A courtship and one to sip

When I was little, there was a clay tennis court at the far edge of our cottage community. Every summer one of the cottage owners, Dr. Rasmussen, took it upon himself to bring the court back to life after a wild Northumberland Strait winter. He began by weeding the court fastidiously in his signature blue cotton shorts and golf shirt. Then he’d attach an old metal bed frame to the back of a ride-on lawnmower and grade the court by dragging the bed frame up and down the clay surface, flattening and kicking up dust as he puttered along. A big barrel roller came along next to smooth the surface, followed by fresh new white lines. He’d fill a little machine that looked something like a metal granny cart with lyme and walk the boundaries of the court, leaving a perfect white line in his trail.
By now his shirt was off, and his bare shoulders were brown. I know these steps because my cousin and I used to watch Dr. Rassmussen work from the front steps of our cottage as we spun around the metal handrail ­– our own little jungle gym. When he wasn’t working on the court, he would snorkel in the ocean, spying on crabs and rockweed and other seaweeds swirling with the tide. I remember thinking it was a much deserved break from what looked like a huge job. But people said
he liked the ritual of the tennis court maintenance.
It transitioned him into holiday mode, one white line at a time.
By mid July the court was in action. We’d sit on the steps, licking popsicles and watching the parents and grandparents, wooden rackets in hand, whacking the ball back and forth. Every so often a tennis ball would fly beyond the court. Eventually, a fishing net was erected at the far end to catch rogue balls from soaring into the hay fields, but if they went east into the prickly wild roses they were lost forever.
The tennis court is now full of wild roses. After Dr. Rasmussen was no longer able to keep up with the maintenance, other parents tried to pitch in. But it was a big job, a labour of love, and besides, the love for tennis was fading away. People were now spending their holidays kayaking, road biking along the Sunrise Trail, and of course, playing horseshoes or washer toss.
There’s talk of reviving that court, perhaps for basketball. But in the meantime, I’m using it as a wild rose sanctuary. They seem to thrive along the Northumberland strait. You’ll see them lining beaches, cottages and the roadside. First, as soft pink flowers in July and August, followed by the fruit – the rosehip – in the fall.
A few summers ago I learned the petals are edible. Just before the petals begin to fall, wrestle up a kid whose only preoccupation is playing on make-shift jungle-gyms or eating popsicles, and get him or her to help you pick the petals. Soon you’ll have a container filled with petals to pop into your mouth, to sprinkle on salads, or use as confetti at a wedding. You can also dry the petals on a plate in the sun and store them for the winter. They’re delicious folded into homemade granola, sprinkled on cakes, ice cream or even garnishing a warm, turmeric latte.
I like to make a wild rose gin and tonic. I imagine Dr. Rasmussen would appreciate this drink, toes up on his deck, soaking up the sunset with his family while inhaling the scent of roses, an aroma that kept him company all those summers working on the court.

Wild Rose Gin and Tonic

INGREDIENTS
½ cup dried wild rose petals (you can find these in most bulk stores if you don’t have a supply)
1 cup gin
Tonic water
Lime wedges
Rose petals, fresh or dried, to garnish

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine petals and gin in a jar fitted with a lid.
    Store in a cool dark place at room temperature for five days, shaking occasionally to infuse flavours.
  2. When ready to drink, strain gin and discard the petals. Add ice to a glass, add gin to taste and top up with tonic water. Finish with a wedge of lime
    and rose petals, either fresh or dried.