Each spring I take a page from traditionalist European and some American cooks and herbalists and harvest native woodland violets for culinary use. The ones featured here are the "plain" blue violet, viola sororia, which appears in abundance all across the eastern U. S. When I have enough--and as you can see below I certainly do this year!--I make a batch of violet syrup. When the pickings are slim, I use the flowers as garnishes for desserts and fruit dishes, and to brighten salads and vinaigrettes. A quick YouTube video showing me out harvesting and using violets in the kitchen is here.
|Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia|
This variety has been imported into the U. S. and has naturalized readily, so it can sometimes be found "growing wild" in American woodlands. I've never come upon a patch of scented violets locally, but have been growing a purchased English variety called "Clive Groves" in my yard for several years with great success.
|Chamomile tea sweetened with violet syrup|
I don't really worry about warding off either evil spirits or headaches with my violet syrup, but I do find a little splash of it a pleasant way to sweeten a cup of chamomile tea or a dish of seasonal berries. Along with a few fresh violet blooms for garnishes, the syrup likewise makes a pleasing topper for a plain or berry ice cream sundae. The syrup is mild and just faintly floral; it's color is what lends the large share of its appeal.
Homemade Violet Syrup
As the photo at the very top shows, the basic ingredients in violet syrup are quite simple--sugar, water, and violets. And the preparation is easy, too. The only catch is that a batch requires a significant quantity of purple violets. If you have the good fortune of access to a huge patch of them as I do, feel free to double the recipe.
Note that only unsprayed organic viola varieties should be used. The tropical houseplants called African violets are not in the viola family at all and are not edible.
Remember that the deeper the hue of the violets, the more intense the color of your finished syrup will be. An inky bluish shade (see pic above right) naturally results when the common purple woodland violets shown throughout are employed. However, if you prefer a slightly warmer purple color--like the hue at left below--stir in just a few drops of lemon juice. Keep adding in drops of juice for an even lighter, brighter magenta.
Tip: Store your syrup in very clean bottles or jars, preferably ones that have been well scrubbed, then rinsed in boiling water. To keep the syrup sterile, once it has been boiled, don’t add any more ingredients or stir it further. If you put it in a measure for pouring that should be rinsed in boiling water, too. Always store in the refrigerator; it will keep up to 4 or 5 weeks.
4 to 5 strips (1-inch by 1/2-inch) lemon zest (no white pith)
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Gently but thoroughly wash the violets in a colander under barely warm water. Shake, then let stand to drain thoroughly. Put the violets in a 4-cup measure or similar-sized heat-proof non-reactive bowl. Pour the boiling water over them. Stir them down into the water, then cover and let stand for at least 1 1/2 hours and up to several hours, if preferred.
Pour the violet-infused water mixture through a fine sieve into a non-reactive 1- to 2-quart saucepan (preferably one with a lip for pouring; discard the sieved violets and lemon strips. Stir the sugar into the violet water. Bring to a boil, stirring, over medium heat. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils gently. Cook without stirring for 4 minutes. Check the syrup color, and if you desire a warmer purple shade stir in 2 or 3 drops of fresh lemon juice; for a brighter magenta shade, a drop at a time, thoroughly stir in more lemon juice until the desired shade is obtained. Bring the mixture back to a boil and cook 1 minute longer.
Let cool slightly. Then pour the syrup into a clean sterilized bottle or jar. Cool to room temperature, then store, refrigerated, for up to 2 months. Makes about 1 cup.
For how to use violets in salads and vinaigrette dressings, go here. To turn them into an all-natural purple decorating sugar, go here. For how to use them fresh and candied as pastry decorations, go here.