Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Venus Rosewater Revival ...

For some reason Creedence Clearwater Revival has been in my mind - for the title of this post … but I promise it is all about Rosewater.

Ruby Red Rosewater

As far back as  roses were treasured for their decorative beauty as well as their healing properties – rose petals, rose water and/or rose oil were used to fragrance rooms, floors, and flavour some foods.

Although fermented drinks had been known for thousands of years, the process of distillation was only discovered in the first century AD … extracting the pure liquid essence – as in rosewater.

Lady Elizabeth as a Princess
in about 1546
Elizabeth I as you would imagine loved her perfume – anything with a pretty fragrance would take away some of the ‘stench of life’ in the Middle Ages.

Recently a 400 year old perfume recipe was found tucked away in the library of the Royal Horticultural Society.

“Take eight grains of musk and put in rose-water eight spoonfuls, three spoonfuls of Damask-water, and a quarter of an ounce of sugar.  Boil for five hours and strain it.”

A choice of fragrances
The Historic Royal Palaces asked the famous French perfumerie Jean Patou to recreate an eau de toilette based on this recipe that harked back to the days when perfumes first arrived in England from the Middle East.

I wrote fairly comprehensively on plant perfumes through the ages in one of my first posts !! … 23 May 2009 … where more basic historical details can be found.  I note I didn’t include Bulgaria or the Ottoman Empire in the post … my knowledge is obviously broadening as the years go by.

The rosewater flavoured dessert is just by the
grabbing hand?!

Rosewater was common as a flavouring … in Tudor times … there were two favoured varieties … “the red rose water pure, without any other thing mingled, is most commended for wholesomeness, but the damask rose water is sweetest of smell.”

Raspberry, pistachio and rosewater
meringue bark (shards)
The Queen’s Jubilee 2012 picnic dessert was a Strawberry compote, meringue, cream, flavoured with elder-flower cordial and rosewater.

Other recipes can be flavoured with rosewater - Gooseberry Fool, Marchpane Tart, a blancmange style dish: jelly with ground almonds which was flavoured with rosewater …

… or if we go back nearly 1,300 years we could try the savoury-with-fruit dish called ‘Judhaab

This favourite dish of medieval Baghdad consisted of a sweet pudding which was set at the bottom of a tannuuroven to catch the juices of roasting meat, which would be served with the pudding. 

Here we have a recipe from the collection of Caliph al-Wathiq (842–847).

1 chicken
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons rosewater
ground saffron
1 pound dried apricots
2 fresh lavashes, Mexican flour tortillas or other flatbreads, 12" in diameter
½ cup sugar

Wash chicken and pat dry. Mix 2 tablespoons rosewater with pinch of saffron and rub on chicken, inside and out. Set chicken on high rack in 350-degree oven. Put apricots in small saucepan, add water to cover apricots by ½ inch and stew until softened. Place one lavash in baking pan. Arrange stewed apricots on top, sprinkle with sugar and ¾ cup rosewater in which pinch of saffron has been dissolved, then cover with remaining lavash. When juices begin running from chicken, set baking pan under it to catch juices. 
When chicken is done, serve on apricot pudding. Serves four.

Conquest of Baghdad by the
Mongols 1258

The deliciously fragrant rosewater can be used in so many ways – and whether the Wimbledon Ladies’ champions use a rose perfume of the purest form, or like most of us a delicate atomised spray …

… many of us will try new flavours as our tastes change and we try new foods with an eclectic range of flavours, mixing savoury and sweet …
Roses, roses, roses ....

… but oh how nice it would be to be served rosewater to wash our hands in before, and after our meal … the pure luxury … not quite a Venus Rosewater Revival … but the title fits my bill!

Daily Telegraph article on Petals of the Valley – the only British producer of pure Rosewater from Wales!

Petals of the Valley … their website … with recipes and tips for use of their rose oil rich, fragrant rosewater ... 

