It was the rose-petal liqueur that did it, and set me off on the story. Far more than rosewater with a splash of gin, perfume pours from the glass. In the mouth, more roses, but all sort of caramel-ish undertones that give the taste shadows and depths.
The recipe came, purportedly, from Persia. The rose we used didn’t. Though there are Persian roses in the garden here, we used the most strongly scented one we’ve ever come across. She came, not from Persia, but from the Paris of 1881: Mme. Isaac Pereire.
She’s normally grown as a rather lax bush, and all the books say that that is what she is. No way. She’s as greedy as her namesake’s husband. We planted her by an apple tree that probably been in the garden since the late 18th century. Not wanting obscurity, she’s turned herself into a climber, and now pours flowers from even the apple’s uppermost branches.
She was a banker’s wife. Quite a banker, too – though swindler might be a better description. But, once widowed, she turned out to be quite a lady. The Pereires had arrived in Paris from Portugal in 1741. The first Pereire was a mathematician, and an inventor of a sign language for the deaf and dumb. His son prospered, and his grandsons could dabble in banking For a while they rivalled even the Rothschilds in wealth, and could, with them, finance the equally vast speculation in railway development. The boom was unsustainable. Banks began to fold. Between 1846 to 1848 alone, 829 banks folded. The Pereires had to start all over again. They looked for new fish to catch, especially in the the huge property speculation set off by the redevelopment of Paris set in train by Napoleon III in 1850’s. They invented a company called the ‘Credit Mobilier’, which tapped the money hidden under the beds of the middle classes, many of whom were terrified of the social upheavals that wracked the teeming capital. The Pereires were back in the swim. Isaac married. They soon had hands in yet more railways, more steamboats, more property, and, it must be said, more hospitals and more charities. The New York Times of Wednesday, July 13, 1880, reported Isaac’s death. His young widow cannot have had too much consolation from the naming of rose after her in the following year.
She retired to the Chateau d’Armainvilliers, but had by no means ‘retired’. She became interested in flying machines, and financed the development of the extraordinary ‘L’Eole’, with bat-like wings, but a propellor for propulsion. Designed by Clement Ader, it’s first (and possibly only) flight was in the grounds of her estate. The strange machine managed to be airborne for fifty five yards.
Quite a woman. Quite a rose.
And it’s quite a liqueur – but it fills us with curiosity. After all, it’s a Persian recipe, so what about trying it with ‘Rose de Resht, or ‘Ispahan’, or other ancient Middle Eastern rose. What about Rosa officinalis, more ancient still? What about modern tea roses, with those delicious high notes of perfume. Or drowsily scented Japanese ‘rugosa’ roses – ‘Roseraie de L’Hay’ especially. Then, what about colour? Our liqueur is a tawny red, so what about using white roses – ‘Mme Hardy’, say, or ‘Alba Maxima’? So, the garden needs yet more roses. And very much less rain.
Meanwhile, here’s the recipe, from what is now called Zahedan: Pick a dozen or two highly scented roses. Pick them early in the morning, before the sun has drawn out the perfume. Don’t pick them the day after a rain. Separate the petals and remove the white and yellow parts from the ends, the stamen region [I used kitchen scissors to do this to whole flowers]. Be sure the petals are dry, then put them into a glass half-gallon or gallon jar and pour a quart of neutral spirits over them. Cover well and put in a dark place. Stir once or twice a week for about four weeks.
Then take another dozen scented roses and remove the white and yellow parts from the petals. Dissolve 3 cups sugar in 2 cups water in an enamel pot with a well-fitting cover, and put the rose petals into the liquid. Cover the pot, and bring to a boil, then let simmer gently for an hour. Strain both the rose-petal brandy and the rose-petal syrup into a uitable jar, so that the two blend. Cover lightly for about 12 hours, then bottle. Cork well.’
Well, I used cheap gin. Next time, though, I will use Bombay Sapphire as the base… should give an even better taste.