Sunday, May 27, 2007

Roses have supplied aromatic herbs for cooking since the ancient Persians

When I was in England last year, I was treated to a wonderful elderblossom sorbet at Ingtham Mote and was surprised to find the flower-flavored desert so fruity and delicate. So, I couldn't help but notice this article about the ancient culinary use of rose petals dating back to the time of the Persians.

"It's difficult to imagine a Persian sweet or Middle Eastern baklava without the aroma of rose water, but you may not know that roses have a place in traditional Latin American kitchens, too. Cooking with flowers is especially ingrained in Mexico, where two aroma-loving cultures came together in the 16th century.

Walk into any Mexican market and you will find packets of dried rose buds and petals sold as rosa de castilla, the generic term for the perfumed Mediterranean Gallic rose (Rosa gallica), one of the oldest cultivated roses in the southern Mediterranean, brought to the New World by Spanish settlers.

In pre-Columbian times, Mexican cooks colored and flavored foods and beverages with magnolia blossoms and flowers from a tree related to the custard apple (anón), among others. The Spaniards, meanwhile, had embraced the ancient Islamic tradition of flavoring savories and sweets with roses, jasmine, violets and orange blossoms.

The blooms that filled the gardens of Islamic Spain were not the single-stemmed tea roses with blooms as large as platters that many gardeners favor today, but the more delicate single- or double-petaled blossoms of the Gallic rose, the Centifolia rose (popularized by the Romans) and the Damask rose, known in Spanish as rosa de Alejandría or rosa damascena.

From the latter, Andalusians distilled a potent extract (rose water) using a method perfected in ancient Persia. Cooks used it lavishly to flavor syrups, dried-fruit fillings and even savories like rabbit cooked in assertive sauces. Rose petals and buds were turned into jellies and sweetened pastes, which were stirred into braises."