Spring in my step, the violets are blooming

Viola odorata in early spring

Viola odorata in early spring

I’m pleased to say (no – I’m smug, self-satisfied and oh-so-heartened to announce) that I’m not dead yet.  My husband says I have the ankles of a 10-year old! Thanks?

At any rate, I’m back on my feet with only the mildest hobble. (Debra – I’ll be up and rarin’ for next week’s Yakima roadtrip!)  While our NW weather seems lodged in February temperatures, the days are gradually lengthening and working their magic on the still-chilled landscape.  I’d best not push my recovery by jumping on shovels just yet but I can wield a trowel with the best of them.  Today’s task?  I’m gonna go dig me some old fashioned, fabulously fragrant, nostalgic and yes, slightly weedy, violets.

potted violets

potted violets

Viola odorata, the common sweet violet, is native to Europe but has now naturalized throughout North America.  The plant is easily propagated through its copious seed, root cuttings and division.  Not all plants have the good fragrance of this old fashioned favorite; indeed some sweet violets are sore disappointment, mere slug fodder and weedy annoyance.   I count myself lucky (?!) to have acquired a clump of an exceedingly perfumed strain and I am guilty of generously spreading this horticultural harlot around among friends  who swoon when she is in intoxicating bloom and later swear when she’s nothing but a ratty clump insinuating itself into every nook, cranny and gravel pathway.

Violet: a color, a flower, a feminine name, a spectrum of light, a fragrance.  Many things to many people over the ages.  I named the first cat that was my very own “Violet” after an old fashioned character in a novel I was reading.  She was a delicious calico and seemed to wear every color but her name and for all that she birthed my second cat, T.S. Eliot, at a very young age, she was the delicate embodiment of modesty which violets stood for in the secret language of flowers.  Dried blossoms steeped in hot water – a simple – are said to relieve cough, congestion and sore throats.  Tasting of perfume and preciousness, candied violets are a traditional, if somewhat fussy, decoration for sweet puddings and cakes.  Commercial candied violets may be mailordered from specialty food vendors but I think they are best left to folks with an overdeveloped sense of foggy nostalgia that can see past the actual lurid gobs of stale, mishapen sugar.

However, if you have time on your hands and a hankering for  cough-curing cake decor, Hortus Miscellaneous, that compendium of all things horticulturally arcane, contains the following instructions:

How to Candy a Violet

Candied violets are an old-fashioned decoration for cakes and other sweet desserts.  Present-day commercially produced products resemble lurid blobs that taste strongly of cheap perfume.  Fortunately, home preparation of these delicacies is easily whin the ability of the discerning gardener/cook.

  1. Pick a quantity of sweet violets early in the day when they are fresh from the morning dew.  Remove the leaves but keep a long stem on each blossom to assist in handling.
  2. Thoroughly wash the blooms clean of any garden soil or dust and carefully blot dry.
  3. With a fine paintbrush, holding an individual flower by its stem, paint a mixture of lightly whipped egg white thinned with a little water on each petal, taking care to completely coat both top and bottom.
  4. Dip the now-coated blossom gently into a bowl of finely granulated sugar, spooning the sugar to completely cover every part of the flower.
  5. Lay the resulting candied violet on a tea towel to dry completely.
  6. Snip off the remaining stem before using the violet to adorn your dessert.

Violets may be candied when blooms are plentiful and – once completely dried – stored in a clean, airtight container for use later in the year when they will bring a breath of fresh spring to any sweet dessert.

- page 186, Hortus Miscellaneous by Lorene Edwards Forkner & Linda Plato

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2 Responses to “Spring in my step, the violets are blooming”

  1. Karen March 25, 2009 at 1:25 am #

    I love violets! My folks have that old-fashioned kind with the heady scent. Potting them up for indoors is smart, they don’t stay long as cut flowers. I have some weedy ones in the parking strip, don’t think they’re blooming yet or are very fragrant when they are. Glad you are healing well!

  2. Cynthia March 28, 2009 at 11:57 pm #

    One of the discoveries I made upon moving to the Pacific Northwest that completely delighted me was finding violets growing “like weeds” everywhere I walked. I struggled to grow them in my previous Southern California gardens where they just never seemed very happy. I never thought of potting some up for growing indoors! I must remember this as I do love them so.

    Thank you to Karen above for pointing me to your blog as it is lovely.