That you blow so sweet?
Among the violets
Which blossom at your feet.
The honeysuckle waits
For Summer and for heat
But violets in the chilly Spring
Make the turf so sweet . . .
I love the delicate cadence of spring, measured by my flowers. First brave and stealthy crocuses scout out winter's retreat. Then gallant daffodils wave golden flags in the rain and freshening winds to claim the land for spring.
But it is violets that demand the landscape in earnest. The first few tufts of round green leaves appear, delicate and deceptively tentative looking. But their delicacy is a crafty ruse.
Those flowers in wild profusion grew
And wandered over walk and bed
As if their privilege they knew.
Well trained the lily and the rose;
The violets alone were left
To wander wheresoe’er they chose . . .
Soon they tumble over the rocks and escape the beds. They edge across the gravel walkway and surround the paving stones. They grow into crowds and thongs and multitudes and each year they capture more territory.
They are beautiful and fragrant and I cannot bear to treat them as weeds—pull them by their roots or lop them to the ground. I do, however, demand a toll for their aggressiveness. I gather them for tiny vases as you might expect. But they also find their way into my kitchen.
One of my dearest friends uses them in a tossed salad with oranges to mark her Easter feast. We enjoyed it early this year because the holiday is so late she was afraid to miss them. It was a delicious taste of spring.
I like to borrow a leaf from her book for a composed salad of orange suprêmes, red onions and pistachios on a bed of butterhead lettuce with a spicy red pepper and maple syrup viniagrette. Grapefruit and avocados with bright green pumpkin seeds are also a visual joy when garnished with violets. Possibilities are colorfully endless.
Salads are lovely and, alas, disappear when the violets fade, leaving only a whisper of memory behind. That is why I also like to find ways to preserve my sweet little purple flowers so I can re-create spring whenever I choose.
Candied violets have a fragile antique Victorian air perfect for brides and babies. Use them to lend a romantic delicacy to cakes and petit fours for weddings and showers, or set out a little bowlful for a sweet taste of yesteryear.
Find a stand of violets and gather flowers that have not been sprayed or treated. Select well-formed young blossoms that have opened well. Leave the stems long and intact so you have a "handle."
Dip the flowers into a cool waterbath to rinse, drain gently and set out on clean paper towels or kitchen towels to dry completely.Ingredients:
- 24 freshly gathered perfect violets
- 1 egg white from a pasturized egg, allowed to come to room temperature
- superfine sugar
Hold a dry violet by its stem. Use a small clean food-safe brush to thoroughly coat all the petals of the flower with the egg white.
Sprinkle the coated flower with the sugar until it is completely covered. Arrange carefully on a sheet of waxed paper or parchment set over a baking rack. Repeat until all violets are done. Make sure the sugared flowers do not touch each other.
Allow to sit undisturbed in a warm dry place for 24 hours or until completely dry.
Violet jelly is a startling unexpected color and an ingenious flavor enigma. By some magic the dark violet infused liquid lightens to a magnificent flushed rose color. The tang is unexpectedly deep with a touch of citrus from the added lemon. Use to fill shortbread thumbprint cookies, or tea sandwiches made with poundcake. Delicious with your favorite tea, although it is tempting to break out champagne.
- 2 cups violet flowers, heads only, packed full
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, strained to be very clear (juice of one lemon)
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 3-ounce bottle liquid pectin
- sterilized containers and lids to hold about 5 or 6 cups of jelly
Gently rinse flowers, trimming off stems if any remain. Place in a non-reactive container and pour boiling water over the flowers. Allow to stand 24 hours at room temperature.
Strain and the reserve liquid, discarding flowers. The infused water will be quite dark.
Add pectin and lemon juice to the infusion. Bring to a boil and add the sugar. Return to a boil and boil hard for one minute.
Pour into containers and top with lids. Jelly can be stored in the refrigerator for two or three weeks.
To can the jelly for prolonged storage use 5 or 6 half pint jars. Place them in a large pan or stockpot deep enough to cover them with at least one inch of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and allow to simmer as you make the jelly. Use a rack if you have one to hold the jars. If not, put a clean dish towel in the bottom of the pan to keep the jars from rattling.
Put canning lids in a small pan, cover well with water and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat. Do not boil the lids.
Place a clean bath towel on the counter. When the jelly is done use tongs to remove jars from the hot water, drain and place right side up on the towel. Carefully fill jars to 1/2 inch from the top. Wipe jar mouths with a clean damp cloth and place a lid on each one. Screw a band tightly onto each jar, then loosen slightly.Use tongs to lower jars into the hot water in the pot. Make sure water level is at least one inch above the tops of the jars. Return to a boil and process for ten minutes.
Turn off the burner and carefully lift the jars to the towel on the counter and allow to cool. Check to see that all jars have sealed well once they have cooled by tapping the middle of the lid gently. The raised part in the center of the lid will be all the way down. Store in a cool dry place and use well before the next violets bloom.
For a Special Treat
Make your favorite white cake and buttercream frosting. Coat the bottom layer of cake with violet jelly. Stay about 1/4 inch away from the edge of the cake to prevent bleed through. Cover with buttercream, sealing in the jelly layer.
Top with the next layer, then ice the cake as usual. Place candied violets as desired to decorate.
Verdi gave us the tragic Violette from La Traviata, a beautiful flower in love with life, destined to die young. Her joyous aria, Sempre Libera—Always Free—personifies the unbridled gaiety of spring that cannot last forever. Here is one translation. Another is given on the accompaning video.
Free and aimless I frolic
From joy to joy,
Flowing along the surface
of life's path as I please.
As the day is born,
Or as the day dies,
Happily I turn to the new delights
That make my spirit soar.
Love is a heartbeat throughout the universe,
the torment and delight of my heart.
Oh! Oh! Love!
Immortal twentieth century soprano Maria Callas shines from the height of her talent in this recording. The performance stands as a masterwork.