Week Two - What the Heck is Rose Water?

Rose water is exactly as it sounds like - a flavored, scented liquid made by steeping rose petals in water. It’s been used as a flavoring in Middle Eastern, Indian and Chinese cuisines for centuries and is most often added to syrups and jellies (Turkish Delight anyone?) or sprinkled over cakes and creamy puddings like kheer (Indian rice pudding). 

Rose water was likely brought to Europe following the Crusades and quickly became a popular flavoring.  It shows up in week two’s recipe for Knott Biscuits and will reappear again and again as our cookoff continues.

The trick to using rose water is to add a tiny bit at a time and taste as you go. Used sparingly, it creates a pleasant taste that’s difficult to put your finger on. Use too much and it tastes like you’re sucking on a rose petal ... UGH!

As always, our first question was whether colonists in 17th century Ferryland would have had access to rose water. The answer? Although we lack hard evidence, we think yes. Obviously, it could have been imported along with other foodstuffs, but there’s also a very good chance that they made it from scratch. Rose water is pretty simple to make and requires just two ingredients: rose petals and water… both of which happen to be in great supply along our coast during this time of year - a fact that didn’t escape the attention of the Colony’s first settlers. On August 18, 1622, Nicholas Hoskins wrote from Ferryland:

Many fair flowers I have seen here, which I cannot name, although I had learned Gerrard's Herbal by heart. But wild roses are here both red and damask, as fragrant and fair as in England.

(Read the full text of his letter here)

Today, you can find rosewater in the imported food section of most large grocery stores. However, if your local Grocery and Confectionary is all out (HA!) or you’re feeling adventurous, why not try making some yourself? You can find step-by-step instructions here, or drop by the Colony on Tuesday, August 4th, when we’ll be whipping up a batch as part of our Colony Day celebrations. Hope to see you there!

Jane SeversComment