A few days ago I attempted a whole new kind of kitchen experiment (I even showed a picture of the equipment I was preparing to use here). Now I’m back to report how it went and share instructions!
I constructed a very basic kind of still on my stovetop. To distill rosewater. This is something I’ve never even attempted before, but I was willing to give it a shot, in part because I have a small cache of recipes I’d like to try that require rosewater. You can buy it, of course, and I thought about doing so, but a while back a friend moved into a house with a huge rosebush. I mentioned this process to her and Rebekah said I was welcome to roses. And really. Why not at least try to make it myself first, especially since I already had instructions lying around?
It really was not terribly difficult, to my relief (and a bit of surprise) once I had all the necessary pieces together (and cleaned – I spent a good bit of my morning scrubbing a brick). It also made my kitchen smell like ROSE, although not unpleasantly so.
Equipment-wise, you will need:
• A (very) large pot
• A domed lid (with no vent; it does not have to fit the pot precisely, mine was slightly too big)
• A glass or metal bowl (heat safe, really; it must fit inside the pot without touching the sides)
• A brick
• Ice (I didn’t measure, I think I used around 6-8 cups)
In addition to your rose petals, and water.
To assemble your still:
Put the very large pot on the stove (get it where you want it, moving it afterwards is possible but easier to do it now) then centre the brick lying at the bottom.
Arrange your (clean) rose petals around the brick, then put the bowl on top of it.
Pour in enough water that if rose petals did not float, it would be just covering them (a rough guess is fine).
Top it off with the lid, inverted so that the dome is curving down into the pot.
Bring the water and roses to a gentle boil, then drop some of your ice on top of the lid and lower the heat slightly. The ice will cool the steam, which is carrying the rose oil from the petals, condensing the rosewater inside the pot, which will run down the underside of the lid and drip down into your awaiting bowl. I could doubly tell my roses were ready because when I checked on them (the steam clouded my view through the glass lid, so I lifted one edge for a brief peek to be sure they were boiling) the small billow of escaping steam smelled like ROSE – the scent was strong enough to physically sting in my sinuses for a moment.
Continue gently boiling the roses, adding more ice as necessary (and disposing of the melted water before it overflows; I did this using a towel, as removing the lid even briefly would disrupt the process, and wrung out the water in the sink) until the condensation begins to lose its strong scent of roses. Do not boil off all the water (not even close). It took somewhere between 20-30 minutes, for me, and the specific rose petals I had. (I suspect different types of roses contain more/less rose oil and the amount and type of rose petals you have would change the time needed.)
When you have collected all the rosewater, turn off the heat. I moved my still over to a cool spot on the stovetop (fortunately I have a glass-top stove and it was relatively easy without risking knocking anything about inside). I recommend letting the whole thing cool for a little while before you try to do anything further than take the lid off – carefully, because the handle will be inside, and it will still be hot.
Once it has all cooled, carefully remove the bowl, inspect your rosewater (it should be colourless or almost colourless) and pour it into whatever container you have standing ready. My research suggests that it will keep for about a month in the fridge, and freezes well. (I’ll update this if personal experience contradicts.)
The petals, by the way, will have lost much of their colour and will look like ghost roses.
The colour will mostly have boiled out into the water. As a matter of curiosity, the rosewater will smell (and taste) like roses, of course – but water they were boiled in will smell and taste like ‘flowers’. More akin to getting a mouthful of petals and pollen than specifically roses.
And there you have rosewater! I haven’t yet tried any of the experiments I have waiting for this ingredient (its uses are pretty varied, including desserts and drinks and skin treatments) but I plan to embark upon the first one this afternoon.
Wish me luck – I’ll let you know how it goes!