Wild violet jellly is easy to make and boasts a subtle floral and fruity flavour, and gorgeous colour that looks good on goat cheese.
My boss bought me a chocolate chip cookie yesterday. A kind gesture, yes, but don't be fooled into thinking there was anything altruistic about this. I'm certain this was a pity cookie. You see, my boss has taken to teasing me about my dining habits of late. I often tell him that he could pick an entire meal's worth of food on his way home from the office, given he traipses through a forest that's akin to a wild produce section. There's garlic mustard, burdock, wild garlic, ramps, mayapples and plenty of dandelions. He laughs when I tell him this. Pokes fun at me because that's where I stock up on the makings of pesto, jelly, frittata and stir-fries. Inquires about the welfare of my husband and whether he's still alive or has wasted away on weeds. I'm certain he thinks I come home from work and put myself out to pasture in my backyard, grazing the night away like a cow. In fact, he has not-so-subtly hinted that's what he thinks when he said my name and "out to pasture" in the same sentence recently. I'm fairly confident he wasn't talking about my career. It's funny, but so is his addiction to chocolate chip cookies (he tells the Tim Hortons ladies he's buying them for a friend) — cookies not unlike what he gave me today. Out of the goodness of his heart or for another reason, well, only he knows for sure. You see, while my boss was ribbing me today about grazing on dandelions, I asked him if he'd had a chocolate chip cookie lately. Call it a gutsy move or perhaps a career-limiting one, but I caused him to quickly — and guiltily — wipe the corners of his mouth and with it, the slight smirk from his face. Next thing I knew, he was hovering over me, cookie in hand. I pointed at it, ready to mock him when he put it on my desk and walked away. I realize this is a power I could use to my advantage, except I can't figure out if I guilted him out of the cookie, if he's worried I'm starving by subsisting on wild foods or I just genuinely deserved it for my model employee-like ways. I asked him if he'd like me to go pick him some dandelions in return. He laughed at me. He can tease but as I anxiously await my order of 11 pounds of white asparagus arriving next weekend from nearby Norfolk County, I'm happy to forage to get fresh local food. And right now, there's a virtual smorgasbord out there.
Violets in Grackle Garden.
On Tuesday, I foraged for the first time professionally. I picked a bag of wild violets for a local caterer to use for an afternoon tea for which he was making the food. If you haven't had a wild violet, go find one now and pick it. Then put it in your mouth and chew it. Lovely, isn't it? It's got a subtle floral and slightly fruity taste. Beautiful, really. In fact, I'd go so far as to say a wild violet is more of a delicacy than any ramp. That's why I couldn't help but pick the lawn at Grackle Garden clean of them last weekend. I was supposed to be weeding the patch of dirt I'll be borrowing again this year to grow the likes of tomatoes, turnips, kale and peppers but instead, I weeded the rest of the yard, taking home enough of the delicate beauties, whom when at the height of freshness, look they're smiling up at you, begging to be plucked. To me, they were wild violet jelly waiting to happen, a colourful addition to a salad, a treat. They could be wine, tea or syrup, too. Another unexpected gift from my garden. How could I say no? I felt fortunate to have them offering themselves to me. Still, violets aren't just tasty, they're beautiful. And part of me was feeling just a tad guilty for wanting to eat such a gorgeous sight rather than merely devour their broad, fine-featured purple faces with my eyes. The guilt was fleeting. After cleaning them to remove any stems and dirt, I steeped them in boiling water for 24 hours, getting a navy blue liquid in return. Mixed with sugar, lemon juice and a bit of pectin, the result was an ethereal amethyst jelly — sweet, tart and unmistakably flowery, much like the prose it elicits, which is way more than I can say for a pity cookie that while tasty is no muse.
And violets are healthy, too. A half cup of wild violets has as much vitamin C as four oranges and they're packed with more vitamin A than spinach. Beauty and substance — enviable traits. In Greek mythology, Zeus turned his lover Io into a white heifer to hide her from his jealous wife Hera. Rumour has it Io wasn't happy about her new predicament, so Zeus created violets so she'd have something sweet to feed on. Nice guy. Huh. I can't help but wonder now if my boss studied Greek mythology in university. I'll be sure to ask the next time he's eating a chocolate chip cookie and making cracks about me behaving like a bovine. Anyway, you can find the violet jelly recipe that I took my cues from at The Healthy Green Kitchen. Enjoy!