April 01, 2008

Wild Violets

I have had a love affair with violets for as long as I can remember. They grew wild in the woods near me in NJ when I lived there. My gramma had them too. When I went to the Jr. Prom yrs later I even asked the boy who was taking me to get me violets as my flowers....I was wearing a lavender and lace gown. Violets are tiny lil things that you might even miss unless you look close. The smell is heavenly but fleeting, that is because one of the components in them actually numbs your nose once you smell them. So today I thought Id blog on another of my favorites and also a few recipes. Yes you can use them in food as long as they are organic, not sprayed, and not ones from the side of the road. If you read all the way down to the bottom theres some yummy surprises to top this all off hehee.

Violets --Viola ordorata, also known as sweet violets, so delicate with their velvety purple petals. For me, they always conjure up images of lace gloved matrons sipping sherry from cut crystal glasses. The air, of course, is thick with the intoxicatingly clean, sweet perfume that could only belong to violets.

Many cultures, primarily the Celts and the Germans, celebrate the arrival of springtime at the first sighting of violets. The German's further celebrate this event with dancing and drinking of May wine, a concoction made of wine, herbs and of course violets.

Combining wine and violets dates back to the days of the ancient Greeks, who would not only put the petals in the wine, but also scatter them all about the banquet hall. They also wore garlands decorated with violets in the belief that this would help to prevent dizziness and headaches from overindulging in drink. (There must be some basis for this since today in France violets are used in the treatment of hangovers).

Napoleon was also very fond of violets, even going so far as to adopt the violet as the symbol of his party. Josephine is reputed to have worn violets in her locket, and covered Napleon's grave with violet petals.

Throughout the years people have used violets for medicinal purpose, usually in the form of a tea taken internally. In Pakistan, it is drunk to increase sweating and thus reduce fever. It is also reputed to relieve anxiety, insomnia and reduce high blood pressure. In the 17th century throat lozenges, made with violet conserve, were used to treat bronchitis, as well as to combat sinus congestion. Violet sugar was a popular staple in apothecaries of the time. This was used to treat consumption. These treatments worked because of the antibacterial properties of the blossoms. In addition, they contain vitamin C and A, and an aspirin like compound.

For external treatments, violets were mixed with vinegar to make liniments. These were used to relieve gout, and to ease liver and spleen problems. The Celts were known to steep violets petals in goat's milk to make a facial treatment aimed at improving one's complexion.

One of violet's most notable trait's is its delicate fragrance. It is ironic that this aroma is rarely used today to make perfume because the scent dissipates quickly. It is often replaced by synthetics.

When violets are used in the kitchen, it is their candied form that most of us are familiar with. In the Victorian times these were so popular that they were often served as a confection for high tea. They were also used to garnish cakes, pastries, flans and puddings. These days people tend to use the fresh petals more than the candied ones. I love to add them to chilled soups (they are especially striking on creamy spring pea soup). Try adding them just before serving to a salad of fresh spring greens. Not only do they add rich color, but a delicious floral taste as well. I will often use Johnny-Jump-ups in addition to the violets. They, along with pansies, are part of the violet family. Their flavor and perfume is not as strong as those of the violet's, but their vivid colors, and contrasting face-like patterns transform a plan salad into a delightful treat. Violets are also used to add deep color and perfumed taste to jellies, jams, and liqueurs. Commercially available violet water can be used to add that floral quality to cakes, tea breads, ices, and poached fruit.

The garden is where violets truly shine. Being a perennial, you can enjoy them year after year, in rock gardens, pots, borders and formal gardens, almost anywhere there is rich, moist soil, full sun (partial shade in very hot regions) and good drainage.

Native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, violets have now naturalized in most temperate zones. They propagate by seed, or by root division. Plant them in fall in mild winter areas, and fertilize well to insure a showy burst of flowers come spring.

Violet and Orange Whipped Cream and Strawberries
serves 4

2 tsp. candied violets*
2 tsp. candied orange peel
2 cups unsweetened whipped cream
2 baskets strawberries, stemmed and quarted
4 fresh violet blossoms, or Johnny-jump-ups

With a very sharp knife, chop the violets and the orange peel separately. Place the whipped cream in a bowl. Gently fold in the violets and the peel without deflating the cream. Divide the berries into four decorative dessert cups. Top with the flavored whipped cream, and serve, garnished with a fresh violet blossom on each dessert.
*available in specialty markets. Or make them yourself when you have violets blooming, its ez and I store them in an air tight container.