Cooking with the Caliphs – with the Judhaab recipe …

Previous Post:  Wimbledon Tennis Venus Rosewater Dish

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Rosewater Dish … or Venus Rosewater Trophy at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships …

Wimbledon has almost come and gone … we’re still in the Mixed Doubles (with Heather Watson, and Jamie Murray – who will compete against each other in the final on Sunday) … sadly Andy Murray is injured, and Johanna Konta just couldn’t cope with Venus’ fast playing ability … but she will learn …

Wimbledon Singles
Championship trophies

… however there have been some extraordinary matches and Johanna Konta, whose parents live in Eastbourne, definitely is touching greatness …

… she is determined, practices hard, learns quickly, positive in all things, prepared to give of her time – but passionate about winning and succeeding … sounds like us?!

Enough of that … how about more Rosewater, after the last post? … Wimbledon connections – tennis and food … sounds good to me!  

It is except I looked and found some other interesting information … so this will be the first of three short posts – where Rosewater, food and history feature.

Virginia Wade having won
in 1977

The Venus Rosewater Dish (will probably be Venus’s this year … but the Spaniard Garbine Muguruza may have something to say about that …) has been presented to the Ladies’ Singles Champion since 1886 – when the ladies were first allowed to compete.

Oh well ... predictions are meant to go wrong aren't they? - I didn't see the match and amazingly Garbine Muguruza won ... so we have a new star in the tennis firmament.

Why - Rosewater dish – it was a ceremonial platter used after eating to catch warm or cold Rosewater poured from ewers over the hands to wash them … a daily ceremony amongst royalty and the nobility until the advent of soap and water.  They were made of pewter prior to the 1500s, then increasingly of silver, or in exceptional cases gold …

Silver salvers from the 1730s

A salver (Latin salva, save from risk) was originally used by food tasters, who tested food for poison … the Rosewater dish was considered a salver by extension.

It is something of a misnomer … as none of the mythological figures on the dish is Venus; nor is the theme of decoration related to tennis, but to Classical Mythological. 

Close up showing 'relief' workmanship

The general size of these salvers made them perfect canvases upon which to emblazon coats of arms, figures from antiquity, classical scenes and so on.

Here the central boss depicts the figure of Venus (not Sophrosyne - the personification of temperance and moderation - as the concept of the dish caught on in the 1800s when various copies were made: the original is in the Louvre).

The dish shows Venus seated on a chest with lamp in her right hand and jug in her left, with various attributes such as a sickle, fork and caduceus around her.

The Seven Liberal Arts: imagefrom the
Hortus Deliciarum of Herrad of
Landsberg (12th C)
The four reserves on the boss of the dish each contain a classical god with their elements.  The reserves around the rim show Minerva presiding over the seven liberal arts: astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, music, rhetoric, dialectic and grammar, each with relevant attribute.

The rim of the salver has an ovolo moulding.  The remainder of the surface is decorated with gilt renaissance strapwork and foliate motifs in relief against a rigid silver ground.

The curious history  of the trophy known as the Venus Rosewater Dish, a dish that does not have Venus on it, nor holds rosewater, but such is the nature of replication, reproduction and appropriation in art, that the Wimbledon original remains at the Club, the champion takes home a reduced reproduction of the trophy, that is itself a copy.

Watching Wimbledon in Canary Wharf -
the new business district to the east
of the City

The trophy looks stunning doesn’t it … and I’d love to have a look at it with someone who can take me through the classical mythology story woven into this gilded, sterling silver salver.

