Jilly D.

Violets are a Girl’s Best Friend

In Time and seasons on April 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Violets Are A Girl’s Best Friend

THE FIRST SURE SIGN of spring is the Common Blue Violet, Viola papilionacea. Its heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges grow low to the ground. The five-petal purple flowers burst forth on separate stems. Violet is the name of a flower, a color, a slight aroma and a distinctive yet delicate taste. Tiny, delicate and bowed in bloom, the violet is a common flower that deserves to be elevated in a forager’s elegant diet.

The delicacy of the viola’s flavor matches its allegorical associations: ever since Diana turned Ia into a violet to hide her from Apollo’s unwanted ardor in Greek mythology, violets have symbolized modesty and shyness.

The Violet family is made up of 22 genera and more than 900 species throughout the world. Many species are cultivated for their attractive flowers (for example, pansies). This North American wild flower grows in damp woods, moist meadows and along roadsides. You can find them underfoot almost anywhere outdoors in springtime.

Violets are nature’s litmus: their blooms will turn red in the presence of acid and yellow in the presence of alkali. Their leaves are naturally high in vitamins A and C. They can be tossed into salads and served as a seasonal companion to the greens of dandelions. Violet leaves can also be steamed with a splash of vinegar and served sprinkled with toasted almonds.

The violet blooms can be made into candies and jellies. When a violet blooms, the first few days its petals are the richest dark purple. If I gather the violet petals for edible creations, I have learned to pick only the newest blossoms. The more intense the color, the more concentrated the flavor.

Taking a stroll along a wooded lane, I can quickly pick more than the two cups necessary for a batch of violet jelly. I avoid picking along the edge of the roadside and go for the blossoms with the vibrancy of life in the wild.

Violet jelly isn’t purple at all. The pungency of the pink color stands in stark contrast to its subtle flavor. The color and consistency of violet jelly reminds me of the hair gel, “Dippity Do,” which I used to smear on my wet locks before rolling my hair up into sponge curlers.

The jiggly hot pink jelly tastes so delicate and refined it is best served with shortbread, saltines or plain scones. It’s also delicious on buttered toast.

Another way to use beautiful violet blossoms is to sugar them and serve them as cake decorations or on frosted sugar cookies. I dip the blossom first in a blend of one tablespoon of water and one egg white. Then I dust it in white sugar before placing them on a cookie sheet and into the freezer for 20 minutes. Once solid, I put them into an air tight container in the freezer until I am ready to use them to decorate cookies or a special birthday cake.

My partner Sam once tasted my homemade version of violet jelly.

“Different,” is all he said.

I was so glad he didn’t really care about it. More for me. More for tea parties with the girls.

Violet Jelly

2 cups boiling water

2 cups violet petals

1 cup sugar

Cheesecloth (preferably unbleached)

1 pint jelly jar OR 2 half pints

Cut a piece of cheesecloth to fit over a large mixing bowl. Wet the cheesecloth with cold water. If you don’t wet the cloth first, all of the flower’s natural dyes will soak into the fibers and not into your jelly. Place the wet cheesecloth over mixing bowl and secure with a large rubber band.

Bring water to a boil. Add violet petals and return to a boil. Remove from heat.

Pour the violet petals and water through the cheesecloth and let it drip for at least an hour. Do not squeeze the petal pulp through the cheesecloth. Remove and dispose of the cheesecloth and petals in your compost pail.

While you are waiting for the steeped petals to drip through the cheesecloth, sterilize your jelly jars, lids and rings by boiling them in hot water for at least twenty minutes.

Bring violet water back to a boil. Add sugar and return to a boil, stirring constantly. Let it gently boil for about 6 minutes while you continue to stir. When the concoction begins to sheet off your spoon remove it from the heat and stir for one more minute.

Fill each jelly jar (one pint or two half pints) to ¼” from the top, put on a lid and tighten securely with a ring. Let set at room temperature to cool overnight. If the lids do not “pop” overnight I recommend turning the jelly jars upside down for up to two weeks.

Violets have natural pectin so the jelly should set eventually. If it doesn’t, you have made violet syrup instead. Same special taste; it just doesn’t have the same wiggle. Violet syrup can be used on pancakes, waffles, French toast, vanilla ice cream or in your green tea.

Violet Tea

2 c. fresh, vibrant violets; best picked after a rain in early spring. Remove all stems and green matter. Use only the petals.

2 c. boiling water

½ c. honey (you may substitute white sugar or a light maple syrup; but you do need a sweetener to bring out the unique taste of violets)

Boil 2 c. of water. Remove from flame. Add honey or sweetener and stir until dissolved. Add 2 c. petals and stir. Let steep for 5 minutes. Return to flame and bring to a boil. Let it steep another 5 min. Strain and serve with honey to taste.

[originally published on The Ithaca Post (www.theithacapost.com) on May 26, 2010]

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  1. […] a stroll along the wooded lane, I can quickly pick more than the two cups necessary for a batch of violet jelly. Violet jelly isn’t purple at all. The color and consistency can best be described by a bygone […]

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