Sweet violet (Viola odorata)
Violet flowers first sprung up in London well over a month ago, and have doggedly persisted ever since, refusing to accept that spring is late in arriving. Frost hardy to -7°C, the unique colouration of their flowers make them easy to spot at this time of year amongst the sparsely populated semi-shade of hedgerow and woodland margins.
For most of the year, the low-lying heart shaped leaves blend into their surroundings unnoticed, although those with keen eyes can spot the much brighter green of pale new leaves as they gradually unfurl to welcome the spring. At this stage of growth they make a mild addition to salads.
Unsurprisingly though it is the flowers that attract most attention, with a sweet fragrance that has a long history of use in perfumes, sweets and even liqueurs. The simplest way to capture the singular scent and flavour of sweet violets is to make a syrup, which can then be added to cakes, drinks and sauces. It is always a great pleasure to gather handfuls of these little flowers, the intensity of their colours emphasised by their coming together.
- Put all the flowers you have gathered into a pan and and add enough water to cover them
- Heat gently on the hob until it just begins to simmer
- Remove from the heat and leave covered overnight
- Strain out the liquid into a measuring jug then dissolve an equal amount of sugar by gently heating again (e.g. for 100ml liquid add 100g sugar)
- Pour into sterilised bottles
And there you have it. Or do you? You may be disappointed that although you have captured the scent and smell of the violets the wonderful colour remains elusive (this recipe normally produces a light purplish blue liquid)
However, by simply adding a few drops of lemon juice the syrup is magically transformed into a deeper, redder purple. This is due to the antioxidant anthocyanins, which change colour depending on pH. Add one drop at a time so it doesn’t become too pink!
Now all that is left to do is to add the syrup to a glass of fizzy wine and toast the arrival of spring! (fingers crossed…)