Monday, May 11, 2009

Spring Harvest

I have always been fascinated and drawn to the colors of the natural world. The plumage of a cardinal. The neon burst of a yellow tang. Deep green moss. And, of course, flowers. One of the first flowers of spring that always catches my eye is the wild violet. Broad green ground cover during the rest of the year, in spring the flowers explode into thick blankets of purple brilliance. A child's favorite flower to bring to home, placed in a juice cup to rest in a sunny spot on the kitchen window sill. I wanted to capture a bit of this spring and save it for those cold, gray winter months. Since this flower is safely edible I decided Violet Jelly would be the best way to accomplish this feat.I suspected none of the cookbooks in my collection would help me much in this endeavor. I could adapt a mint jelly recipe but I decided to try a couple of recipes I found on the Internet. The first one I discovered at Prairieland Herbs and the second was in a forum for the Garden Web and between the two I was getting a pretty good idea how to proceed. Step number one? Check your knees because harvesting violets is a low and slow process. Finding wild violets that haven't been sprayed by yard treatments or growing in the yard with outdoor pets was the biggest challenge for me. Luckily I found just such a place next to a large storm canal. One side of the right of way bordered many back yard fences, safe from both dogs and sprays. On the plus side I had plenty of violets to chose from but on the minus side I needed at least 4 cups of just flowers to use as "fruit" for my jelly. A couple of hours, a big bag of blossoms and many pain relief gel caps later, I was ready for the kitchen. After separating the stems from the blossoms and sorting through the pile to weed out any moldy or stale flowers hopefully you've gathered enough for at least two cups of well packed flowers. I apparently went flower picking crazy and came home with 4 cups of blossoms. The next step was pretty easy but my favorite part, steeping the flowers in boiling water. You can steep for as short as 30 minutes or as long as 24 hours. I chose the long route. What you end up with is this incredibly deep blue liquid.Now you would think that something this deep and complex in appearances would have a flavor to match? But violet water has a very delicate floral flavor which sits very lightly on the tongue. I worried that the acid and sugar I needed to jell my violet water would overpower all my hard work. Even sadder still were the results of the lemon juice mixing with the beautiful Indigo blue liquid, turning it to a decidedly un-violet-like pinkish red color. I shouldn't have worried. The jars emerged from the canner like little pink tourmaline gems set in silver rings. After letting them cool I unsealed one jar to taste my handiwork. I was ecstatic. The delicate floral flavor was still there, riding the bold sweetness of the sugar. A vista of summer biscuit baking appeared on the horizon. My only problem now? Making sure I save enough for winter.

13 comments:

Pherenike said...

This looks and sounds absolutely divine. What other flowers can you use to make jelly I wonder?

LaDivaCucina said...

I know you can make it from hibiscus...and rose naturally. Perhaps Orange blossom?

Picking violets, what a lovely thing to do on Mother's Day!

Ok, I want a jar NOW!!!! Violets are my all time fave scent, flower, memories from childhood. I've had some of those vintage violet candies that are sickly sweet.

Not even Jo Malone has been able to capture their delicate scent in a perfume or oil. I looked!

Seems like you were able to capture something divine and elusive! Well done!

anna said...

That's so pretty! I just harvested a bunch of violets from my parents' yard and didn't think to try jelly. Mine are mostly candied with a few in a jar of vodka, trying to become extract. I have no idea if it will work.

Aunty Belle said...

Oh! This is too gorgeous! How perfectly enchanting, Shamu.

Big Shamu said...

Anna I saw you violets on FoodGawker (very beautiful) and almost wrote you. Your idea of candied violets was definitely in the mix and I think I will try that next year. I wanted something that would last a little longer.

Check out Anna's Candied Violets at http://verysmallanna.com/.

Buzz Kill said...

Shamu

I have never heard of violet jelly. How it goes from blue to red is pretty cool. The pictures of the violets are great, almost a 3D affect (yours?).

I wonder if you could do the same thing with lilacs? We had a lot of them in the neighborhood this year. Or maybe in vodka like Anna did. I love jelly and should try to make it sometime with some local fruits like strawberries or blueberries. Ahhh, who has the time these days. Nice post. :)

Big Shamu said...

Hey Buzz, thanks for the comments. As for your lilacs, check out this link :http://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm but I from what I have read, lilacs tend to be on the bitter side so I would do a small test first. I think you should definitely do some fruit jelly or jam. It's the best.

moi said...

Wow! You really are the MacGyver of the culinary world. Fascinating and gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

McGyver or McGruber? That's AWESOME!

Susan said...

wow ! how beautiful. that blue violet water and those perfect jars of pink jelly.
well done B. Shamu

Big Shamu said...

Thanks Susan but I will admit I could have used the "The Boys" to help me pick violet blossoms.

Dani said...

WOW! You are one incredibly talented woman!

Rachel said...

This has to be the loveliest food blog-post I've seen - such a wildly romantic idea, a surprising process, and an beautiful result. Sadly, violets don't come in any great quantity round here, or I'd be giving it a go, but reading about it was a real treat, thank you.