Friday, 3 December 2010

Christmas Roses

We had snowfall last night and when I peeped out into the eerie silence at 5 this morning the roses were under a blanket. They still have flowers on – albeit frozen ones. These are repeat-flowering old noisette roses that don' mind being hacked back to a stump every year – in fact they seem to thrive on it, sending out clusters of pink flowers way into the cold months. I wish I knew their name but they were part of the mature garden when we came here.

Our friends in Bordeaux have roses growing in the vineyards - you find them nodding in the breeze at the end of the lines of grape vines. Roses and vines have been grown together for centuries as they have much in common. The rose acts as the sentinel of the vine as they are both susceptible to the same diseases. Roses and grapevines are both susceptible to the fungus powdery mildew. In fact, roses are more sensitive than grapevines. Sulphur won't cure powdery mildew, but it can prevent it. So, if a grape grower noticed that one day his roses had powdery mildew, he knew it was immediately time to spray sulphur on his grapes to prevent them from getting the same disease.

Surprisingly there are few roses named after wine making châteaux - there is Rosa Château de Clos Vougeot, named for the 12th century château in Burgundy. Its vineyards were planted by monks and nowadays, protected by a wall of stones, Clos de Vougeot is one of the largest single vineyards in Burgundy and produces grand cru wines.

There is also a Rosa Bordeaux which is grown for its cut flowers. The rose was launched on the market for the first time in August 2005 at the Floraholland flower auction, accompanied by a bottle of Bordeaux!

I have also found a Rosa Claret Cup which is a pretty little rose and one that I might get for the garden.

It's a shame that there are no roses named after Bordeaux châteaux such as the Sauternes First Growth Yquem – just think of the golden petals it could have! I would have thought that Chateau Lafite would have its own rose but the only one I can find is a hybrid tea named Rosa Baronne Edmond de Rothschild – Baron Edmond did play a pivotal role in Israel's wine industry so that is close enough!

The only château I can find that is named for the rose is Chateau Rose du Pont in the Medoc which was named after the large number of perfumed roses planted on both side of an ancient bridge in the village. France itself has a long and romantic history of Rose growing. Rosa Gallica Officinalis was possibly the first cultivated rose and is the first and the most famous of the Gallica roses. The Romans introduced it in Gaul (later to become France) where it assumed the named Rosa Gallica.

Legend has it that Eleanor of Aquitaine, was so jealous of Fair Rosamund, the mistress of her husband (Henry II of England) that she poisoned her and disguised the potion with Attar of Roses. Henry and Eleanor are famous for starting the English love affair with claret as Eleanor brought her favourite wine from Bordeaux with her. A rose was said to have sprouted near Rosamund’s grave from the tears that she spilt – it was named Rosa Mundi after her.

Attar of Roses is the essential oil extracted from the petals of the rose and is a much more concentrated form of Rose Water (a rough conversion is 5ml Rose Essence = 15ml Rose Water). The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans extracted rose fragrance by steeping flower petals in alcohol, oil or water. In some areas Rose Water is known as "Avicenna," named after a 10th century Persian physician usually credited with its discovery. It spread to England and the rest of Europe via mediaeval Crusaders.

Rose Water is used throughout India and the Middle East for sweets (for example Turkish Delight – see recipe here) and such drinks as lassi and sherbet. Attar of Roses was once made in India, Persia, Syria, and the Ottoman Empire. The Rose Valley in Bulgaria, near the town of Kazanlak, is among the major producers of Attar of Roses in the world. Only three varieties of rose are used in commercial production of rose oil and rose water: Rosa Centifolia, Rosa Damascena and Rosa Gallica.

Thinking of Christmas there is a recipe for Christmas Pudding from Armenia that uses Rose Water. Anoush Abour is more similar to a home made Rice Pudding (which I love) than what we would normally think of as a Christmas Pudding.

The recipe calls for wheat berries which are whole wheat kernels which have had their husks removed. Health food stores and some supermarkets carry wheat berries and depending on the wheat cultivar, the kernels can be tannish to red in colour, and they are available in soft or hard forms. People use wheat berries in salads, add them to breads for extra texture and fibre, or use them as a starch with meals. When people want to prepare wheat berries, it can help to soak them ahead of time, so that they will cook more quickly. These whole grains have a chewy texture which will be retained even if they are slightly overcooked, and a nutty flavour. If you can not find them locally then I suppose you could use either pearl barley or pudding rice but it would not give the same flavour.

Anoush Abour is traditionally served leading up to January 6th- the day Armenians celebrate the Birth of Christ. As the Armenian Orthodox Church still reckons its year by the Julian Calendar, this date (also known as “Old Christmas” in many other parts of the world) has not changed since sometime in the 5th Century, when Armenia became the first nation on earth to embrace Christianity as its state religion.

½ cup wheat berries
1 ½ cups dried fruit e.g. apricots, cherries, dates, raisins, candied ginger
1 ½ quarts of water
1 cup of sugar
2 tbsp Rose Water
almonds or pistachio nuts

Place the wheat berries in a saucepan of water and bring to a boil. Cover and set aside overnight to soak. The next day, set the pan back on the stove and slowly cook over a low heat for 1 ½ to 2 hours. If all the liquid absorbs, add more. Keep cooking until the wheat berries are soft and the starches have made the mixture the consistency of a rice pudding or tapioca.

Add the sugar and the fruit and stir well. Return to a low heat and cook for another 30 minutes, stirring well to make sure that it doesn’t burn. Add the Rose Water.

Spoon the mixture out into a deep bowl, cover and let cool to room temperature. Decorate the top with the almonds or pistachio nuts and serve in small bowls.



lostpastremembered said...

I never knew that roses were the canary in the coal mine for grapevines... a lovely idea. I can imagine the scent in the air when the rose is flowering and the grapes are ripe... must be heavenly. Thanks for the history, Sue. The rose pudding looks fabulous and good for me too!

Pam said...

Well, I'm glad I stopped by here! I have wheat berries in the pantry. I've never had them and saw where people blogged about them and was curious. I just haven't figured out to prepare them. Thanks! Interesting with the roses and that first photo is gorgeous. We have up to 6" snow expected here tonight. UGH!!!

tasteofbeirut said...

i love that first photo with the frozen roses; it is so romantic!
we make a similar pudding in Lebanese cuisine with wheat berries that is especially enjoyed for the feast of Saint Barbare in January as well as the birth of a boy into the family.

Sue said...

Thanks Deana, Pam and Joumanna!

I hope you manage OK in all that snow Pam . . . brrrr!

We have had freezing fog and a hoar frost all week which is so beautiful but dreadfully hard to negotiate whilst driving!