I was inspired by my visit to the Dvor Duboković to have a go at making my own rose liqueur. Their Rožolin was rather wonderful, and although we had bought a bottle to enjoy later, it was all too small. The process, as they told it, seemed simple enough, and I have some lovely fragrant old roses in my own garden. Come the end of May I had my starter kit of harvested rose petals, sugar and a big jar all ready.
Here’s the basic instructions for Rožolin, as made on the island of Hvar:
Layer rose petals and sugar in a jar. Sit in sunshine for 6 months. Keep topping up the layers. Strain, add rakija to taste and bottle. Drink!
The simplicity of the steps is deceptive, and the issues became all too clear in my own kitchen. OK, so for a start, do I wash the petals, or put them in the jar as is? Last year I tried both ways, and discovered that adding extra water is a not good idea – better to put your petals in straight from the garden. And then, last summer at our place didn’t start as hot as usual, so I was left with my jars sitting under cloudy skies for weeks. I really didn’t like the way things were developing, with the petals starting to turn brown and soggy. And how exactly do you strain solid sugar? Did they perhaps forget to tell me something?
So after a few months, I gave up on the traditional method. Rather than waste everything, I tipped the contents of the jars into a pan, and boiled up the mixture. Straining out the petals gave a rose syrup with a faint tinge of pink and a light fragrance. Some of the rose syrup I simply bottled, thinking it would be useful to have a non-alcoholic version, and to the rest I added some brandy and bottled as rose liqueur.
Based on last year’s efforts, I learned two things. One is that my version of the rose liqueur, while quite drinkable, is not a patch on the sublime original that I enjoyed so much at Dvor Duboković. Just what you’d expect, really! Clearly I need several years more experience, and to be more selective in my choice of roses. The soft fragrances are not good enough, it needs to be a rose with a more intense scent.
Secondly, I’ve discovered what a wonderful ingredient rose syrup is for summer desserts! A spoonful or two in a fresh fruit salad turns it into something really special and I’m now planning to try rose ice cream! It’s good, too, in drinks – add to home-made lemonade or to a simple mineral water for a refreshingly different cordial. As I top up this year’s jars (thankfully in sunshine!), I’m planning to make more rose syrup, less liqueur this time round.