I might have to rethink watching Wimbledon in the coming years ... and take a trip to watch this way.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday, 7 July 2017

Heavenly Scent … Attar of Roses …

We are now off to Bulgaria to imbue our senses with the heavenly scent of rose oil … to explore a fertile valley full of luscious bushes …

Rosa Damascene

… imagine walking through, riding on horseback, hiking along a trail … or now probably driving to take a tour … of a verdant plain covered with roses …

Fields of Roses

… first seeing the new foliage, then the soft buds, before in late May and early June the full blush of roses starting to flower … more and more as the days pass on … giving over the entire valley to a pink glow of rose …

I’m back to quoting Patrick Leigh Fermor from the last of his trilogy of books ‘The Broken Road’ … as he walked in the 1930s over the Great Balkan mountain ranges into this fertile valley …

Essentially Eastern Rumelia - which became absorbed into the country we know as Bulgaria.
Plovdiv and Kazanlak artistically blobbed in red! ... but you can get the gist of the topography

 The entire valley is covered with rose bushes, hundreds of thousands of them, all despoiled now by the long summer and fingers of the rose-harvesters;

Courtyard of Rose Museum in Kazanlak
For Kazanlak is one of the chief places in the world for attar of roses, that powerful distillation of rose oil which was so highly prized in the courts and harems of the Orient, especially in India and Persia.

The deep crimson, yellow-centred Damascus rose, famous for the sweetness and pungency of its scent, is the favourite flower for the attar …

… armies of men and women toil in the valley gathering the petals, culling them soon after dawn, before the high sun can drain them of the dew and the perfume which the night hours have been storing up.

Then in Kazanlak, these showers of petals are poured into enormous vats, the oil is collected … the precious remainder, like Calvados in autumn in Normandy, is distilled through a battery of alembics…

Distillation Equipment of Zosimos from the
15th C - Byzantine Greek manuscript
Codex Parisinus
… and so concentrated is the essence which finally emerges that it takes over three thousand pounds of rose petals to produce a single pound of attar.

The valuable elixir is then bottled in tiny gilt and cut-glass phials, a mere thread of attar to each, and sold, understandably for enormous prices.

The smell is captious, overpowering and a little cloying … at the heart of the rose harvest, everything in Kazanlak smells of it.

The valley is aswoon … the brightly coloured petals, bursting out of their sacks on the carts and wagons in which they are piled, scatter the dusty roads with rose pink escapees …

… ahead to the north lay the Shipka Balkan, and I was soon climbing through the woods of walnut, oak and beech, empty except for an occasional swineherd and a swarm of razor-thin pigs: dark hairy creatures rootling for beech nuts and acorns which crackled underfoot.

I hope like me … you can feel you were there with Fermor in his rose blossomed valley … before he walks north into the natural woodland decorating the low hill sides before the craggy mountains push their way forth towards the sky.

Rila Mountains - the source of the
Maritsa river which flows through
Plovdiv on its way to the Aegean Sea

After writing this I have a hankering to also visit Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, but in its recorded history usually known as Philippopolis, after Philip II of Macedon conquered it in 4th century BC.

The city was a Thracian settlement later being invaded by Persians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgarians, Slav-Vikings, Crusaders and Turks … that’s a right mix of genetic heredity!

Plovdiv nestled in its hills

Subsequently the Russians were added in to the mix … as they liberated Eastern Rumelia, a large swathe of land, from the rule of the Ottomans.

As the European Capital of Culture 2019 – Plovdiv’s history will be revealed to the world … and I am sure there will be tours to Kazanlak with its Rose Museum …

Lamartine House

… as well through the valley of crimson, yellow-centred Damascus roses through which the Tundzha river and its tributaries flow slowly meandering across the landscape.

Rose gathering

I can imagine this place … and as it is five years ago that my mother passed on … this is dedicated to her as she was passionate about her flowers as well as learning in any way she could.  

Imagine the scent from these freshly picked
Damascus Roses

We would have had some wonderful discussions following on from reading these sorts of articles – sadly I found Fermor too late … but I, at least, have found him …

I wouldn't mind driving this route ... but particularly would do
Number 3 Plovidv and along the valley north east to  Kazanlak

Our first flush of roses is over … beautiful they have been … now the next buds are bursting forth to bring us summer scents of heavenly wonder …

Rose Distillation Process ... Bulgarian Rose Otto

Atlas Obscura - Rose Museum Kazanlak

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories