One of the most traditional kind of Greek desserts is called “glyko tou koutaliou” (exact translation is “dessert of the spoon”). It is usually fruit (or certain vegetables), cut in chunks, grated, or kept whole with their skin left on and slowly boiled in a sugar syrup, lemon added in the end. They say it has its origins in ancient Greece and since then the traditional housewives kept this way of preserving excess fruit or vegetable.
It got its name by the way it was served. They used to serve it in a big bowl, with many spoons around and everyone grabbed a spoon and got their share. Now it is more often served in small individual portions (the quantity of a tea spoon) in small plates with some of its syrup and a glass of water on the side. If you ever visit a monastery in Greece, this dessert is a typical treat for their guests. Alternatively, we use it as a topper over yoghurt, panna cotta, ice cream, tarts etc. It can be made with a variety of different fruit (or vegetables). Especially popular are the ones that are not usually eaten raw due to their bitterness or because they are still unripe (like citron, bitter orange, quince, sour cherries), but you can also make this dessert with common fruit like strawberries, watermelon, grapes, figs, cherries or even with tomatoes, carrots or a special type of small eggplant called, “melinzanaki”.
One of the most popular choices and a personal favorite is made of fresh rose pedals, which is also called “rodozachari” (exact translation: “rose-sugar”)! In certain parts of Greece it is custom to make this sugared rose dessert in order to welcome a newborn baby-girl. Tradition says that this will bless the girl with rose-pink cheeks, sweetness and an irresistible scent!!!
Roses are among the flowers that are edible. We use them in desserts, to make syrups or liqueur, we use rosewater and rose essential oil to add flavor to our food and let’s not forget about the tea! Rose hips (the flowers which have swollen to seed) are an excellent source of vitamins A, B3, C, D and E. They also contain bioflavonoids, citric acid, flavonoids, fructose, malic acid, tannins and zinc. Taken in the form of tea they are good for infections, particularly bladder infections. Rose hip tea is also used in the treatment of diarrhea. The rose also offers a soothing property to the nerves and emotional /psychological state of mind. It is regarded as a mild sedative and anti-depressant. It is increasingly used in treatments for conditions of stress: nervous tension, peptic ulcers, heart disease. There is indication that rose essence may also positively influence digestion, bile secretion, womb disorders and circulation.
I was recently invited to stay at a friend’s house in the island of Mykonos. A house with the most beautiful garden and the most beautiful roses!!! They had a basket full of fresh rose pedals with a unique aroma! Roses are at their best in May and that’s also the right season to make this sweet jam-like dessert. So we decided to go for it. I had never made it before, but a couple of years ago I watched a Greek documentary on the traditional way of making this particular dessert. So I had some notes on it.
The recipe is very simple. And the result was delicious! I really-really enjoyed making it and I promise your hands will smell amazing after! It’s very important to use roses from your garden or from a garden you know of, because the ones in the market are full of chemicals.
The best period to pick roses for culinary (or beauty) use is between May and September and the best time for it is in the morning, when they are extra fresh! The colour of the roses you will choose to use, will also determine the colour of your dessert and the more fragrant the roses, the more aromatic your dessert! I used red and pink and a few yellow, which didn’t really affect the final colour.
Before I go on with the recipe, I would like to express my gratitude for all this beauty our nature offers to us. It is our duty to preserve it, appreciate it and enjoy it!
Here is the recipe:
4 cups of rose petals
4 cups of sugar
2 cups of water
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 drops rose essential oil (optional, if you wish to add more aroma)
Separate the petals. Use only the ones that look fresh and healthy. Wash them well, but gently and let them dry completely. Cut the white bottom part of the petals (it’s a bit bitter). Put them in a large bowl or tray and add the sugar. Knead them well with your hands until it becomes a solid, sticky paste. This will take a while but it’s really fun and the beautiful aromas will just make your day! Once ready let it stand in the sun for about an hour. Keep an eye on it because insects will just love it!
Put it in a pot and add the water. Let it boil in low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the syrup sets (about 45 minutes). Add the lemon juice and allow it to simmer for another couple of minutes. Remove from heat and allow it cool. If you like, you can add the rose essential oil. Transfer it in sterilized glass jars and seal them, as you would do with a jam.
Special thanks to Itai and Grigoris for the photos!