To rapturous applause every where, the peonies are early this year. Normally this gets me so excited I consider organizing a parade - but we’d have to act fast as they are a fleeting phenomena, those peonies. Not known for a long vase life and glorious in the garden one minute then face down in the mud the next, Mother Nature seems expect us to stop and worship them while we can.
Peonies really do seem to last in in our memories, where that wonderful and oddly sulfur-y peony scent goes straight to our hippocanthus and lodges in our memory banks with all our other happy May memories of graduations, Mothers Days and the unbearably close end of the school year.
Anytime I find myself with a big fat peony under my nose, I am no longer here in Maryland but back in Ohio in Grandma Frances’ backyard; wet grass clipping on my bare feet, seated on the cement steps, and leaning against the back screen door with a parfait glass of of strawberry jello and cool whip, listening to the sound of dinner dishes being washed and Grandma singing along with the LP sound track of My Fair Lady.
Later she would come out and join me with her own parfait glass and we would watch the ants crawl over her peonies buds. “But I want to be a Lay-dee in a Flaaaa-oaaar shop…” Grandma would bray in her best Eliza Doolittle impersonation. Not every flower can boast such time traveling magic.
Thanks to several foodies blogs on the internet, I discovered another way to keep the peony party going: Peony Syrup . I now look forward to spent peony petals as much as anything else because it means I’ll soon have another batch to floral magic to add to cocktails and to drizzle in between cake layers. And magic it is because the peony petals go from stinky mush to pink elixir in no time. Don’t believe me? You try it!
3 or 4 locally grown, organic peony blooms, preferably a fragrant variety like Festiva Maxima or Dr. Alexander Fleming
3 cups of water
3 cup of sugar (more if you want to make a thicker syrup for desserts)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
Set a kettle on to boil as you gently pull the petals off the stem, leaving aside green leaves and any pollen stamens, and place in a bowl. Pour the boiling water over the petals. And here – I just have to just say – sorry about the smell. It will look like sad wet toilet paper and smell like broccoli but stay with me here! You’ll be glad you did. Cover the water and petals with a dish or a towel and let sit out overnight.
The next day, pour the water into a large liquid measuring pitcher or a bowl, squeezing water from the petals until you get out all the liquid. Discard the petals and measure how much yellow-y peony water you have. Add the peony water to a pan along with the exact same amount of sugar as water (more if you intend to use this in desserts and need something thicker), bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool.
Once cool, call everyone into the kitchen as you add the lemon juice and watch the pink peony magic happen! The liquid changes from yellow-y to a vibrant pink.
Pour into a pretty bottle (bonus points if it’s a bottle you inherited from Grandma) and enjoy! Add to seltzer water, or include in a batch of home-made kombucha, Use it in any cocktail recipe that needs a simple syrup or add to strawberries and cakes for a little je ne sais quoi. Splash it with Prosecco and call it an Eliza Dolittle - that’s what I figure Grandma Frances would do. Stored in the fridge, it should last about a month.
Thanks for the memories, Peony!