“I don’t know if you’ll like this, “ Julie said a little hesitantly. “It‘s a conserve of roses. You can put just a little on top of the melon and let it melt down.”
Like it? It was sheer heaven on a steamy morning in Brooklyn.
I had just arrived at Julie Sahni’s studio for an all day cooking class, when she put a small bowl of icy-cold cantaloupe chunks into my hand. On the counter there was a spoon and a non-descript white plastic container labeled Super Tower Gulkand.
Inside was a strange brown sticky substance, the consistency of thick, almost crystallized jam.
I tasted it, and suddenly roses filled my mouth.
Lately we’ve been having tropical storms at night, with impressive sheet lightning and growling thunder. The rain is welcome, but in the morning when I open the door and step outside, it’s like walking into a warm, vaporous cloud.
The idea of chilled melon with rose jam for breakfast seems coolly exotic.
Gulkand is a sugary conserve of rose petals from Pakistan and North India. (Wikipedia says that gul means “flower” in Persian, and qand is “sweet” in Arabic.) It is made by layering fragrant petals with sugar in a glass jar and letting the mixture rest in the sun—some say for a few days, others for 3 to 4 weeks—until the sugar melts into the roses and the petals turn brown and sticky.
One of the centers of gulkand manufacturing is Ajmer, a city in Rajasthan, not far from Pushkar, where fields of exquisitely fragrant Bourbon Roses are grown on the banks of Lake Anasagar. The city is famed for the elaborate white marble dargah or shrine to Mu’inuddin Chisti , a 12th century Sufi mystic also known as “Benefactor of the Poor.”
In legend the saint is said to have defeated an evil wizard by turning his weapons—burning coals—into crimson roses, the Sufi symbol of the soul. On a blog which chronicles The Idea of India project, photojournalist Asim Rafiqui writes: “The dargah at Ajmer remains the only shrine in India where garlands and handfuls of roses are thrown at the tombstone. An act of devotion and repentance, and act of reconciliation and atonement.” The dargah, he says, is a “shared sacred site” and “source of healing” for both Hindus and Muslims, a sweet spot, as it were, in an environment of growing sectarian violence.
The stunning photographs of the roses on Rafiqui’s blog were taken by Britt Sloan, a photographer and student in International Relations at Tufts University. At her own blog, Lal Gulab, you can also read about the remarkable two weeks she spent among the rose sellers of Ajmer.
Well, back to breakfast. The gulkand is lovely eaten with cold, ripe cantaloupe. But I was also intrigued by Julie’s mention of serving it with a mixture of sweet and sour fruit, such as Granny Smith apples and pomegranate, a dish to brighten any winter morning.
A delicious sweet and sour summer fruit bowl can be made by combining chunks of ripe honeydew and cantaloupe with tart raspberries or blackberries and adding a teaspoon or two of rose conserve softened in a little hot water. It’s also good with ripe peaches and nectarines, especially if they are slightly on the tart side. And if you should happen upon ripe apricots—a rare occurrence these days—cut them half, remove the pit and place a spoonful of gulkand in the center.
Incidentally, Ayurvedic practitioners believe that gulkand is a cooling substance, good for calming volatile pitta types whose fire burns especially hot during the summer months. It’s also said to reduce eye inflammation and redness, heal ulcers of the mouth and strengthen teeth and gums. Even better, the aroma of the rose soothes the brain and heart.
But really, on mornings when the temperature starts out near 80 degrees, it doesn’t matter you are pitta, vata or any other type—you just want to get cool.
This is the way to do it.
Summer Fruit with Indian Rose Conserve
Serves one or two people
2 slices ripe cantaloupe, very cold, cut into ½ inch chunks
2 slices ripe honeydew melon, very cold, cut into ½ inch chunks
9 or 10 raspberries or blackberries
2 teaspoons gulkand (see note)
1 teaspoon hot water
1. Combine the fruit in a bowl.
2. Mix the gulkand and hot water in a small dish. The gulkand should be just slightly runny.
3. Spoon over the fruit and enjoy.