Candied Violets
Makes 100

If the eggs in your area are questionable as far as the risk of salmonella, feel free to substitute an equivalent amount of meringue powder, available at many baking supply stores.

1 large egg white
1/3 cup water
1 16-oz. box superfine sugar
100 freshly picked violets on the stem

-- In a small, deep bowl, lightly beat together the egg white and water. Set aside.

-- Pour the sugar into something smallish and deep, like a loaf pan. Working with 1 violet at a time (I warned you, this is tedious!), dip the violet into the egg white mixture, then hold it over the sugar and snip the blossom from its stem. Gently scoop more sugar on top of the violet so that it's completely covered. Discard the stem. Your scissors will get really gummed up after a few dozen violets, so you may have to stop and rinse them from time to time.

-- Remove the violet from the sugar with a fork and lay it carefully on a wire rack to dry completely. Repeat until remaining violets are gone, or you are ready to scream, whichever comes first. Allow violets to completely dry at room temperature for several days before storing in airtight containers.


Candied violets keep for several months in a cool, dark place, and look gorgeous scattered over cakes, ice cream, and custards.

Violet Muffins

1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix (makes 6 to 10 muffins) or use your own
muffin recipe
1/2 cup fresh violet leaves and blooms

Add 1/2 cup fresh violets to each box of corn muffin mix. Sprinkle tops of muffins with violet leaves. Bake as directed.

To get extra vitamins from the violets, mix some fresh violet blooms and leaves into some margarine (whipped would be best), and have it ready when the muffins come out of the oven.

Violet Jelly
2 cups violet blooms (the darker blooms make a richer color)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 package commercial pectin
4 cups sugar

Put violet blooms in a jar or other glass container. Cover blooms with boiling water. Let it steep for 24 hours. This is called "infusion".

After 24 hours, strain the liquid from the blooms. Put 2 cups of violet liquid in a saucepan. Add lemon juice and pectin. Bring to a boil and then add sugar. Return to a boil and boil hard for one full minute. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

Violet Jam

1 cup violet blossoms, tightly packed
1 1/2 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 package powdered pectin

Place violets in food processor. Add 3/4 cup of water and lemon juice.

Blend to coarse paste, add sugar, blend until dissolved.

In a pan, heat 3/4 cup of water, then stir in pectin. Boil hard for 1 minute. Add to blender; blend for about 1 minute.

Pour jam into small jars and seal. Store in freezer

Violet Vinegar
- pick enough violet flowers to fill a pint jar
- pour unseasoned white wine vinegar over flowers
- put lid on
- sit container in windowsill for 4 days
- strain into another pint jar, put lid on and refrigerate.

Salad Dressing
- 1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. Violet Vinegar
- Mix well

Sweet Violet Herb Salad

1 head of endive
1 tbsp finely chopped celery
1 tbsp finely chopped, tender fennel stalks (peeled if necessary)
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped chervil
2 olives, finely chopped
salad dressing to taste
petals of 30 sweet violets

Separate the endive leaves and place in a salad bowl. Add the remaining salad ingredients, including the herbs, and gently mix well. Add the dressing and toss the salad. Sprinkle on the sweet violet petals. Serves 4.

And two more recipes which have nothing to do with violets except the name and sounded like a great way to top this off!!!

Blue Violet Martini

* 1 ounce Hpnotiq
* 1/2 ounce Chambord
* 1 ounce Absolut Raspberri
* splash of pineapple juice
* 3 blackberries

In an ice-filled mixing glass, combine Hypnotiq, Chambord, Absolut and juice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with skewered blackberries.

April's Violet
1 1/2 oz. Bombay Sapphire gin
2tsp. Blue Curacao liqueur
3 drops grenadine syrup
Pour into a mixing glass half filled with ice. Add ingredients, stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve.


coriander said...

Oh man, I just got so excited thinking you had a recipe for a violet martini USING violets! Perhaps I need to experiment a little. I wonder if I can find enough violets...hmmm. Well they would look nice floating in my martini anyway.

seanymph said...

You could make a violet syrup.......Or even a jelly. Im sure you could use some of that in an alcoholic drink of some sort. You would want it to be simple tho because violets are not strong. Anything you add might take away from that. Hmmmm I bet you could steep some violets in vodka! You would need alot tho.

coriander said...

Violet infused vodka sounds sooooo good! If ever I come across a field of violets, that's what I'll make. Thanks for the tips.