Judy Polinsky’s Lecture: Delicious Rose Flavored Desserts
Everyone had so much fun at Judy Polinsky’s presentation on her beautiful book Delicious Rose-Flavored Desserts at Virginia Robinson Gardens. It was the perfect lecture so close to Valentine’s Day. Many guests wore red, and were perfectly charmed by our fascinating speaker. A culinary historian associated with the Huntington Library in San Marino, Judy focused on the use of rose water in Georgian baking in 18th century England.
In her book, the left hand page shows the original recipe, while the right hand page details the modern version. Because there was no leavening in the 18th century, you had to use “arm power” – it took an hour to beat the batter for a cake. “When the Georgians did things,” Judy explained, “it was big – it was to show. It was to impress.” With the rise of the middle class, wealthy merchants were able to buy a manor house. To move up in society, they entertained lavishly. Dinners were usually 30 – 40 dishes and took 3 – 4 hours. The dessert table was always spectacular, never less than a dozen desserts. At one dazzling meal, custards, cakes and creams were molded into the shapes of asparagus, turkey and other foods that were consumed earlier in the dinner. It was the exact duplicate of the meal visually, but all desserts! “So my dream one day is to find these molds in England, and make a vast table that looks like a real meal, but is actually dessert,” Judy said.
Judy brought three delicately flavored rose desserts for the group to taste: Ginger Cakes, Common Biscuits, and Portugal Cakes, along with examples of Georgian silver and blue and white porcelain that she collects. Explaining that homemade rose water is so easy to make and so much better than commercial rose water, Judy passed around two handmade examples in bottles for the group to smell along with the commercial one. The latter is made from a blend of different roses, and since the homemade ones use a single variety of rose, it is much easier to control the flavor.
“Do not use white, yellow or orange roses, instead use deep red and deep pink ones as the flavor and scent will be the strongest – and only use organic – or those that have not been treated with pesticides for at least six to nine months,” she added. Her favorite roses to use are William Shakespeare and Munstead Woods (both David Austin English Roses) and Chrysler Imperial Hybrid Tea.
To make the rose water: Pull the petals from the roses, and cut off the base of each petal which is quite bitter. Cover with boiling water, and a few capfuls of vodka to kill the bacteria. After three days, filter it and freeze the liquid in an ice cube tray to use whenever needed. Judy’s book explains the process in more detail which is important to follow. Luckily, superintendent Timothy Lindsay brought several of the rose bushes mentioned for the attendees to buy.
As a member of a non-profit group focusing on Colonial history, Judy has put on many events at Williamsburg, Virginia, the Ronald Reagan Library, Mount Vernon and the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles. At a program at Dover Castle in England where she was part of a parade, Judy met the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and Prince Charles. “I’m an American, and I was gobsmacked,” she related. She was particularly taken with the Queen Mother who stopped to talk to her. Totally charmed by her, Judy found her “so cheery, bright and twinkly.” A former television and film producer, Judy reflected on her life and said, “It’s been an amazing journey, and I have met so many interesting people with unbelievable talent.”
After the lecture, the guests enjoyed a delicious luncheon catered by the Kitchen for Exploring Foods. Tall red roses and heart-shaped beet slices decorating the salmon gave a romantic touch to the feast. Guests sat at tables, strewn with rose petals and multi-colored Hershey’s kisses. Beautiful red rose centerpieces, made by Patti Reinstein and Ellen Lipson, rested on pink tablecloths, and were available for sale with all the proceeds going to the Gardens. Judy signed her book with 20% of the proceeds of the sale generously given to Robinson Gardens.
Thank you to our hard-working and amazing Education co-chairs Kerstin Royce, Patti Reinstein, and Ellen Lipson for such a fun, exquisite and elegant event. The lectures have been so outstanding that we are eagerly awaiting the next one! If you haven’t been to one yet, don’t miss out! You have the added bonus of enjoying such a unique event amidst the beauty of the gardens and the enchanting Pool Pavilion at the Virginia Robinson Estate.
To purchase a copy of Judy’s book: Delicious Rose-Flavored Desserts
Post by Linda Meadows
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member