As a child, I read about an exotic and ephemeral clove-pink syrup in an old story book. Ever since that time I have wanted to taste it. Clove Pink syrup is exotic because the flowers are beautiful and not commonly grown these days and ephemeral because the syrup has such a short shelf life. As an adult I read about it in Maude Grieves and various early American and medieval herbals, where it was described as being used to cover the flavor of unpalatable infusions and in wine used for very special occasions. I came across it old homesteading magazines as something very special that grandmothers would keep aside for themselves to flavour warm water Last year, I stumbled upon the seed for sale in Richters Herb seed catalog:
Clove-Pink Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Grenadin’ Perennial Zones 5-8
(Carnation) Clove-scented flowers were once used to flavour wines and ales, especially celebration cups at coronations, hence its name ‘carnation’. Fragrance is valuable in potpourris, and herb sachets. Clove pink syrup, made by infusing the petals in hot sugar syrup, is delectable on fruit salads or stewed fruits. “‘Grenadin” is a mixture of pink, red and white double flowers.
Even though I live in zone 4 I decided to take a chance and buy the seeds. I started the seeds early hoping for a first year blossoming but 2013 summer was cold and wet so I didn’t get any blooms. In the late fall, with snow in the air, I mulched the young plants with leaves and fir boughs hoping against hope that they would survive the winter. Winter 2013-2014 was one of the longest and coldest winter in years. But there was an early thick snow cover so I remained hopeful. Spring finally arrived and I pulled the boughs off and raked the leaves. There seemed to be signs of life and in a few weeks young shoots started to grow up through the old growth of most of the plants!
The first time I smelled the blossoms I was 30 feet away and almost lifted off my toes by the heady fragrance. Dianthus has changed the garden dynamic with her intense colors and scent. Any breeze will send a puff swirling around the garden. She breathes sweetly first thing in the morning and continues until after dusk.
I made some experiments to find out the best way to capture the scent and flavor in the syrup.
1. Infusing the flowers in the hot syrup until it cooled
2. Infusing the flowers in the hot syrup overnight
3. Making a decoction with the flowers and slowly adding sugar but not to the boiling point
Separate the blossoms from the green calyx by pulling gently on the petals. Pack the petals into a measuring cup. Determine how much syrup to make by using a proportion of 2/3 cup flours to 1 cup of syrup. To make the syrup use 1 part water to 1 part sugar and boil it for 5 minutes. Take the syrup off the heat and stir in the flowers. Cover the pot and put aside to infused over night. Filter the flowers out of the syrup into a glass jar by using a screened funnel. Keep the syrup covered in a cool but not cold place. Use it within 3-4 days or until it looks or smells doubtful.
Other than just smelling it for a heady shot of aroma therapy, my favorite way to use Dianthus syrup is in warm water. A tablespoon or two in a glass is a sweet and fragrant beverage for hot summer days. My husband like it to replace sugar in his tea. I find it a bit too delicate to withstand the rich aromas of coffee.
The fact that it is so ephemeral is part of its pleasure for me. It is truly a seasonal treat. it makes me a bit philosophical and reminds me to live in the present. It speaks to the passing of the seasons and the cycle of life. Savor it while you can.