I came across PremRose Edibles rose petal jams when I was visiting my friend Emma in Eugene, Oregon back in 2009. There was a market every weekend in town, and we would comb the stands, relishing in all of the amazing ingredients that come from the Willamette Valley. I bought a rose petal jam and took it home with me. It was, and still is, the most delicious rose petal jam that I have ever had. When I was going to open the shop, I knew that I had to carry PremRose jam. Linda Shumate grows and preserves the roses on her farm in Creswell, Oregon. I sent her a few questions about her and her rose petal jams, and the answers are below. I hope to do more of these farmers in focus, because it gives more depth to the products that you see on our shelves. Once you know their story, you have a deeper understanding of the work and passion behind them. Please keep in mind that farming and making products is demanding work, and the editing is kept to a minimum to preserve the authenticity of the conversation.
Sophia: Could you please give me a short bio about where you are from, and how you ended up in Creswell, Oregon?
Linda Shumate: I was born in Eastern Iowa of farming family roots, but my family moved to Southeastern Wyoming when I was 3. The early years on the prairie molded my love of nature and the cycles of the seasons that are very dramatic on the prairie, but you have to look close and fast to appreciate the subtle changes that are there. Prairie winters mean cold, cold, dry, dry, harsh, harsh winds with a chill factor of sometimes 70 below and horizontal snow falls.
I left Wyoming in my early 20's and had the good fortune to travel to areas where fresh food was like nothing I had ever experienced. I have no particulary memory of fruit growing on trees until my 20's. Fruit was in stores at certain times of the year, and then it went into the canner to be stored for winter. My mom was, and is, at 98, one of the most avid gardeners and food preservers I have known.
In 1979 I met my husband while working in Northern California and moved to the Shumate Family Farm in the Southern Hills of Oregon's famously rainy Willamette Valley. All the rain, and it really does rain without a break sometimes for months on end, was a huge shock to my “blue sky” background….and it took years to get used to the extreme gray…..but the sanctuary I found from the gray was the emerald green of the valley and most of all the brilliant show of bloom, flowers of all kinds, from late January to October…..wild and cultivated.
Having so much natural life, beautiful woods and flowers around opened up a new chapter of my life.
Sophia: What got you into gardening, or more specifically, roses?
Linda: I have to say my mom got me into gardening. I didn't appreciate it so much when I was young, because frankly I did not like over-cooked canned vegetables. But, mama always had a few flowers and at least one rose that she protected from the deep winters with incredible devotion. I remember just sitting in the sun and looking at her roses as a young girl (I guess I was easily entertained). In traveling, and in living in other places, the lushness of floral gardens, formal and informal, is what I sought, and the roses always kept me the longest. They offer so much diversity. I read recently that there are more books written on roses than on any other flower, and there is just too much to say about them, but my focus over the past 15 or 20 years has moved from modern roses to “old” roses…because with these we can find the deepest aroma and the most significant amount of essential oil that is known for aroma and medicinal value. The Hips of course provide vitamin C and the petals cool body heat. So it is no surprise that the roots of the rose jam tradition in the world come from the warm countries…from Eastern Europe south to Mediterranean, Middle Eastern Countries and spreading all the way to China.
When I moved to our farm in 1979, my mother and father-in-law were avid organic gardeners, and my mother-in-law's passions were her flowers and making jam from the lush berries of the valley. So, they were the doorway to my new passion and the family farm became its home.
My husband and I traveled to India in the early 1980's, and when we returned, I had to figure out how to make that rose petal jam…..that was 30 years ago. It was clear that I would have to find more of the old rose bushes that my mother-in-law treasured, but because I could never find a “duplicate” variety we made cuttings, and now have nearly 150 rose bushes for our farm jam. Some are toddlers and it will be a few more years before they are giving full bloom.
Sophia: How long have you had PremRose Edibles?
Linda: PremRose Edibles was started as a business in 2007, and has had an evolution as a business that has inspired me to develop more and more products for the world of rose lovers that I think may be new and unique. That said, I am well aware that “nothing is new under the sun”~!!~ I make some things that I only sell here in our area because they are too delicate to ship….like Saffron Rose Dulce de Leche, or other white or dark chocolate rose confections.
Sophia: What do you want people to know about your products?
Linda: Our business name is PremRose…..many people automatically say “oh, primroses…..”. “Prem” means love in the Sanskrit language. Universal love…..so my offering is using roses, the ancient symbol of love…..intended to give as a gift to yourself or anyone else that you love. And that it is a food with roots in so many world cultures, in a way brings it brings us all together over a lovely bit of Prem.
Each is hand crafted in small batches right here on our farm. Our licensed process kitchen is in a customized 32' Airstream Trailer that is parked a few yards away from our oldest roses. We use only organic locally sourced ingredients other than the petals we grow. Our own roses are naturally grown, using no herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
Sophia: Who helps you out on the farm?
Linda: Pretty much most of the work is done by my husband and myself. We have seasonal workers who do our pruning.
Sophia: How many varieties of rose do you grow? Which ones are they?
Linda: I grow one rose only for the jamming. It is an old species of rugosa that I have never been able to duplicate other than with cuttings. My husband's personal search led him to a rose called the Ramanas Rose, an old cultivated rose from East Asia, growing on the coast of China. Ramanas means profusely blooming in Japanese . I would like to plant a second rose variety, a centifolia, however, the old rugosa is so tough and great to grow. Once it is established the deer don't bother it, its color, fragrance, and petal are perfect, and most importantly, it is easy to grow organically in our rainy valley and does not get the usual high-bred tea rose diseases.
Sophia: What is a typical day like for you on the farm? What responsibilities do you do individually, and what do you get help with?
Linda: My work on the farm varies seasonally. Most work days involve some time in the process kitchen…..winter is the quiet time of course for the roses, at least to take their rest. Pruning happens once a year and is a huge job, that is in November or February, and planting of new plants is optimal in February. The plants have to be heavily mulched so that the competitive grasses don't move in on them, and to help them retain as much moisture as possible in the dry months of summer. The summer is the biggest work time of course….with harvesting fresh petals every morning, and making sure that the watering is done. Natural fertilizing of all plants goes on from February – August. For fertilizing we use an all organic rose and flower food from a local supplier.
I am pleased to note that roses are known to be very “thirsty” creatures. This is true, but, I have found that with proper mulch, my old rosies seem to be putting down very deep roots and growing as well as their wild rose sisters around them….which will hopefull help them be good survivors over time.
Sophia: What are your favorite things about roses?
Linda: Color, fragrance, taste. [They create a] vibrant, uplifting, response to taste- not just in me but in large percentage of “tasters” (I can see it in their eyes!). History and lore…….some mystical, some factual, always interesting…..the broad use from so much of the world that I believe goes back far further than the 300 years that are often stated……I may have said this already, but there are more books written on roses then on any other flower.
The amazing culinary applications, and of course, eat your rosies honey, they're good for you!