When I first planned my garden, top of my list were roses. Exuberant, scented roses. No formal standard roses. No apricot or yellow coloured roses. Just climbers, ramblers and bushy roses.
In my head, I envisaged them tumbling over arches with glimpses beyond of borders overflowing with roses, lavender, hollyhocks and catmint. The reality has been a little different. I’m not a good gardener. One of the climbing roses was planted in what amounted to little more than a bed of hoggin because I was too lazy to dig out a bigger hole and fill it lovingly with decent dirt, though surprisingly, the rose has thrived. My attitude to pruning is all or nothing, which means some bushes are tangled and overgrown while others seem a rather odd shape.
The border (note the singular) does indeed contain a chaotic mix of roses and other plants and for one brief week each summer it looks wonderful. Best of all though is the smell. I can ignore the aphids and put up with prickles just for the joy of breathing in the heady fragrance of the roses.
Each year, I try to capture a little of that summer goodness. I pick the flowers in the morning before the sun blazes down on them, give them a shake to dislodge any insects lurking within and take them inside.
The flowering of the first roses coincides with the elder flowers, so the two are combined to make Rose and Elderflower cordial or Rose and Elderflower marshmallows. Later in summer, I add a few rose petals to my normal lemon cordial recipe to turn it a pretty pink colour with just a vague hint of rose flavour.
This year, following an exchange of emails and packages with Elizabeth, I’ve revived my interest in making bitters and developed a new enthusiasm for making tonic water. Before you harrumph and mutter about perfectly good tonic water being available to buy (this was the response of my family) just hang fire. Elizabeth suggested that I might like to experiment to “… devise tonic water to pair with particular flavoured gins for example a rose tonic with rose gin or blackcurrant leaf tonic, say, with blackcurrant or blackberry gin”. Now, where can you buy tonic water like that?
Before you attempt to make tonic water, you should first read about the potential dangers of homemade tonic water. There’s a good article here that gives the details. http://www.alcademics.com/2014/08/potential-dangers-of-homemade-tonic-water.html From my limited knowledge, I would advise that you use cinchona bark rather than powder, measure carefully and strain properly.
For home-made tonic water, you first infuse a mixture of flavourings including citrus peel, spices and cinchona bark in water. This is strained, filtered (which takes an age), mixed with a simple syrup and bottled. To drink, you dilute this tonic syrup with still or sparkling water. My first attempt at Rose tonic water was a bit too citrussy so I’m tinkering with the recipe. I suspect I may spend the rest of the summer doing this.
Before Beth picks all my roses for her gin, I shall make my favourite recipes with rose petals and use the rest for flavouring cakes and creamy desserts. If we have many more hot days like this week then the roses won’t be flowering for much longer, so I shall have to be quick.