At this time of year my smallest paintbrush is on standby as I seek for Violets.
Since our move to the Irish sea, the forest is too far to reach on foot, and I have only seen the flowers in someone’s private garden.
So this year I decided to candy the Heartsease (Viola tricolor) that I grew in our garden (from seeds hailing from the Organic Centre in Co. Leitrim).
When done well, candied violets (or “sugared violets”) are delicate and ineffably lovely.
When done without patience, they often turn out as purple lumps or smelly egg-disasters.
Inspired to make your own? Read on for simple yet thorough instructions.
What You’ll Need
- a quite small paintbrush
- freshly picked (yet not moist) Violets or Heartsease blossoms
- caster (extra-fine) sugar
- wax paper or baking paper
- for Egg Version: one white of a room-temperature egg
- for Sugar & Water Version: 1.5 cups water + 1 cup sugar & 1/4 tsp. rosewater or almond extract, if desired
What You’ll Do
Begin by gathering your heartsease or violets on a dry mid-morning. If they are moist, you will have to let them dry, and that can cause trouble with curling up. Pick them with a bit of stem, which you will use to grasp the flower as you prepare them. Also remember to pick from areas you know have not been treated with chemicals and away from roadsides, where they absorb vehicle exhaust.
If concerned about cleanliness, you can gently rinse your violets in a bowl of pure water and then let air-dry.
For the Egg Version: lightly beat an egg white (separated from the yolk of a raw egg, and this works best if the egg is at room temperature. Take an egg out of fridge before you go violet-hunting). Patiently paint the undersides and upper sides of each flower petal so that the whole flower is glistening with egg white (use too much and your flower petals will curl and stick together, use too little and they won’t preserve properly).
Then gently, holding the flower by the stem, dust the petals all over with sugar until well coated. Set them gently on the baking paper when finished.
For the Sugar & Water Version: mix your water and sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add your almond extract or rose water and let cool. Then simply dip each flower in the water and proceed as above. You may need to gently shake the flower to uncurl any sticky petals.
If you are working in a dry, warm room, air-dry for a day or so. If it isn’t warm and, more importantly, it isn’t dry, try cooking the violets in your oven at a low temperature, leaving the door open, for about 15 minutes.
The ideal state for the finished flower is a dry, hardened result (but not to an excessive degree, as they will then fall apart–you see how this process is a balancing act!). You can remove the stems at this point.
Place your delectations in a dark, air-tight jar. Store in a dry place. If the flowers are to be stored on top of one another, try using paper to separate and protect them as they are fragile.
Use as a garnish for cakes and pastries or share with a friend.