Wild violet season has finally arrived in the Ottawa Valley after endless snow, rainstorms, and massive flooding. Their happy purple faces are harbingers of summer and better times for me. Maybe it was due to all the rains and snow melt, but this year has been an amazing one for violets, both wild and feral viola odorata escaped from gardens. My own yard is simply full of them, finally enough to make something! If you have enough violets, why not make violet jelly or violet syrup to delight your taste buds?
Not all violets are created equal - for these recipes you want to forage ones with fragrance. There are at least eleven different species of wild violets in Ontario alone! Many of the white and yellow wild violets in the woods don't have much of a scent to their flowers (except for maybe viola blanda). For culinary purposes I tend to stick to viola odorata aka sweet violet. If you can never find enough to harvest, why not grow them? Richter's sells packets of seeds you can spread through your garden and also your lawn (they are mowable!)
To make a recipe with violets you need access to a very large amount of the flowers, think double this patch pictured below! Pick your violet flowers early in the morning when they have their best scent, don't pick them after a rain or it will wash the scent away. Use the flowers as soon as they are harvested, don't store them in the fridge first!
Jelly is simply syrup that has pectin added, so there is really one recipe with a few extra steps to turn the syrup into jelly.
Step 1: Violet Water Infusion
Most syrup and jelly recipes will use heat to extract flavour and colour, but violets are too delicate and the colour is lost the more you heat them so I do a cold infusion that takes a few days.
Pack the flowers into a large canning jar (1-2 Litres depending on how many flowers you can harvest), filling up the jar completely with violets, and then pour cold water over them to the top of the jar. Allow the violets to infuse in the water for 2-3 days, shaking it once or twice a day until the water turns a rich purple colour. The infusion may start to ferment so you can either put it in the fridge or add an ounce of vodka to it if you will leave it out.
Once your infusion is an impossibly deep purple, strain out the flowers with cheesecloth and a sieve. Measure you remaining water infusion.
Step 2: Violet Syrup
For every 1 cup (250 ml) of violet infusion, add 1 cup of fine sugar.
Do not substitute honey as the flavour is too strong and will overpower the taste of violets.
Put your violet infusion and the sugar in a pot and warm on medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Measure the quantity of syrup.
Cool and add 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of vodka per 1 cup (250 ml) of syrup.
Stored in an air tight jar, the syrup will last 2-3 months in the pantry and 6-8 months in the fridge. The deep purple colour will fade over time so it's best used fresh!
How to Can Your Syrup Instead
To lengthen the shelf life skip adding the vodka, heat the syrup to 85 °C (185 °F) pour into freshly sterilized hot canning jars with new lids, seal, and tip the jars on their sides for a minimum of 5 minutes up to a few hours. Check the seals, put any that didn't seal in the fridge.
But what about water bath canning? It will ruin the colour and the method above follows the Ontario government guidelines for hot packing syrups for commercial production.
How to Use Violet Syrup
Now that you have violet syrup, what to do with it? You can pour it as is over top of vanilla or coconut ice cream or have it for breakfast with pancakes, waffles, or crepes. Brush the layers of a white cake with it, letting it soak in well, and ice with a white butter cream and garnish with candied violets for a gorgeous and simple violet cake. Pour it over wild flower pound cake crumbled in a bowl and add booze, custard, and whipped cream to make a violet trifle.
Add 1 tbsp of violet syrup per 1 cup of soda water to make home made violet soda. Diluted it is a pale lavender colour and tastes divine. Use it to mix drinks as the violet syrup would pair well with a plain mead, vodka, white rum, gin, or brandy to make your own creme de violette. Mix a Blue Moon cocktail by combining gin, lemon juice, and violet syrup or a Moonlight cocktail with gin, lime juice, cointreau, and violet syrup.
Step 3: Violet Jelly
1-2 Tbsps (15-30 ml) lemon juice
4 1/2 cups sugar
Put the cold water infusion, lemon juice, and the pectin in a pot on the stove on high heat and bring to a rolling boil, then add the sugar and bring to a hard boil for 1-5 minutes. Remove from heat and do a test to make sure the jelly sets. The more you have to boil the jelly, the more colour you will lose.
If all is good, pour your still hot (almost boiling) jelly into freshly sterilized hot canning jars that have been boiled in water for at least 10 minutes. Seal the lids and allow to fully cool. Place any jars that haven't sealed in the fridge for immediate consumption.
How to Use Violet Jelly
It is amazing simply spread on scones, biscuits, or bannock with butter and served with a cup of tea. It can be used for any cookie recipe that uses jam or as a cake or cupcake filling. Violet jelly would also pair very well with plain goat cheese that has been blended with honey for a sweet cheese plate. If you feel cheeky why not serve it as a jello dessert with custard or whipped cream and garnish with candied violets?
by forager and herbalist Sarah Lawless