The Circle of Life

My grandmother just died.

She was on my Turkish side. On the other side I’m Jewish. My grandmother’s death comes at an interesting time in the year Jewishly-speaking because this Friday is Passover- a holiday that celebrates spring and rebirth. It has me thinking about cycles, seasons… People are born and later they die. Or that’s been my mantra lately, anyway.

I was with my grandmother in her last days. I didn’t tell her this until the very last lucid day we ever spent together, but when I see my own hands, I see my mother’s hands and my grandmother’s hands. It has been years since my grandmother used her hands in the kitchen the way she used to, but there was a time when those hands executed glorious Turkish recipes. A lot of the most traditional recipes that Turko grannies pass down through the ages really live in the hands. It’s such meticulous and laborious work and requires things like repetitive grape leaf rolling, or brushing hundreds of phyllo layers with butter, or various forms of shaping and coiffing. It’s not like braising or curing when you prep a bunch of ingredients and then step aside as flavors marry.

Three generations of long, bony fingers the week before my grandmother’s death.

When I was little our family often visited my grandparents in Michigan in the summertime. No matter how late at night we pulled up to the house, my brother and I were greeted by face-smushing and double cheek-kissing and Turklish cooing and of course, The Spread.

The Spread in the kitchen indicated that my grandmother had been prepping Turko food for days. My mom would walk my brother and I down the length of the counter, listing the ingredients in various dishes and serving us according to our nods. On one of those visits I remember asking my mom about an unmarked jar.

“Gül reçeli” my grandmother told us. Rose petal jam. I must have been in second grade and I can still feel my eyes popping out of their sockets. You can eat roses? Game changer.

I have no idea if my grandmother talked me through her method at that point, but in my eight year-old imagination my grandma waded through rose bushes- battling thorns and bees- and then bled over thousands of tiny petals as she alchemized them into something mind-bogglingly fragrant and delicious. My grandmother was a badass. And she was good with her hands.

My Anne Anne was eighty-years old here and essentially a beauty queen. On her deathbed everyone who encountered her agreed she was the most beautiful dying person they’d ever seen.

I’ve tried to source rose petals for cooking before but I have never succeeded and haven’t thought much about it. Last week I was hanging in The Garden with my buddies as Charlie was inspecting the newly-blooming rose vines that cover a chainlink fence. “You can eat these, you know,” he said.

“Excuuuse me?” I said.

I totally froze as every rose recipe I’d ever lusted after passed before my eyes. I talked myself down. “One atta time, lady.”

This year my already radikal seder plate is going to include a wee dish of homemade rose petal jam 😉

If my Passover guests are feeling savvy on Friday night, they’ll tell me, “elinize sağlık” which is the Turkish expression for thanking a cook for a good meal. The literal meaning? Blessings on your hands.

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Click Here for Rose Petal Jam Recipe Courtesy of Binnur’s Turkish Kitchen

Notes on recipe selection:
I always read a lot of recipes- especially when I’m working with a precious ingredient. For something like rose petal jam, I suggest recipes with the fewest ingredients and simplest methods because the goal is to just let those purdy roses shine. I skipped recipes with added pectin or rose waters and syrups. No need to buoy these flavors! They’re fresh off the vine.

Notes on method:
The most labor-intensive part of this recipe was washing the petals. I spent 40-minutes lovin’ on those little guys. I wanted to do right by them and that meant soaking, rinsing and hand-sifting through the pile for the teeny yellow stamen bits. When I was satisfied I used my salad spinner to give ’em a stylish blow-out. I used to hate washing and drying salad leaves (petals in this case) but since I’ve discovered the beauty of The Garden’s mottled lettuce leaves, I’ve found new pleasure in the process. Being thorough in the wash and dry/fluff process is the only way to get these dirty little friends cleaned-up and into their Sunday best.



3 thoughts on “The Circle of Life

  1. aaawww…. food and family and community, they all belong together. This is so beautifully written! It is a wonderful mixture of your love for food/cooking and the memory of your grandmother. She will be proud of you for this.


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