Spicing Up the Palate, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1992
Extract on rosewater
‘My husband remembers his grandmother distilling rosewater in their garden when he was a little boy. The blooms were picked while very fresh in the cool, early hours of the morning. (It is usually the damask rose, Rosa damascena, which is used for making rosewater. This rose is sometimes called gulab-e-asel, meaning ‘original’ rose.) The petals are picked off the blooms and piled up on a piece of cloth. A large copper pan or cauldron-type pot is then filled with water. The petals are added (the amount of water is usually about twice the weight of the petals).
Now the water is brought to the boil and a steady temperature is maintained; the boiling should not be too vigorous. The pot is covered with a type of copper dome attached to which is a pipe or tube. The apparatus is called an ambiq. The ambiq is joined by a pipe to a glass bottle called a meena (a poetical name which means translucent – the same word is often used in poetry to describe the sea or glass). The pipe fits inside the meena and is sealed with dough. The ambiq and the pot are also sealed with dough. This prevents the fragrant steam from escaping. The steam rises into the dome which is cooled by cold water, causing the steam to condense into droplets. The droplets travel along the pipe and slowly the fragrant rosewater drips into the bottle. Sometimes the rosewater from some or all of the bottles is poured into a larger pot or pan and slightly warmed again and left to stand until a thin film of oil forms on the surface. This is atr of roses; the Persian word, like the English version, attar, means fragrant essence. It is collected by skimming it off with cotton wool and squeezing it into another smaller bottle.’