Local Ingredient: Rose petals

Always smell the roses first; then eat them.

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Edible rose petals can be used in many recipes. —Courtesy Catherine Walthers

Many seem surprised that rose petals fall into the ranks of edible flowers. The petals can be used as beautiful garnishes, or lend their floral scent to a number of dishes and cocktails. On the Vineyard, this spring specialty comes wild and free.

Though all rose petals are edible, you want to make sure you find chemical-free and unsprayed flowers, and petals that retain that pleasant rose scent. For this reason, the untamed Rosa rugosa bushes you see at the shore or along paths to the beach with pink or white flowers make a good source. The rose blossoms on this nonnative, invasive plant eventually become small, orange rosehips, also edible and used in teas or jam.

It’s fun to experiment with the sweet-scented rose petals in the kitchen. Past years’ tests included strawberry-rose yogurt lassis and rose-flavored Pavlovas, a meringue-based dessert you can top with whipped cream and garnish with seasonal berries and rose petals. Some other ideas I saw online include rose petal sangria, rose petal jam, candied petals, rose cupcakes, and rose honey.

I noticed this year’s first blossoms on Memorial Day weekend, and picked a handful. They ended up in a potluck dish. I made a batch of homemade hummus, spread it thinly on a platter, and topped it with ruby-colored pomegranate seeds, pink rose petals, and purple chive blossoms. Quite a few people commented on the presentation, and the plate was empty by the end of dinner.

Rose petals have a deep culinary history in a number of countries, including Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. They’re used to add aroma to tagines, rice pilafs, puddings, and other dairy-based desserts such as panna cotta. Rose petals might be dried for later use, added to spice mixes, or turned into rose water, which you typically find in Middle Eastern stores.

Though I haven’t yet made rose water, I have made rose syrup and experimented with it in cocktails. This is as simple as dissolving sugar in boiling water and steeping the rose petals. The syrup retains that floral, ethereal quality, much like the popular St.-Germain, a liqueur made from elderflower blossoms. Our favorite cocktail was gin, fresh lime juice, cucumber, and rose syrup, aptly named the Vineyard Rose.

A few things to remember: The season doesn’t last long, so experiment now or save a few to dry or turn into rose water or syrup. A little goes a long way. A hint of flavor or fragrance is all that’s needed.

Vineyard Rose

Recipe by Harmony Dawn of Booze Epoque cocktail catering company and Catherine Walthers

The Vineyard Rose cocktail. —Courtesy Catherine Walthers

Serves 1

½ fresh lime

2 Tbsp. diced cucumber

1 oz. Rose Syrup*

1½ oz. gin

touch of club soda

Squeeze the lime into a shaker glass. Add the diced cucumber and rose syrup, and muddle until cucumber releases juices. Add the gin and fill halfway with ice. Shake well and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Top with some club soda.

* Rose Syrup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1½ cups rose petals

Add water and sugar to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the burner and add the rose petals to steep. Let cool. Pour the syrup with the rose petals into a quart-size Mason jar. Store in the fridge for 3 to 4 weeks.

Strawberry Rose Lassi

Serves 1

For a creamy lassi, it is best to purée the strawberries and rose with a bit of water. Then stir in the yogurt. Blending yogurt tends to thin it out too much.

1 cup strawberries, stemmed and roughly cut up

2 Tbsp. water

2 tsp. Rose Syrup* (or 8-10 rose petals plus 1 Tbsp. honey)

½ cup Mermaid Farm yogurt

Place the strawberries, water, and rose syrup (or rose petals and honey) into a blender and purée. Pour into a glass, add the yogurt, and mix with a spoon. Add additional honey if needed.