Every spring, when the weather just starts to be divinely warm and the world is coming to life, the violets bloom. It’s during this time of year that I get the hankering to go for long walks outside or begin overly ambitious garden plans. But one afternoon after work, I held off on both of these activities to spend an hour beheading violets for a kitchen project. I was making vibrant purple jelly out of the violet blooms. It is deeply, oddly satisfying to run your fingers through a bowl full of the delicate blossoms, each a slightly different shade of violet.
The process for making violet jelly is rather easy: 2 heaping cups violet blossoms, rinsed, then covered in 2 cups of boiling water and steeped overnight. Next day, begin to heat and add the following: 1/4 cup lemon juice (which will turn it from blue green to purply pink–it’s cool to watch), 2 to 4 cups sugar (I used 3), and 1.75 oz package pectin. Heat to boiling, switch to low, let simmer (~10 min or so), stirring occasionally, until it reaches a consistency where a spoonful turns to jelly after 1 minute in the freezer. Sanitize and seal the jars, like you would can anything else. It doesn’t make much, so you can double the recipe, but it might take longer in the jellifying stage.
What does it taste like?
You might think it’s a no-brainer that violet jelly tastes like violets (duh). It does taste subtly like violets, which is hard to explain until you taste it, but, more prominently, it tastes like lemon. You have to add the lemon juice in order to get the dramatic color change from a dingy blue-green to a bright violet.
To understand why lemon juice would change the color of the violet-infused water, we first have to understand why violets are violet in the first place. Violets are violet because of the pigments in them: Purple and blue pigments in plants are caused by a group of pigment molecules called anthocyanins, which are part of a group of plant secondary metabolites called flavonoids. The color resulting from the concentration of anthocyanins is influenced by pH, so the acidic lemon juice changes the pH and thus the color. (Shout out to evolutionary biologist Andrea Berardi, now a postdoc at University of Colorado, Boulder, for her nuggets of flavonoid wisdom.)