Trial by Violet Jelly.


I didn't plan at all on making violet jelly, yet by the end of the day today I had a small batch, resting proud and purple, on the towel lined square of counter nearest to my stove top. An unusually warm March has given way to more seasonal cool this April, and we've finally gotten some rain as well, washing the tender violets and greening up my neighborhood with supernatural aplomb. Spring never ceases to amaze me, that the seeming dead of tree and flower suddenly, prolifically, burst out into full bloom - reminding me on an annual basis that I love living with four distinct seasons.

My kiddo has gotten his first two-wheeler bike, and ever since I told him that violets are edible and we can eat them, he stops his ride at every plot of them to peruse a perfect, edible specimen. This child will not eat one single morsel of lettuce leaf or other green, but purply violets? He not only eats them, but then sings the song he learned in school to remember the colors of the rainbow, emphasizing the word "violet" with proper gusto... The funniest thing is that he doesn't really like them, he is just excited to eat something that doesn't appear at first glance that it should be eaten. I even got him to eat a sliver of bitter dandelion green, of which he declared that he didn't really like it but was glad that he tried it!

violet eater.

While I know in my head that violets are edible, I have to admit I am an intrepid forager. Foraging is something I prefer to learn firsthand, where book knowledge is something I might read and remember, I don't think I would rely on without first comparing with visual human knowledge. I convinced myself that violets are probably impossible to mistake, and that also a little empty lot of land strewn with both them and ample dandelions is probably as close to pesticide free as I'll get in an urban local. I spent maybe 20 minutes kneeling in the grass, soaking up a little sun before swirling winds and rain clouds boisterously interrupted the afternoon. I picked mostly purple violets, a few lighter specimens for accents, easily and therapeutically after I discovered how to turn both hands into discriminating rakes. Then I walked home and soaked 2 packed cupfuls of them in 2 cups of boiling water.

violet water

I let them rest nearly 24 hours before straining them. The water was a deep indigo until I added a lemon and a half's worth of juice, which according to multiple accounts I read of violet-jelly-making I had expected to turn a shocking, brilliant purple. The only sugar I had on hand was raw cane sugar, which I usually substitute by weight measure for canning, and I knew the purple would be diluted by its darker amber color. It's still a pretty shade, but less surprising and more just plain "grape" colored than if I had used a pure white sugar.

violet jelly

I'm actually not much of a jelly maker. Last year, I made wonderful watermelon and grape jellies, but I am far less confident with jelly than I am with jam. I am also not so finicky that a little cloudiness bothers me, so frequently my jelly has a rustic feel that true jelly connoisseurs may scoff at. I also forget that liquid pectin is a far superior product to the powdered type, and I also forgot that I made some homemade apple pectin that I had stashed in the freezer last fall. Any future batches of violet jelly will be made with both white sugar and liquid pectin, since my first attempt was far from perfect.

But for using ingredients that were on hand and growing out in the neighborhood, this pretty, cloudy, slightly herbal jelly is pretty nice. I have likened it to the stone soup of the jelly world, because the violets were very mild in my case, the overall flavor of the jelly is very good, and it was nearly free to produce. It has deep, caramel undertones from the raw sugar, and bright lemon highlights. The texture, while imperfect, is almost pudding-like and I think it will find a happy home in a yellow layer cake (or at least my imaginings of one, since I have really been doing well not consuming lots of dessert...).

One other highlight of my day today was spending the morning with a new friend, Marisa, who I traded my gently used yogurt machine for some tofu coagulant and a new Greek yogurt culture. I let my old favorite, the viili culture, pass gently away to make new room for a thicker, Greek culture, and maybe as soon as lunchtime tomorrow I'll be able to spoon a bit of this new jelly into some fresh yogurt for a true test of its eatability.

violet jelly

It would have been nice if yesterday I had felt like sitting still long enough to paint egg whites over the remaining violets and dust them with sugar. I read a quick article by Linda Ziedrich which outlined the simplicity of it, but for some reason I couldn't gather the patience to sit with them for another hour. I couldn't help imagining a fat shortbread cookie with an appropriately sized indentation for violet jelly, topped with a sugared violet garnish. But that amount of detail is now alive only in my mind, maybe to make a Springtime appearance once upon a time in a bakeshop I may never own.

