Last Saturday we decided to make a stop at our friend and local young farmer Jack Leggett’s place to pick up some fresh eggs. Got myself a dozen beautiful brown speckled free range chicken eggs, and stayed for a bit to chat with Jack and his friends about our upcoming project, a half dozen piglets arriving in June.
As the guys stood there and debated the relative merits and disadvantages of various styles of sties (pigsties, that is), I was looking around, soaking up the bucolic environment. In other words, staring at my feet. Mid-stare, something caught my eye. Violets. There were violets everywhere! Parts of his sweeping front yard lawn were a carpet of the little purple flowers.
Thoughts of pigpen posts and fencing came to an immediate halt and Lightbulb! Jelly. The makings of violet jelly, everywhere. About two weeks ago I saw an article about making jelly from wild violets. I was really intrigued, and even bookmarked the recipe, gave up on the idea as I didn’t have nearly enough violets in my yard to get the job done. But here, in front of me, was hundreds- no thousands- of violets, untouched by nasty lawn chemicals and in fact well endowed from the nutrient-rich soil thanks to the free-range chickens.
I ran home, grabbed a big container, and headed back over to the Leggett Farm. I got down on my hands and knees and commenced to picking violet blossoms. Jack was nice enough to help me out, and within half an hour, we had six cups of flowers. Back at my house, I placed the blossoms in a big aluminum bowl and boiled up six cups of water, which I poured over the blossoms. This mixture needed to steep over night, so I covered the bowl with a towel and went to bed.
Before I actually hit the hay, I did a little research on violets. According to the Internet Gods, all members of the Viola family, which includes violets and pansies, are edible. They have long been used in candy, syrup and jelly-making. African Violets that you grow in your home in pots are exotics, and are NOT part the Viola family and are NOT safe to eat – just in case you felt the urge to pick some blooms off your houseplants and decorate a cake.
Violets have also long been prized as a medicinal herb. Violets, like many other dark purple and red fruits, are rich in anti-oxidants. Their leaves are high in Vitamin C. They also contain salicylic acid, which is the main ingredient in aspirin and works as an anti-inflammatory. They also have alkaloids and flavonoids which may have a role in lowering blood pressure. Disclaimer: I am not a qualified herbalist so I am just passing this along to you as an interesting little curiosity. Always consult an expert or reliable source before using herbs as a medicine. And, in all honesty, I really doubt the jelly has any health benefits, given the amount of sugar it contains. But everybody should live a little, right? Everything in moderation.
I got up in the morning, strained the mixture through a piece of cheesecloth and poured the liquid into a stainless steel pot. The liquid is what you use to make the jelly; discard the blossoms. At this point, the liquid, otherwise known as an infusion, is dark blue. I poured a little into a glass to try it out. The taste was vaguely reminiscent of a sweet black tea. Overall, it has a very mild flavor with a slightly peppery scent.
To the pot full of violet infusion I added 3/4 cup of lemon juice. This is when the magic happened. Or simple chemistry, depending on how you look at it. As I poured the lemon juice in, the mixture immediately turned from dark blue to an intense magenta pink. I will admit, I got pretty excited when I saw this happen.
I then placed the pot on the stove, turned the heat up to high and began to add sugar, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Every recipe I encountered on the web states you should add fours cups of sugar for every two cups of violet infusion. I had six cups of liquid, which would mean adding 12 cups of sugar. I simply could not bring myself to put that much sugar into the pot. I mean- I know it is a jelly, but still, twelve cups seemed over the top. So I added 9 cups, which would be a ratio of 2:3 instead of 2:4. It tasted delicious, and more than sweet enough. I then brought the whole mixture to a boil, and added two packets of liquid pectin.
Pectin is a complex carbohydrate found in the cell wall of fruits. It is extracted from fruit in some fashion that is beyond my realm of knowledge and used to thicken jellies and jams. It can be found at every grocery store, even our meagerly stocked local Grand Union. It comes in two forms- liquid or powder. I have tried powdered pectin in the past, and did not have the same level of success in getting my preserves to set as I do with the liquid. Pectin needs to cook in your jelly for two full minutes at a rolling boil…after this, jelly is DONE! It was that simple. You then ladle the jelly into hot jars that have been sterilized in boiling water for a minimum of ten minutes, place the lids and rings on top, and finish it all off in a hot water canning-bath for 10 minutes. End product was 10 half pints of beautiful bright pink jelly.