by Rachel Hertzberg, Bryn Mawr student and Wyck’s Summer 2018 Collections Intern
Wyck is famous for its beautiful rose garden. When in full bloom, the flowers are a delight for the senses: colorful, fragrant, and delicate. But long before Wyck’s heritage garden was planted, roses were more than just beautiful to observe. They had many practical uses as well. Hannah Marshall Haines, who married into the family in 1725, kept a “receipt book,” or a recipe book, that shows how she incorporated roses into her housekeeping.
Otto of Roses
Otto of Roses is another name for rose oil, a sweet-smelling perfume. The word “otto” comes from the Persian word atr, meaning “essence” or “perfume”. In a recipe dating from between 1810 and 1830, Hannah describes extracting Otto of Roses through a method of water distillation that took up to a week to complete. Hannah must have been enchanted by the heavenly scent of the perfume, as she was willing to undertake such a laborious process to obtain it.
A large glazed earthen or stone jar, or a clean wooden cash [referring to a chest or box, like a cash-box] must be filled with the leaves of the rose flowers, corolla [the inner petals], which should be previously be carefully freed from all stalks, seeds, or dirt.
On the leaves pure spring water must be poured until they are covered. The vessel must be set in the sun from sunrise till sunset, when it should be taken in for the night. This must be continued for seven days, in succession. In 3 or 4 days after the first exposure, a number of particles of oily matter of a fine yellow color will be observed to float on the surface, and in 2 or 3 days more, that matter will form into a scum [a floating layer] which is the Otto of roses.
It can be taken up by some cotton tied to the end of a stick, and squeezed with the finger and thumb, into a small phial which should be well stopped. This must be repeated, till all the Essential Oil, which floats on the surface is removed.
By this simple, unexpensive process, may be obtained by almost every family as much of this exquisite essence as may be necessary for use. It is at least worth the trial, and I am sure when that trial is made, the success will be more than an equivalent for the labor.
In the following two recipes, Hannah calls for rosewater to add a subtle floral note to baked goods. Although rosewater can be quite strong on its own, after baking it becomes more mellow, similar to other flavors Hannah used, such as orange blossom water and brandy. As you can see, Hannah gives a list of ingredients and some minimal instructions, but she did not generally record the specifics of her baking techniques. This is much less detailed than most modern cookbooks, suggesting that young girls at Wyck would have learned baking techniques by observation, rather than needing them to be written down.
This “cup cake” recipe does not exactly match our modern day ideas of adorable miniature cakes topped with mounds of buttercream frosting. Rather, early cup cake recipes were based on cup measurements, just as pound cakes were based on ingredients measured in pounds.
Take five cups of flour, 3 of sugar, one & half of butter, ½ cream, wine, brandy or rose water, 3 eggs, a little nutmeg, a small teaspoonful dissolved pearl ash [salt]. Bake in green cake pans or as a pound cake. Add, if you choose, a few currants.
Jumbles, cookies flavored with rosewater or other aromatics, first appeared in the 17th century, but were popularized in the United States in the 19th century. Jumbles were shaped into pretzel-like knot, and as we see in Hannah’s recipe, heavily sweetened with sugar.
One pound of flour. Half lb butter, ¾ sugar rubbed well together, the whites of 3 eggs. Half a glass rose water, and half a grated nutmeg. Roll them well with sugar.