Spring has finally sprung upstate. It was a long, cold winter, and many of us thought it would never end. The wonderful thing about living in the Northeast is that we have seasons. The not so great part of that gift is that the contrasts between summer and winter are brutal. Spring and fall aren’t always a guarantee. Often, they feel like blips on the radar of Mother Nature, and yet there are people who still question the direct correlation of how we use our planet with climate change (a conversation for another day).
Everything around is coming to life. The raspberry bushes are snaking their way through the side garden. I’ve been told they’re like weeds, and indestructible. I hope that’s true since I have much to learn, and my thumb is far from green. There’s a single rose bush along the house, too. I can’t help but think of M when I see them. He took such loving care of the ones we had at our old apartment on Henry Street.
A few weeks ago, my friend Jen wrote about foraging for violets, and making her own homemade syrup. Her post has been in the back of my mind ever since, realizing that if I could find my own wild violets (African violets are not edible), then I might be one step closer to replicating the Christine Ferber jam I covet from Pierre Hermé on my visits to Paris. As luck would have it, guess what caught my eye as I stepped outside the back porch door this past weekend? Yes, violets! A whole yard full of them.
I ran inside, giddy with excitement, to grab a container. I then proceeded to pick three cups worth of violets. I wondered why my thighs were throbbing halfway through, and realized I was getting a workout with all the bending. I despise doing squats, rather I should say my knee’s affinity for tendonitis dislikes squats. Disguised as foraging for violets, though, they were worth the pain.
I had wrangled Virginia in as my assistant, but soon the ants working hard to collect food between the blades of grass won her attention. My helper had gone off to play with bugs, making me burst with joy. That is exactly why we’re doing this move. I want my girls to grow up feeling more connected to the world around them. As I plucked violet after violet, it occurred to me that M’s name for my cookbook was coming to life. It may not have been chosen as the title by my publisher, but on a sunny Saturday afternoon, this city girl found herself making a batch of violet syrup in her very own country kitchen. And with freshly picked flowers from her own yard, too. I imagine the sun’s magnificent rays cast upon my back were him looking down, beaming with pride for this new home, and life, we are creating for ourselves.
Music Pairing: Everybody Here is a Cloud by Cloud Cult
Read more about how to make violet syrup (and get the recipe) at Use Real Butter.
Here are a few helpful notes from my violet syrup making experience:
- 1 cup of violets equals 17 grams.
- Re: white sugar vs. natural cane sugar. Jen mentions using white sugar to preserve the color of the syrup. I used natural cane on my first try, and thought it produced a lovely turqoise color. Still, I opted to add a few drops of lemon juice to attain a deep purple color. On my second batch, I used white sugar, and found it to be more of a muted purplish grey color. I didn’t care for it all, so I added lemon juice to produce a lovely, deep lavender color.
- Jen mentions using a bain marie, or cooking the syrup over a low flame, to dissolve the sugar. You can create a bain marie at home by simply using a small pot and a heat-proof bowl (I use a Pyrex glass bowl). Fill the pot halfway with water, and bring it to a boil. Add the violet water and sugar to a bowl that will neatly fit on top of the pot. Stir it until the sugar is completely dissolved. It may take longer this way, as opposed to simply boiling the syrup directly in the pot, but you won’t have to worry about it boiling, and ruining your hardwork.
- PLAN AHEAD This is a two-step process, taking 24 hours. After collecting the violets, they need to step in boiling water for a full day to extract the essence of the flower. The syrup then comes together quickly. My guess is the flavor of the syrup gets stronger over time, too. I plan on doing a little taste test every few days to see if that theory is true. Not too much , though—this batch needs to last a whole year, unless I can collect more violets before the grass needs mowing.