This could be a tale of a faraway and exotic land. The story of how once I travelled across the seas from London to the Syrian desert - of how we strolled through the ruins of Palmyra; of how the soles of our feet pounded the ancient flagstones of Apamea; and we perched on the walls of Crac de Chevalier; of how we bought saffron and gold in the market at Aleppo. To think that only shadows of these places – places so steeped in spellbinding history – now survive, adds to the pathos of that tale.
In Damascus I bought a pound of dried rosebuds. They came wrapped in crinkly white paper and travelled in my handbag, through Heathrow customs, all the way back to South London. There I stored them in a jar on my kitchen shelf. For months. Then years. Eventually I binned the lot. Somehow too precious to cook with, they never made it to being more than a dusty reminder of a holiday.
Had I steeped the pretty pink rosebuds in water and sugar to make a syrup, a delicate ambrosia to sweeten freshly pressed lemonade on hot summers’ days, I could have told you a tale of Syrian roses and romance. But I didn’t. C’est la vie.
The fact is that holiday souvenirs don’t travel well. It’s as if the magic is rubbed off them in transit. Sangria tastes best on holiday in Spain, drunk late at night in a crowded bar. Straw baskets look chic in the souks of Marrakech – bring them back to the city and they suddenly seem tacky.
So instead, I give you the story of an English rose. And that’s a good story too. No adventure. No Laurence of Arabia romance. But lots of chocolate box and thatched cottage charm. The English rose does that so well. This year, Summer has come early to London: glorious, precious sunshine drenching the streets. It won’t last long. But while it does – flowers bloom across the city, and front gardens are filled with bushes that literally groan under the weight of overblown gothic roses.
So this isn’t a Syrian Rose lemonade. It’s an English summer drink. Made with fresh raspberries from the counties, lightly crushed so that they run ruby red juices. And a dash of scented rosewater. Garden rose petals frozen into ice cubes. And freshly pressed sharp lemon juice. It’s a drink of now. Of today. And of the comforting beauty of home.
- FOR THE SYRUP
- 100g caster sugar
- 100ml water
- 50g raspberries
- 1/3 tsp rosewater
- FOR THE LEMONADE
- 4 lemons
- 800ml water
- To make the syrup, pour the sugar, water and raspberries into a small saucepan and set over a medium heat. Leave to simmer gently for five minutes or so, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the colour of the raspberries has begun to seep into the syrup. Add the rosewater and stir again. Use a sieve to strain the syrup and throw out the fruit pulp. Set to one side - the syrup will keep for days in the fridge.
- Halve the lemons and squeeze the juice into a jug, then top with cold water, stir vigorously and add rose sugar syrup to taste. Serve over ice.