie pinte a pound of sugar.

– Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book, compiled 1604

You will need:

Clean and trimmed rose petals
Water
Sugar

Put two handfuls of petals into the top of an enamel double boiler (or a Pyrex casserole suspended over a pot of water) with just enough water to cover them and put them over gently simmering water. Although Lady Fettiplace states that it should be on the fire for a day and a night, Sir Hugh Plat points out that 45 minutes to a hour will “purchase the whole strength and tincture of the Rose.” An hour is long enough for even the darkest petals to bleach absolutely white. Take the mixture off the fire and allow it to cool enough to be handled, then remove and discard the petals, squeezing as much liquid from them as possible. Put in two handfuls of fresh petals and repeat the procedure.

Lady Fettiplace’s recipe calls for this to be repeats nine times, although Sir Hugh recommends seven changes and other contemporary recipes call for as few as three changes. How many changes you will get depends on how many rose petals you have. No additional water is added for each successive change, so the liquid will decrease in volume as it becomes concentrated.

The end result will be a dark red, almost black, liquid. For every pint of liquid, add one pound of sugar and boiled the mixture gently until it thickens. The longer it is boiled, the thicker the resulting syrup be, but do not cook it too much or it will lose its fresh rose taste and aroma.

Pour the finished syrup into a clean bottle or jar with an air-tight closure, let it cool, and store it in the refrigerator, where it will stay good for years, if it lasts that long.

Lady Fettiplace used this syrup to flavor cool drinks in summer and to also hide or counteract the strong flavors of some of her medicinal remedies. John Gerard recommends rose syrup to cool the heat of fevers and agues, as a thirst quencher (taken with white wine) and for mild stomach problems. (Actually, he goes on to describe in medically gruesome detail the benefits to the whole digestive tract.) Nicholas Culpepper recommended it to cool the liver and comfort the heart and notes that a small dose taken every night will help with regularity. Banckes Herbal recommends syrup of roses for “feble sicke melacoly and colorike people.”

Bibliography

Culpepper, Thomas. Culpepper’s Complete Herbal. London: W. Foulsham & Co., Ltd.

Digbie, Sir Kenelme. The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened. London: H. Brome, 1669

Gerard, John. The Herbal, or General History of Plants. Revised 1633 by Thomas Johnson. New York: Dover Publications, 1975

Hillman, Howard; Loring, Lisa; MacDonald, Kyle. Kitchen Science. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company 1981, 1989

Plat, Hugh. Delights for Ladies. London: Humfrey Lownes, 1609

Rohde, Eleanour Sinclair; The Old English Herbals. New York: Dover Publications 1971

Rohde, Eleanour Sinclair; Rose Recipes from Olden Times. New York: Dover Publications 1973

Spurling, Hilary. Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book: Elizabethan Country House Cooking. Compiled 1604. New York: Elizabeth Sifton Books/Viking Penguin, Inc. ,1986

Copyright 1998 by Sharon Cohen, P.O. Box 7487, Northridge, CA 91327-7487.

Visions of Sugarplums

This article was originally published in the July 97 issue of Ars Caidis and has been archived on Stefan’s Florilegium here. I asked Renata for permission to repost her articles here for my readers.  Since Plums are a summer fruit (mostly here in California) I thought it would be timely to post something to do with plums.

Plum-Cake-prep-16

Visions of Sugarplums
by Mistress Renata Kestryl of Highwynds

The dictionary defines a sugarplum as a small round or oval piece of sugary candy. English being the flexible language it is, the name could have come from the resemblance to a small plum. Or it could have come from actual plums preserved in sugar, a relatively new idea in 16th Century England. Prior to this time sugar was so expensive that it was used very sparingly, much as we would use a spice today. In the 1540’s, however, sugar started being refined in London which lowered the price considerably, although only well-off families were able to use it lavishly. Preserving with sugar allowed the sweet fruits of summer to be enjoyed all year round, especially during the holiday season.

16th Century cooks did not record their reasons for using one ingredient over another, although they seem to enjoy very much trading recipes and most of those who wrote down their recipes were scrupulous about attributing them to their original creators. Some recipes have delightful names such as “The Lord of Devonshire, His Pudding.”

