Roses at the Dinner Table

Roses at the Dinner Table

It's time to pull the roses out of the centerpiece and put them in your mouth. Waitwaitwaitwaitwait--don't do it literally--at least until you know where those roses have been.

Like pansies and nasturtiums, roses ARE edible, but don't eat any flowers that have been recently treated with pesticides or fungicides, or ones that have been treated with a systemic insecticide. If you're not sure about your roses, just admire them in the vase--it's better to be safe than poisoned. If your roses are okay, though, you're in for a treat.

One of the best things about roses is that they taste just like they smell. So when you're choosing roses to adorn your plate, skip those odorless florist varieties and grab roses fresh from the garden, be they tea, damask, or floribunda. These are roses that are dewy and redolent of all the sensual history of their past--and a sensual history it is.

Cleopatra, for one, was convinced of their romantic powers, and used them as an essential part of her seduction of Anthony, covering the palace floor knee deep in the petals to welcome him home. That's probably a little extravagant for a modern homecoming, but there is something undeniably romantic about the fragrance of roses. Some have a fragrance that's musky, some are sweet and some are light. And to me, they are truer and more heady and romantic than any perfume.

This recipe takes full advantage of roses' best qualities. Here they lend romance to game hens and combine with the garlic and thyme to give them a delicate, intriguing flavor. As they bake, the scent of the roses gently permeates the meat and perfumes the kitchen, which is an exquisite combination. Serve this meal to your lover or your loved ones and you'll win their stomachs, if not their hearts.

Game Hens with Rose Stuffing
6 Game Hens
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 cups rose petals
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime

2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons corn starch
1/2 cup rose water
1/4 cup whole toasted almonds
2 cups rose petals

10 Steps to Beautiful Roses

The rose has inspired artists, writers, and composers for centuries. Now you can join the ranks of those inspired gardeners who cultivate roses in their own garden. Whether you’re a novice gardener wanting to know the basics or a seasoned horticulturalist looking for tips on improving your blooms, the author’s expert advice offers all the know-how you’ll need.

Rinse the poultry and pat it dry. For the stuffing, chop the thyme, the rose petals and the garlic together, then stir in the lime juice and the salt. Rub this mixture on the skin and in the cavity of the birds.

Arrange the birds in a large baking dish, then prepare the sauce. To make it, first sauté the garlic in the butter until it is translucent. Stir in the almonds and the cornstarch, then remove from heat. Add the rose water, the whole rose petals (reserving a few for garnish) and stir gently. The smell of this is intoxicating--you may not know whether to eat it or dab it behind your ears. Save it for the birds, though. I like it, but not everyone appreciates Parfum Rose eau du Garlique.

Pour 1/2 of this over the hens, cover them with foil and let them marinate for two hours. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, then uncover the birds, turn and bake for another 10 minutes.

When the hens are done, reheat the remaining sauce. Place the hens on the serving platter or individual plates and drizzle the sauce over them. Sprinkle with the reserved rose petals and serve for a meal tantalizing to the eye, the nose and the tongue.

Instead of game hens, you can also use boneless chicken breasts if you like. Pound them out flat, spread the stuffing on the breast and roll it up, pouring the sauce over it before baking.

As for the rosewater, it can be bought at specialty shops, but it's expensive. You can make your own version--an infusion, really--from two cups of rose petals and two cups of water. It's simple--you make it just like you brew a cup of tea. First, rinse the petals and place them in a ceramic bowl. Next, bring the water to a boil then pour over the rose petals. Cover and let them steep for at least 30 minutes, then strain (I use a coffee filter-lined colander) and it's ready to use. It will keep for several weeks in the fridge, and it's great for splashing into iced tea or tossing with fresh fruit for a quick refreshing salad.

The rosy game hen recipe is similar to one found in Laura Esquivel's book, Like Water for Chocolate, in which the heroine uses it to communicate her passion to her forbidden lover. It's a book filled with passion--for food and for life--and I heartily recommend it to any one who enjoys either.

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