Several years ago, I stumbled upon a book called “Clearly Delicious: An Illustrated Guide to Preserving, Pickling & Bottling” by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. It is the kind of book that could be described as a coffee table book. It is loaded with beautiful pictures of gorgeous bottles filled with amazing things to fill up your pantry and give to your loved ones as gifts. The book was printed in 1994. This date probably coincides with a time in my life when I first discovered Martha Stewart magazine and dreamed of having the kind of lifestyle that Martha, Gourmet magazine, and Sunset magazine promised their readers. I’m sure that visions of an orderly pantry full of shiny beautiful jars and bottles filled my dream life. In reality, I made a few of these infusions and friends and relatives sporadically got to sample a few of these culinary experiments around the holidays. One surprising thing I learned from this book was that you could make your own liqueurs by soaking fruits and herbs in alcohol such as Vodka or Grappa. After I had this epiphany, I went to a restaurant called Chad’s and the bar had a giant macerating jar filled with premium vodka and Strawberries. This wonderful concoction was used for martinis. I was hooked on this idea! In the intervening years I found several books that had a recipe or two for different liqueurs. One great resource was “Classic Liqueurs: The art of Making and Cooking with Liqueurs” by Cheryl Long and Heather Kibbey. During this time, I made Kahlua, Raspberry Liqueur, and Limoncello. I made macerated fruit concoctions such as Prunes in Port and Pears in Brandy. Then I forgot about this brief passion of mine.
Creating alcoholic beverages is strange for me considering that I own bottles of alcohol that are a couple of decades old. I enjoy an occasional glass of wine but I really don’t enjoy cocktails. I use hard alcohol for cooking but I rarely drink it. One day I was looking for something amongst the dusty ancient bottles in my cabinets and I found the last of the Limoncello I made. I made it from Meyer Lemons. Meyer Lemon peel has a resinous, piney flavor. When the liqueur was new, this flavor was overwhelming to me and I considered the liqueur a failure. My best friend got the rest of the batch and she loved it. I found it undrinkable. When I discovered the dusty old bottle, I poured my self a shot expecting it to be terrible. Over the years it has mellowed and now it tastes just like Limoncello should. The urge to create an alcoholic beverage suddenly overwhelmed me with a burst of enthusiasm I had completely forgotten about!
Around the time that I rediscovered my little bottle of alchemical history, I had also discovered a wonderful food blog called Lucillian Delights – An Italian Experience. Ilva’s blog is a joy to read and an experience for your eyes. She is a very creative cook. Right before I found my lost bottle of Limoncello, I read this post about Rose sugar. I had read books that talked about flowers and flower essences in food before and the idea always held a certain fascination for me. I started to obsess about the idea. My best friend (and Limoncello lover), had given me a David Austin rose bush which I have grown in a large terra cotta pot. This Rose bush has moved between three homes over the years and still thrives. This year, it bloomed like crazy and I wanted a way to capture the spicy aroma of these oddly beautiful vintage blooms. I kept thinking, could I make rose liqueur? I searched for a recipe but couldn’t find one. I found a reference on the Internet to liqueur flavored with Rose petals and Vanilla but did not come across a recipe. I went back to an Italian recipe for Raspberry liqueur which was very well received one Christmas and started an experiment. Five weeks later, I have liqueur that is subtly laden with spices and a soft floral flavor and aroma. The rose flavor could be stronger. Next time if the Rose harvest is larger, I may add more rose petals.
Petals from 8 Organically Grown Roses
1 Vanilla Bean, split down the middle
1 two inch chunk of Canela (Mexican Cinnamon) or 1 stick Cinnamon
2 whole Cloves
2 cups Sugar
1 bottle Vodka
5 one inch wide strips of lemon peel
Rinse the Roses under cool running water. Garden grown roses could contain creepy crawlies and dirt so carefully inspect your flowers before you use them. Turn Roses upside down to drain and allow them to dry. Pluck the petals from the blossoms and drop them into a covered jar large enough to accommodate a bottle of Vodka. Add the spices and sugar to the jar. Add Vodka and stir until the sugar is dissolved. The Rose Petals will float. Eventually, over time they will loose their pigment and sink to the bottom of the jar. They may look unappetizing but don’t be alarmed. Let the infusion sit for at least 5 weeks. When you are ready to bottle the liqueur, wash your bottles in the dishwasher to sterilize them. Alternatively, the bottles can be boiled for several minutes. Allow the bottles to cool. Pour the liqueur through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup or bowl, pressing on the solids. Discard the solids. Pour or ladle the liqueur with the aid of a funnel into the bottles. Most normal people will not allow an infusion like this to last long, but this liqueur can last months in a sealed bottle at room temperature, stored in a cool dark place.