Eating Wild: Violet Jelly

April 12, 2012

by Margaret Cabaniss

Watching all the hard work my sister and her husband are doing in their garden lately, it seems unfair that we…I mean, that they’ll have to wait a couple of months before they’ll be able to eat anything from it. Fortunately, there’s one crop growing like gangbusters in their yard right now — something that they didn’t have to plant or even tend at all — that is already ripe for harvesting: wildflowers.

In theory, it seems obvious that certain kinds of wildflowers would be edible, but it almost feels too fanciful to think that you could make a salad of dandelion greens (you can!) or a cake with sugared flowers (I have!) simply by grabbing a handful of what you have growing in the backyard. And yet edible wild plants are exploding everywhere right now (as my allergies can attest), so it’s a great time to give them a try.

There are a couple of rules when it comes to eating wildflowers, of course: Don’t eat anything that’s not organically grown, for one. (Munching on some roadside flowers is probably not going to be the edenic experience you’re going for.) And, of course, make sure what you’re picking is actually, you know, edible. In the portion of my sister’s yard that’s not given over to the garden, violets have been running rampant lately, so we decided to start with violet jelly. Violets are easy to spot and easy to pick; the idea of flower jelly fascinated the kids; and if it didn’t actually work out in the end, all we stood to lose were a few weeds.

Following these instructions, the whole process was dead easy. The first task was “harvesting” the violets, which may have been the best part: The kids happily disappeared outside with their buckets to collect the flowers while Amy and I relaxed in the shade and periodically offered encouragement. (To keep them occupied longer, just tell them you’ll be making a lot of jelly…)

You need about two heaping cups of lightly packed violets (ones with petals fully open are best); give them a rinse and place them in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Cover with two cups of boiling water and let steep anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours. We set ours in the window to let it cool down a little and then covered it and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

When it’s done steeping, strain out the violets and reserve the (by now shockingly purple) liquid. Combine the violet water with 4 cups of sugar and ¼ cup lemon juice in a heavy saucepan on the stove. (If you’re canning this, use bottled lemon juice; the acidity is more consistent in the bottled variety, which better guarantees bacteria-free conditions. If you’re not canning, though, you can always use fresh (strained) lemon juice.)

Bring the mixture to a hard rolling boil and stir in a 3 oz. pouch of liquid pectin (we used Certo). Keeping boiling and stirring for another two minutes, skimming off any foam that may collect on the top. Pour into hot, sterile jars, leaving 1/8″ head space; clean the rims, attach the lids, and — if you’re preserving the jelly and not just refrigerating it — process in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes. (For more detailed canning instructions, check out Ashley English’s book Homemade Living: Canning and Preserving.)

When you remove the jars from the water bath, the jelly will still be liquid, but it will set up as the jars cool. Just leave them undisturbed on a towel on the counter for a while and they’ll be fine. The recipe makes around 5 half pints.

As for the taste: Well, it’s delicate, a little floral (obviously), and…purple-y? Honestly, it’s hard to describe; violets don’t have a particularly strong flavor (though I’ve heard that cultivated violets are a bit more assertive), but the jelly is sweet and lovely to look at and excellent on biscuits, so I’m calling it a win. It makes great gifts, too: We gave away all the jars but one, and everyone was completely charmed by the unusual color and the “I’m-eating-wildflowers”-ness of it all.

Looking for more to do with edible flowers? Ashley English suggests sprinkling violets over a breakfast risotto for a little color, or making violet sugar. And that’s not even venturing into the world of apple blossoms, pansies, dandelions…

Have you ever eaten wildflowers? What’s your favorite thing to do with them?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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1 Cecilia Madden April 12, 2012 at 9:28 am

i’ve never even heard of wildflower jelly. sounds so lovely!

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Ann Waterman 2 Ann Waterman April 12, 2012 at 9:28 am

Wow! The color alone makes me want to try some — how pretty!

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3 Lisa April 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

A British co-worker once shared candied violets with me, from here:

http://www.demel.at/en/frames/index_shop_geschenksservice.htm

I was sooo excited to eat them, because I’d read about them before and now here was my chance to try for myself! They tasted very sugary, with a distinct aftertaste of flowery perfume. Small quantities only if you ever try them! But I would love to try that jelly.

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Margaret Cabaniss 4 Margaret Cabaniss April 12, 2012 at 11:51 am

Those look lovely! I’ve never had candied violets — only the sugared variety, which wouldn’t be quite as sweet. Thanks for the tip!

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5 Sarah S April 12, 2012 at 11:36 am

Growing up, we ate violets constantly (or rather, little epicures that we were, bit off the sweet backside of the flower and tossed the more lovely, but less sugary, petals). My mother also liked to grow plenty of nasturtium, not just for their glorious color but also the peppery flavor they add to salads and sandwiches. They’re related to mustard and watercress, after all!

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Margaret Cabaniss 6 Margaret Cabaniss April 12, 2012 at 11:49 am

I never knew that about nasturtiums! Awesome. It reminds me of the time when, while visiting a friend’s aunt, she sent us down into the creek bed behind her house to collect some watercress for a salad. I had a vague idea of what it looked like, so we poked around a bit, crossed our fingers and picked what seemed like the closest thing. Fortunately, we guessed right, and no one died eating our salad.

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7 Zoe Saint-Paul April 12, 2012 at 11:38 am

I love the idea of eating flowers and using them in food. This is so pretty and fun!

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8 EML April 12, 2012 at 4:44 pm

My husband’s mom used to put wildflowers in their salad growing up and apparently it scared one of my husband’s friends and he would never eat at their house again. haha!

I personally have never eaten wildflowers, but would love to try this jelly.

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9 Sarah D April 12, 2012 at 8:32 pm

I love eating nasturtiums. I would love to eat violets in various forms, but astoundingly I’m having trouble getting any to grow, and only one plant on our whole property has appeared spontaneously. Come on violets, I thought you guys were supposed to grow like weeds!

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10 Alissa Lively April 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm

This is amazing! Our new house has about 5 million violets in the yard so I guess our plans for this week are set.

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11 zoe July 12, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Hello :) Do you sell any of your jellies?

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12 Vickie May 9, 2013 at 10:06 am

Oh my goodness, this sounds and looks like something I want to try! I can imagine a rainbow of jellies on the pantry shelf! Thank you for sharing this recipe! I found you on the HomeAcre Hop.

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