Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Notes From The Country - Bloom Where You Are Planted

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and, taste as sweet! All my roses are in bloom. I love old fashioned roses, the aromas, the petals, the soft colors

and for the 3 weeks or so that most of them shine here, I make the most of them. They amaze me - their complex beauty, their journey from bud to full bloom. Their fragrance at different stages. Little miracles.

They all have such vastly different characteristics if you look closely.

I often pick just one of each every few days and put them in miniature vases or bowls. So lovely, and useful. They make me happy. I make rose petal vinegars, flavored sugar or honey, freeze them in ice cubes, or  make jam.

This year I came across a monastery rose petal jam recipe. I had to try it because so many of my roses have a history hearkening back to those monastery days with monks tending the herbs, flowers, and vegetables, and putting them all to use in food, jam, and wine! This link provides some good instruction on the process. It was fun to make because you massage the rose petals with sugar until it becomes a paste and the smell is intoxicating. (Aside from exacerbating my current, severe grass allergies. But it was totally worth it!)

Every time you take a taste it's like being transported to a rose garden on a hot summer day - complete with stone walls, pergolas, gently cascading fountains, butterflies and big, lazy bumblebees, harp music playing gently in the background, and there are the monks tending the basil and lavender, and the knights are practicing their sword fighting skills by the hedgerow....What?? I don't know what your rose gardens look like but mine are positively medieval...

Rose petal jam ingredients: Apothecary roses, Alba Maxima roses, Loiuse Odier roses, La Reine Victoria roses, William Baffin roses, Belle de Crecy roses, Madame Hardy roses, sugar, water, lemon, patience and time.

My Apothecary rose notes from last year -June 2013

Speaking of monks and such, I made one of my favorite breads last week. This is Straun bread. It hails from this cookbook, called Brother Juniper's Bread Book. It contains cooked brown rice, rolled oats, cornmeal, and wheat bran among other things and you can substitute different grains you may have on hand. It's light and flavorful and I could happily eat it everyday. Chef  Peter Reinhart is quite the authority on bread baking, and, he joined a Christian order as a brother when he was 24. His thoughts on spirituality, knowledge and understanding, and bread making are very interesting. You can read his thoughts here in this interview. Who knew that baking bread could be so profound!

The best thing to go with homemade bread is homemade jam, and, since my rhubarb was ready, I had to go with Strawberry Rhubarb jam. (Alas, not my strawberries)

I used the recipe from this book that graces my cookbook shelves. I love Jessie's story and her blog. She's totally Rurally Screwed - in a good way. The jam recipe from this book has far less sugar than a typical jam recipe, and no store bought pectin. I used less rhubarb than the recipe called for - about a third less, and I pulsed my strawberries and rhubarb in the food processor first because I do not like big chunks of fruit in my jam. Because of the longer cooking time (without the pectin addition), and much less sugar, this jam has a more intense fruit taste instead of a sweet, sugary taste. In other words, delicious! If you like strawberries. And rhubarb. Which I do.

I also made elder flower lemonade because the elder flowers are in their prime, and I happened upon a recipe while browsing. What?? Don't you Google elder flower recipes?  Honestly, after making elder flower cordial last summer and the lemonade this, I realize I am not an elder flower fan.To me it tastes too weedy - and not in a good way. That's just me. By all means go harvest all your elder flowers, shake the bugs out, follow one of the recipes for wine, syrup, cordial or lemonade on the Internet and go for it. 

All the above goodness I made in one day. Why? Well, this. The pastures are blooming. The breeze is blowing. And I'm hiding indoors with the filtered, moist air of the swamp cooler. I never had allergies growing up in The City, however, over time here I developed pasture grass and corn pollen allergies (so said the allergist). Oddly enough, I live in the country surrounded by pastures and corn fields. Yeah. The thing is we've been gone for the worst part of my allergy season over the past few years in my dream heaven know as South Beach, Miami. Circumstances prevented our June trip this year and I am once again feeling the full brunt of my surroundings. I try to go outside only twice a day right now. Feed the animals, collect eggs, water plants, pick a few weeds, listen to the birds, and pick roses and other flowering things. Then I run back inside, rinse out the sinuses and eyes, change clothes and try to recover. My day full of jam making and such was a lovely, indulgent way to celebrate the beginning of summer indoors. You know, "bloom where you are planted", "find the joy in the present" and all that...  

Oh, by the way, Miami here we come!!!!!  Let's celebrate!  I made this cocktail at the end of my jam making day, with Vodka (only the best please), a dash of homemade bitters from last summer, and a smidgen of rose petal paste before cooking it into jam, shaken until icy cold - with little rosy ice crystals floating on top. It was quite refreshing with a hint of knightly sweetness. 

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