Herbalists of the day, however, had a great deal to say about the produce and seasonings used. John Gerard, whose Complete Herbal was first published in 1597, says of fresh plums that they provide very little nourishment and moreover have a tendency to spoil quickly and taint any dish they are served in. Dried plums, or prunes, he says, are much more wholesome and he recommends them for problem in the digestive system. Thomas Culpepper, writing somewhat later, finds virtue in both the fresh and dried fruit.

Gerard also has a bit to say about sugar cane and the product of its juice, sugar. In addition to listing the benefits of sugar to the respiratory and digestive systems, he starts to list the culinary goodies which can be made with it. He then points out “it is not my purpose to make my book a Confectionairie, a Sugar Bakers furnace, a Gentlewoman’s preserving pan…” He also offers a thumbnail sketch of sugar refining.

Whether 16th Century cooks worried about the nutritional value — or lack thereof — of their holiday treats is, of course, open to conjecture. I invite anyone who has lived through a massive holiday baking session to ponder this question.

I first tried some 16th Century preserving techniques to make 12th Night gifts, and now understand why sugared fruit was a treat to be saved for special occasions. For one thing, sugared fruit is intensely fruit-flavored and unbelievably sweet, for another it is extremely time-consuming (but not difficult) to make. Fortunately for 12th Night gift-giving, the time to make sugarplums is during the summer, when plums are ripe.

TO DRIE APRICOCKS, PEACHES, PIPPINS OR PEARPLUMS

Take your apricocks or pearplums, & let them boile one walme in as much clarified sugar as will cover them, so let them lie infused in an earthen pan three days, then take out your fruits, & boile your syrupe againe, when you have thus used them three times then put half a pound of drie sugar into your syrupe, & so let it boile till it comes to a very thick syrup, wherein let your fruits boile leysurelie 3 or 4 walmes, then take them foorth of the syrup, then plant them on a lettice of rods or wyer, & so put them into yor stewe, & every second day turne them & when they be through dry you may box them & keep them all the year; before you set them to drying you must wash them in a litlle warme water, when they are half drie you must dust a little sugar upon them throw a fine Lawne.

(by the Lady tracy)

— Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book, 1604

Sir Hugh Plat, in his Delights for Ladies (published 1609), seems to have more faith in his readers’ culinary skills, as his recipe is much simpler:

THE MOST KINDELY WAY TO PRESERVE PLUMS, CHERRIES, GOOSEBERIES, &c.

You must first purchase some reasonable quanity of their owne juyce, with a gentle heat upon embers, in pewter dishes. dividing the juice still as it commeth in the strewing: then boile each fruit in his own juyce, with a convenient proportion of the best refined sugar.

You will need:

1-2 pounds of plums (any variety) fully ripe but not too soft
lots of white granulated sugar (unfortunately I cannot be more exact)
a large, heavy saucepan, preferably enamel
a wire rack — a cookie cooling rack works very well — set up over a cookie sheet covered with wax paper.

Wash the plums, cut them in half and remove the pits (this is a lot easier if you’re using a freestone variety). Lady Fettiplace, you may have noticed, does not mention this step, and may have indeed preserved her plums whole. Since the resulting candy is incredibly sweet, I found that preserving the plums cut in half makes a more reasonable serving of the final product.

Do not peel the plums — the peel helps them keep their shape while cooking and colors the sugarplums, and most of the peel will come off during processing. The idea is to preserve each half as complete as possible, so you want to avoid breaking down the cellulose structure of the plums. Since the act of cooking, adding heat and moisture, is exactly what breaks down the cellulose structure of food, you will see the words “gently” and “carefully” often in the following instructions.

Put a thin layer of sugar in the bottom of the saucepan. Lady Fettiplace’s recipe calls for clarified sugar, because she was working with a less refined sugar than we have today. She would have done the last boiling of the sugar (the last step in modern sugar refining) herself.

Lay the plums halves, cut side down, on the sugar in a single layer. Add enough sugar to completely cover the layer of plums, then lay another layer of plums on top. Continue layering until all the plums have been used and are covered.

Put the pan on the stove over the lowest heat possible. The sugar needs to dissolve in the plum juices without burning. While this is happening, stir very gently and scrape the sugar away from the sides of the pan. Try to disturb the fruit as little as possible.

