When I carved out my half-a-postage-stamp plot of a garden two years ago, I did so with visions of chard plants and tomatoes dancing in my mind.
Save for the odd hosta to fill in the shady gaps, my garden would be dedicated to veggies. Flowers need not apply for a spot of earth here. Vegetables were practical — edible — and seemingly, more satisfying to grow than the eye candy of colourful petals.
My perspective changed when I sat down to breakfast on the first day of my German visit nearly three weeks ago. My aunt Sigrun had laid out an impressive spread of breads, meats (for my husband), eggs, cheeses and homemade jams.
The usual suspects were there in her collection of preserves. Strawberry. Apricot. Mirabel plum. But there was one, a deep purpley-pink, that I didn’t recognize. It smelled fragrant and just as foreign as it looked. It was the product of no fruit I was familiar with. I slathered it on a piece of bread anyway and smacked my lips at its flowery essence and tang.
Turns out, it wasn’t fruit that deserved the credit but the full, blooming bush of pink Hansa roses in my aunt’s backyard. I was eating rose blossom jelly. Food made by a flower I had chalked up to being nothing more than a pretty face.
Nearly every day it seemed, Sigrun would pluck 10 full, perfumed blooms, lay them out in a plastic container, add sugar, Cognac and red wine. She’d leave them to marinade in their alcoholic bath on the sunny windowsill in her kitchen. The blossoms radiated the rosiest bouquet, like Airwick rose-scented air freshener, so heavy and syrupy — a parody of what a real rose would smell like. And yet, it was a real rose casting it.
My aunt would strain and bottle the drunken concoction four hours later. Rosenbowle or Ansatz, she called it, and when she and my uncle, Eckhard, had deemed it time to celebrate something, they would add a shot of it to a glass of sparkling wine, giving the straw-coloured bubbly a magenta tinge and sweet, floral essence. It can also be sipped on its own as a summertime elixir.
The liqueur can be boiled down, thickening it just enough to be worthy of being spread on a slice of crusty bread at the breakfast table.
The generosity of the Hansa rose doesn’t end there. In the fall, the blooms leave a fruit behind — rosehips — that can also be used for jam.
Beauty, booze and food — what more could someone ask for in a flower. And so my search begins for a Hansa rose bush, a worthy companion for all that chard.
10 fragrant hansa roses
1/2 cup sugar
1 glass Cognac
1 litre dry red wine
Cover the roses with sugar, douse them with the Cognac and add the red wine. Leave for 3-4 hours. Strain through cheesecloth. Bottle and keep refrigerated.