The idea of cooking with roses is not new.  Historically, roses have been used to create culinary delights for centuries.  One of the earliest recordings of culinary usage dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, around the 7th century BC.  Here, roses are described as an essential ingredient in the pharmaceuticals of the day in the Cuneiform tablets of the era.

   By the 10th century, rose water had become a commonly used flavor for cakes, cookies and pastries.  During the medieval period, rose flavoring was used extensively in poultry, game, and fish recipes.  Royal chefs prepared many main courses with roses and added the flavoring to desserts such as pastries and candies.  Rose preserves also enjoyed popularity during that time.

   In the 19th century, roses were widely used as a flavoring agent in tea, candy, pastry, oil, conserves, and sauces.  Rose flavored honey became a popular preserve for ham, and rose flavored vinegar dressed greens and vegetable dishes.  The culinary usage of roses was probably at its zenith during the Victorian period, which lasted from 1837 to 1901.

   At that time, rose gardens were a necessary part of an elegant lifestyle.  Stylish ladies met for afternoon teas in parlors that were decked with fresh cut roses. During good weather tea could be taken in outdoor gardens, where roses abounded.  Rose flavoring was an elegant addition to the food and beverages being served.  Rose motifs were prevalent in fabrics, ladies clothing, and hats.  In the home, rose designs graced the table linens, china, upholstery fabrics, draperies and carpets.  Roses were everywhere! 

   During their time together, women spoke intimately and freely in the confines of their rose gardens.  And this liberating feeling extended itself to parlors adorned with roses.  This custom seems to stem from an earlier time when the practice of hanging a rose over a council table ensured all who were present that anything discussed would remain secret and within the confines of the room.  Later, this translated into plaster roses which were placed in the center of ceilings around the light fixtures of dining tables.  The term sub rosa is a Roman term that literally means "under the rose".  Like many things, the Romans borrowed the idea from the Greeks.  And these same ideas found themselves popular centuries later.

   Using roses in food began to steadily decline when the Victorian era came to an end.  In general, the medicinal use of flowers and herbs fell out of favor, being replaced with new modern medicines.  The world plunged into war, and in the food realm, the rose became a wallflower.  However, this does not dismiss the fact that the rose still carries attributes that have been proven to benefit not only the emotional body, but the physical body as well.  We know that roses affect us emotionally.  So, once again, the physical benefits are being re-discovered, prompting  the onset of many clinical studies based on the historical uses.  Currently, most of these studies occur outside the United States, mainly in France and England.

   Thank goodness many cultures continued to, and still use rose as a flavoring today.  The subtle flavor of rose is woven into the recipes of Indian, Middle Eastern, Persian, and Turkish cuisines.  Now, the rose flavor is experiencing a comeback, especially in baking.  Rose flavoring gently graces some of the finest pastries created today in the world's most exquisite European bakeries.  Recent interest in herbs and natural, healthy diets may indicate that now is a good a time to re-discover the rose in the kitchen.  Truly, it is time to slow down, and not only smell the roses, but to taste the roses!  I hope you enjoy this journey as much as I have!