When all the sugar is dissolved, increase the heat until the syrup comes to a gentle boil. (If it boils too hard, it will break up the plums.) A “walme” is 16th Century culinary for a “warm” or a boiling up, i.e., bringing liquid to a boil. Let the fruit boil for one minute, then remove the pan from the stove. If you are NOT using an enamel pan, gently remove the fruit from the syrup with a slotted spoon and put it in a large shallow glass or ceramic bowl and carefully pour the syrup over it. If you are using an enamel pan, the fruit can stay in it. Carefully place a plate over the fruit to keep it submerged in the syrup. Cover with the pan lid or a clean dish towel and let soak for three days.

A note about sugar: Boiling sugar can cause severe burns. It is very, very hot and tends to stick to the skin like boiling oil. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it will also stick to your stovetop and counters with incredible tenacity. Be careful not to splash the hot syrup when transferring the fruit.

Another note: The soaking process should be at room temperature, which means that you can leave it out on the kitchen counter or on an unused stove burner. But beware of ants! If your kitchen is ant-prone, place the pan or bowl in a larger container that has a few inches of water in the bottom.

After three days, carefully remove the fruit and bring the syrup to a boil. Gently return the fruit to the syrup, bring to a gentle boil again and let boil for one minute. Remove from heat and repeat the soaking process. Repeat the boiling and soaking process one more time, for a total of nine days soaking and approximately 3 minutes boiling.

After the last soaking, remove the fruit from the syrup. Heat the syrup again and dissolve one additional cup of sugar in it. Let the syrup boil until it thickens somewhat (it may darken as well, depending on what variety of plums you’ve use), add the fruit again and allow it to boil gently for four minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat. With a slotted spoon, carefully remove the plums one at a time from the syrup and rinse the excess syrup away under cool, gently running water. Since no two plums are ever at exactly the same degree of ripeness, some of your plums will have broken up during processing. Never fear, they’ll taste just as good as those that kept their shape. If you wish, you may remove any peel that remains on the plums. (Ladies in the 16th Century would have removed the peel — I like the texture with the peel in place.) Spread the plums on a wire rack and put in a warm dry place. “Yor stewe” was a special drying stove in the 16th Century stillroom. In the 20th century kitchen, a gas oven with just the pilot light burning in it is perfect, but make sure you remove the plums before preheating the oven for dinner. I’ve lost more plums that way, and burned sugarplums are the stickiest mess you can imagine.

Turn the plums every other day. When the plums are almost dry (they should still feel a bit sticky) sprinkle each side with granulated sugar. Throw a fine Lawne, as Lady Fettiplace says, is to sift the sugar through a piece of fine linen, which is not necessary with modern sugar. The drying time may be anywhere from a few days up to about two weeks, depending on local weather. When the plums are completely dry, store in an air-tight container. Plums processed in July are still soft at 12th Night and are chewier, but still delicious, more than a year later.

I have tried this recipe with several varieties of plum. I find that the Italian plums (prunes) work well because they are free-stone. As they have a higher sugar content and less acid than other varieties, the final sugarplums are much sweeter than those made from other varieties. In addition, they tend to be smaller than other plums, which result in bite-sized sugarplums. Lady Fettiplace probably used the Damson variety, which is a tart plum with purple-black skin and green flesh, and is used today for jam and jelly. Unfortunately, I’ve never yet been able to find Damsons, but I’ve used home-grown Santa Rosa plums (which were a bit on the tart side and ended up being totally wonderful) and the ones sold in the market as Black plums and Red plums. All turned out equally well.

I’ve also processed peaches, apricots and figs this way, with good results, and I’ve seen similar recipes for candied citrus peel. Figs are not as juicy as the other fruits, so add one-half cup of water to the sugar at the beginning to allow the sugar to dissolve before it burns. Otherwise you’ll end up with caramelized figs, which are very tasty but probably were not served on 16th Century tables.

Bibliography

Culpepper, Thomas. Culpepper’s Complete Herbal. London: W. Foulsham & Co., Ltd.
Gerard, John. The Herbal, or General History of Plants. New York: Dover Publications, 1975
Hillman, Howard; Loring, Lisa; MacDonald, Kyle. Kitchen Science. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company 1981, 1989
Pratt, Hugh. Delights for Ladies. London: Humfrey Lownes, 1609
Spurling, Hilary. Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book: Elizabethan Country House Cooking. New York: Elizabeth Sifton Books/Viking Penguin, Inc. ,1986
Western Garden Book. Menlo Park: Sunset Publishing Corporation, 1994

Copyright 1997 by Sharon Cohen, P.O. Box 7487, Northridge, CA 91327-7487.
. Permission granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided author is credited and receives a copy.