Violets are blooming right now through the Charlotte region, and you can turn their shy purple petals into brilliant syrup and rosy jelly. In addition, the fuschia-colored flowers of the native understory Eastern redbud also are beginning to bloom. Scatter their blossoms across a salad for a subtle but beautiful burst of springtime.
You can make syrup and jelly from any type of violet – and here we mean real wild violets, not violas or pansies purchased for the garden – but only the blossoms of the sweet violet, Viola odorata, are going to have that elusive violet perfume. Be sure to pick from unsprayed areas. You can sugar the violets – an old-fashioned confection – by painting their blossoms with (pasteurized) egg white and then dipping in sugar. Laid to dry, they will become hard and can be used to decorate cakes. Violets frozen in ice cube trays of water are another fun idea.
To make your own violet syrup, take the stems off two cups of blossoms. Pour three cups boiling water over the flowers, cover and let steep for two hours. Strain out the violets, add to pan and boil with 1 3/4 cup sugar. Add the juice of one lemon – here the syrup will turn a deep pink. Reduce the heat and simmer on low until it reaches the thickness you want. This makes a nice drink base, and can be used over pancakes or ice cream.
There are many variations of the violet-jelly idea, and here’s just one recipe. -Amber Veverka