Preserving Petals: Extending the Summer with Fragrant Rose Vinegar
The end of the season in the garden is difficult for some. The terminology alone – putting the garden to bed; closing the garden; preparing the garden for winter – sends those of us who relish the days of dirt under our fingernails into a state of melancholy. A renewed emphasis on preserving the harvest through freezing, canning and fermenting brightens sun-starved days for herb and vegetable gardeners. But what about ornamental gardeners? Most ornamental perennials are relegated to spend winter with their roots frozen underground or their branches fighting an onslaught of punishing winds and snow, no real place in the lexicon of preservation. Or is there?
Enter the rose. Rose petals sprinkled on snow during a winter wedding or bestowed upon lovers in February also make flavorful vinegar. Indeed, this plant grown primarily for its ornamental beauty serves a sustaining purpose as an edible. Imagine opening a bottle of fragrant rose vinegar to use in a soup or stir fry during the depths of winter. Fortunately, creating vinegar from rose petals is simple so long as you follow a few steps when harvesting.
HARVESTING PETALS FOR PRESERVING
Rose plants benefit from regular deadheading during the growing season. Deadheading simply means pulling off blooms from the plant at the juncture where the next bloom will grow. Since every leaf has a growth bud, deadheading directs the plant’s energy into producing new flowers instead of setting seed where flowers once bloomed. You want to stop deadheading rose plants approximately three to four weeks before the first hard frost, which typically occurs sometime between October 1st and October 15th on the Seacoast. This will prevent the plant from creating new growth that might be damaged by the cold.
Choose your most fragrant rose to preserve. Never use store- or florist-purchased roses, as they are likely to contain chemical fertilizers or pesticides. To collect rose petals for preserving, deadhead freshly opened blossoms at mid-day just after they have opened. Be sure to do so when it is sunny or on a day without much humidity, as moisture will brown the petals. Do not wash the buds but rather, shake off any dirt. Let the entire bud air dry on a flat surface away from direct sunlight or in a dehydrator set on low heat. When the buds are dry, immediately place them whole into a glass jar with a lid. Store the jar of whole buds in a dry spot out of the sun.
ROSE CHAMPAGNE VINEGAR: ROMANCE IN A BOTTLE
When you are ready to make vinegar, remove the jar of rose buds from storage. Gently pull off the petals and place in a steeping container. Cover the petals with champagne vinegar.
Champagne vinegar, stored in oak and made from the same grapes as good champagne, is a light vinegar with a slight taste of vanilla and champagne.
Use at least one cup of flowers to two cups of champagne vinegar, but feel free to use more petals to taste. Add a few leaves of lemongrass, another light herb, or a cinnamon stick for additional flavor. Be sure all petals are covered with vinegar.
Cover the container tightly. Store it in a dark place at room temperature for several weeks, giving the container a slight shake every day and checking the flavor each week until the desired taste is reached. When the vinegar is ready, strain it, fill glass bottles, add a few petals and accompanying herbs, if desired, cap tightly, and use or give as a gift. If not sealed, rose champagne vinegar will stay fresh in the refrigerator up to one month. It is delicious served on a salad, with sautéed greens, in soups, on a stir fry, or with chicken dishes and will transport even the most despondent gardener back to the days of summer.