EVERYONE LOVES a violet, the tender purple bloom underfoot that confirms that spring is here.
But far from owning up to that enthusiasm, some cynics insist on relegating violets to grandmothers, along with tattered doilies, snake plants and cut-glass sugar bowls.
But, oh, those lucky grandmothers who have had a taste of confiture de violette.
Indeed, every part of the common blue violet (the one that grows like a weed in yards and gardens) can be prepared for eating. Even before the flower blooms, violet greens will add deep color to tossed salads sadly in need of innovation. Then, when violet flowers start peeking out, you can toss them into the salad as well.
Violet greens can be cooked, too, but they mush up quickly. Bland in flavor, high in fiber, and such a rich dark green -- violet leaves find a good home in the salad bowl.
Herbalists recommend eating half a cup of violet leaves at one sitting as a cure for constipation. Their bulk works the way bran or celery does, though overdoing on violet leaves can have its consequences.
Don't confuse your windowsill African violets with the violet species that grow outdoors, however. African violets aren't really violets at all, and shouldn't be put in the salad.
Violet flowers contribute the slightest taste and that glorious color to many other delicacies as well. Violet jelly is an old favorite, and can be made in quantities large or small, depending on how many flowers you feel like picking. Violet jelly that doesn't gel (a hazard, since the flowers add little or no natural pectin to the recipe) should not be considered a failure. Many uses can be found for violet syrup, beyond the obvious, as a topping for hotcakes, waffles, ice cream, yogurt and the like.
Skeptical? Next time you see a violet blooming, pop a blossom in your mouth. It's a crunchy little something with a drop of nectar within. VIOLET BIRTHDAY CAKE
For those lucky people with springtime birthdays. Double the recipe to make a layer cake. Butter and flour for pan 1/2 cup butter 1/3 cup sorghum syrup 2 eggs, separated 1 cup whole wheat or triticale flour (available in health food stores) 3/4 cup unbleached white flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup violet syrup (recipe below) 1/2 teaspoon vanilla Candied violets (recipe below) or fresh, for decoration
Butter and flour a shallow cake pan. Set oven at 350 degrees.
Cream the butter, then add sorghum and whip until smooth. Beat in egg yolks. Sift together flours, baking powder and salt. Add alternately flour and violet syrup. Stir in vanilla. Beat egg whites to soft peaks and fold in thoroughly.Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes.
Top with a white butter icing. Decorate either with candied violets or fresh violets. They won't stay fresh very long, but they keep a strong flavor even when withered and dried on the cake the day after. VIOLET JELLY 1 quart fresh violet blossoms 1 lemon 4 cups sugar 1 package commercial powdered pectin
Pick violets, preferably in late morning on a sunny day.Pack loosely into quart canning jar. Pour over them enough boiling water to fill jar.
The flowers will quickly impart their color to the water and float to the top of the jar. Let them sit overnight.
Add the juice of 1 lemon to the infusion, and the color will turn from blue to red violet.You may either strain out the flowers for a clear jelly, or leave them in, making a violet jam.
Pour violet infusion into a deep saucepan. Thoroughly stir in sugar and bring to a rolling boil. Add pectin, stirring constantly, and boil 1 1/2 minutes. You may want to test for gelling by putting a spoonful in the refrigerator. Jar the jelly for storage. VIOLET SYRUP 1 quart violets, flowers only, firmly packed 1 pint boiling water Juice of 1 lemon 1/3 cup sugar 1/2 cup light honey 1/2 package powdered pectin glass jars
Pick 1 quart violets (firmly packed, flowers only) on a sunny morning. Pour boiling water over them and let steep until evening or overnight. Strain out flowers if you wish. Add juice of 1 lemon to brighten the color.
Heat violet infusion and gradually add sugar and honey. When this mixture reaches a boil, pour in powdered pectin. Boil a full minute, then bottle in clean jars. SALADE AUX VIOLETTES (4 servings) 1 small head bibb lettuce 1 cup loosely packed violet leaves 1/2 cup loosely packed stemless violet flowers 1 onion, finely diced
Tenderly tear greens into manageable pieces. Toss all ingredients together just before serving in a simple oil and vinegar dressing. SPRINGTIME CANAPES
Onto round, mild crakers, spread cream cheese or boursin. Top with a freshly picked violet flower, and perhaps a sprig of leaf. CANDIED VIOLETS
Pick fresh violets, leaving about 3 inches of stem. Whisk 2 egg whites until frothy but still clear. Holding each violet by the stem, dip into the egg whites, then roll in a mound of extrafine granulated sugar. Use a tiny paintbrush to touch up involutions. Leave to dry on waxed paper, at least a day. Clip off excess stem when dry.