Instead, this morning I peered in the fridge at a plate full of bright purple, fully wilted blooms that I took out to the compost after contemplating their incredibly short life span. So pretty and small that I don't take the time to look at them as I should, but their tiny wealth of energy will add to the garden I suppose...

violet spoon

PostScript: If you wonder what recipe I used, it was this one (it was credited to being available all over the Internet), and instead of the white sugar, I used 766 g. of raw sugar. I also used lemon juice from 1 1/2 lemons, since the lemons I had on hand needed using and the first half I squeezed smelled so good I couldn't resist. My yield was 3 half pints, 1 quarter pint and one nearly full half pint that I considered run over so I could enjoy it immediately. If you too are a first time violet jelly maker this year, let me know what you think of the flavor, and if you have better luck (texturally speaking) with a liquid pectin set!

Cookieposter, part II (and the nuts you must make for both giving and eating yourself...)

Yesterday I took a day off. I did not fold laundry or do a dish. I did not run my vacuum (this is rare, my friends...). I did not turn on the oven or even cook dinner, and I was gone for the bulk of the day. I started my day with the leftover half grapefruit and a Bob's muffin, and then attended a class at my library on Flower design. Then, Sasa and I ate at Comet and went to the Urban Rummage at the Historic Turner Ballroom (one of the most amazing buildings, and yet I didn't think to bring my camera - I found a picture here and a better one here).

The class was a demonstration and tutorial on the beginning basics of floral design given by Mikki of Moss Floral Design and Studio, in Bay View. I felt so inspired to live with more flowers in my house. In one of my favorite design books, The Shabby Chic Home by Rachel Ashwell, she lives with many dozens of flowers artfully arranged on a daily basis. While I liked this idea, I tend more to cultivate plant clippings and succulents than nurture cut flowers. Rachel Ashwell bought a 1920's home in Malibu, and had to decorate on a budget, hence the global empire of Shabby Chic. Her true design is fantastic, the line for Target, not so much. But her eye for the natural world Incorporated into her home world is wonderful. Check it out for more floral inspiration.

I'm hoping to take a few workshop classes at
Moss, and meanwhile am beginning to realize that I need to live about 10 lifetimes to get done what I'd like to. If there were some way to squeeze my working into my sleeping time, I would be quite happy. But too many days of 5 hours a night, and it's really not a pretty sight around here...

the filling.

So back to batch a day baking: Pecan Tarts. Pecan tarts are something that my Mom has made since I was first alive, I think. Usually, she makes them for Thanksgiving, but in recent years she makes another batch for Christmas due to popular demand. Until last year, I never made these! Why?! I have no idea, since they are easily one of my favorite things.

I love that this recipe came from the Pastor's wife, and that it was long enough ago that I only ever knew them as "The Pastor and Mrs. Thornton". Most Pastors now go by first names, so I always feel the antiquity of this recipe. I also love that it has no corn syrup in it. I think the recipe was first given to my parents from Mrs. Thornton, along with 2 tart pans, as a wedding gift. My Mom still makes this recipe from the hand written card in the same pans.

The recipe, as given to me in an email, from my parents:

Mrs. Thornton’s Pecan Tarts

For the tart crust:
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 three oz. pkg cream cheese (I use light)
Mix thoroughly & make into 24 little balls. Chill. Press 1 ball in each little part of a tart pan, sides & bottom-with thumb.

  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla – dash of salt
Place some pecans in each tart shell. Pour in filling.
Be careful not to fill too full as the filling swells as it bakes!
If you desire, you can sprinkle chopped pecans on top. I usually do not.

Bake at 350 degrees about 20 min or until nicely browned. Cool just a couple minutes before you loosten the edge with a sharp knife and pop them out of the pan. Cool completely before storing them in a secret place where little sticky fingers can’t get at them!

Make sure you follow that last part about hiding them, since once you eat one, you want more and so do all the others that you choose to share with. This is one recipe my Husband likes, and he does look for them after I've conveniently tucked them away into the freezer. This is also one of those recipes that I try to mentally figure just how much fat I'm actually consuming in one portion when I can't sleep. One stick of butter seems like a lot, but in 24 little tarts, that's really much less than a T. of butter per serving.

In other related, addicting food news, I had to make these Rosemary Maple Glazed Nuts from Food in Jars. I knew they were going to be addicting, Marisa said they would be addicting, but I had to put them in jars as soon as they cooled enough and hide them in the basement. I can just see myself going after them when I resume my laundress duties tomorrow. My Husband loved these too! What a good kitchen day for me! I have a feeling if you try them, you will also be addicted and well loved.

The other stealthy thing I did today was begin my Daring Baker Challenge. I know, I know, I'm starting way before my normal day before the challenge post. But this particular challenge is the kind that requires a little thinking through and a little pre-baking. I doubt my kitchen will stay as clean as last month's challenge.