Monday, May 11, 2009
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.
Posted by Big Shamu at 6:50 PM