Long Red Radishes from Italy, Angelica for the Bugs, and Roses for Preserves

long red radishI should have photographed these before they started to bolt, but they’re still lovely, aren’t they? The variety is Ravanello Candela di Fuoco, and the seeds were a gift from Charlene Murdock and Richard White of Nana Cardoon. Before the radishes get old and woody, they are mild, tender, and delicious. Charlene said she cooks with their pods, which I will try pickling.

If you want to attract beneficial insects to your garden, consider planting some angelica. As I’ve written before, this big, umbellliferous herb is good for candying, making into liqueurs and preserves, and even as eating as a vegetable. Besides all that, insects love the flower heads. Stopping for a minute beside my angelica plants today, I saw bees and flies—several species of each—and wasps, beetles, and more. I wish I had an entomologist on hand to tell me exactly what all these creatures are doing.

angelica with beetle

angelica with flyangelica with honeybee

moss roseOn a visit to an “heirloom” rose nursery yesterday I was disappointed to find more modern roses—such as miniatures and deep purple monstrosities—than old-fashioned varieties. I left with two David Austin cultivars, but just a mile down the road I had to stop to inhale the scent from a big patch of native nootkas, and back at home I admired my lovely moss rose, which came back after years of continuous mowing by the man from whom we bought this farm. I’ll probably use a few of the moss roses along with rugosas and nootkas when I make rose preserves this evening.

Baked Rhubarb-Rose Preserves

Thanks to yet another cool, damp June—the new normal for our region?—the moss rose outside my kitchen window has been putting on a lovely show for the past several weeks. I’m never satisfied just looking at the pillowy pink flowers, burst from inconceivably slender mossy buds, and inhaling their delicious scent. I have to eat them, too.

So a couple of weeks ago I put up several pints of strawberry-rose jam and thought, What next? My rhubarb plants had been drinking up the rain and growing monstrous. Last year I combined roses and rhubarb with strawberries in a heavenly jam. Now I wondered how rhubarb and roses would work as a duo.

I considered a recipe I’d jotted down from Margaret Rudkin’s old Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. All my life I’ve been eating rhubarb sauce made on the stovetop. Sauce is the right word for the stuff, because rhubarb breaks down with brief boiling to a greenish, reddish, fibrous mush. As a child I loved this springtime alternative to applesauce. But rhubarb sauce, as I’d always known it, was ugly.

Margaret cooked her rhubarb in the oven, she wrote, and the pieces stayed handsomely intact. With the addition of pink or red roses, maybe I could both improve the color of the rhubarb and make the flavor more interesting. And why not can the result to enjoy months later?

So I created the recipe that follows. The roses intensify the red of the rhubarb without disguising the green, and the rosy scent balances the sour and sweet tastes. Served on pound cake or sponge cake, baked rhubarb with rose petals looks nearly as elegant as it tastes and smells.

Baked Rhubarb-Rose Preserves

2 pounds rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 cup sugar
2 ounces pink or red fragrant rose petals, their bases clipped, if they’re thick

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the rhubarb pieces and sugar in a baking dish, and put the dish into the hot oven.

After 30 minutes, add the rose petals, and turn the mixture gently. Bake about 15 minutes more, until the rhubarb is tender but still intact. Spoon the mixture into hot mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Be sure to run a chopstick or plastic stick around the inner surface of the jar to free trapped air. Process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.