Rose water is a quick preparation, and the final product is ready for culinary or cosmetic uses in less than an hour. It can be made by creating a crude but effective alembic still (a tool for distillation) out of common kitchen objects. Place several inches of rose petals in a pot, and in the center place a solid object the same height as the petal layers (I use half a brick). Pour water in to almost cover the petals, and place a stainless-steel bowl with a slightly smaller diameter inside the pot. Cover with an inverted domed lid. Bring the mixture to a simmer and fill the lid with ice cubes. The rose petals release their oil in the steam that rises from the simmering water. When it hits the cold lid, it condenses and falls into the bowl, where the rose water gathers. It can then be poured into small jars and will keep its freshness for months with the addition of a tablespoon of vodka.
The rose-based concoction that gardeners are most familiar with is potpourri. Potpourri can be made by two different methods, moist or dry. Dry potpourri is what you’ll see in stores, but moist potpourri has a superior and longer-lasting natural scent. Although it is time-consuming to make, one batch can keep its fragrance for years if stored in an airtight container.
The base of wet potpourri is made by layering a 3-to-1 ratio of half-dried rose petals (and lavender, if desired) with kosher salt in a crock. Place a plate or lid directly on the mixture and weight it down with a rock. Allow the mixture to cure for 2 weeks in a place that’s not too warm, stirring each day until it becomes caked.
After the mixture is a caked mass, crumble it into a mixing bowl and add other fragrant ingredients, commonly powdered spices, dried citrus peel, or other dried herbs. You’ll also need to add a fixative such as powdered orris root, approximately 1/4 cup per quart of potpourri. The final mixture should cure for at least a month. At first it will smell raw, but the fragrance mellows while it cures.
The only disadvantage of moist potpourri, besides the time it takes to make, is that in appearance it resembles brown muck—the literal translation is “rotten pot,” and it’s not a misnomer. Historically, moist potpourri was kept in a ceramic jar with two covers. The inner cover was perforated to let out the fragrance when it was wanted, and the outer cover was solid to keep the contents fresh. A foil-lined covered basket works, or any other glazed container with a removable lid.
Rose Petal Jelly
1. Holding an intact blossom, use scissors to cut away the petals, leaving the thicker white base of the petals attached to the stem.
2. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat, add the petals, cover, and steep 30 minutes. Strain the liquid into a clean saucepan. Discard the petals.
3. Add the sugar and lemon juice to the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring, over medium-high heat. Boil 2 minutes, add the pectin, and boil 2 more minutes (for firmer jelly, boil up to 2 additional minutes). Remove from the heat and add the rose water.
4. Fill hot jars to within ¼ inch of the top. Seal with canning lids and rings. Turn the jars upside down for 30 minutes to create a vacuum seal.