"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

April 4, 2012

Violet Jelly: First Canning of the Year!

Violet jelly has to be the easiest jelly I've ever made: the hardest part, to be honest, is leaning down and picking the delicate flowers. After a good forty-five minutes of picking (myself, our youngest boy and his friend––ok, I paid them!)––and lots of me saying "OH, look at the Jack-in-the-Pulpit! The trillium!" (a new cache we discovered up the road from our farm) or the kids showing me great new finds like clusters of small yellow violets––we, miraculously it seemed, had 2 heaping cups of violet blossoms (the recipe for jelly called for four cups of violets, but more about that in a moment).

The purple Sweet Violet (violet odorata) is what you want for jelly.
[In the Language of Flowers, the blue violet is a symbol for faithfulness.]

I first started using violets (and Johnny-Jump Ups, which seemed to grow all over the lawns in our part of New Hampshire) in crystallized form or to decorate small cakes at the tea room I used to operate at Barrett House in New Ipswich, New Hampshire (many moons ago). They have a very delicate, subtly sweet flavor and are perfect for dainty desserts (as long as they are not sprayed), or just thrown into a salad. You can even make them into vinegar and sherbet.
As there are many varieties of violets in Kentucky that grow on roadsides and at the edges of fields before the grasses come in, and early in the spring, I wanted to find ways to "put them up," particularly the prolific sweet purple violet. [There are other more scarce varieties that grow in the woodlands.] I was not disappointed. There are violet recipes galore on the Internet and in several of the cookbooks that I, um, "collect." NOTE ~ You will want to pick in an area that is not sprayed, or, at least, has not been sprayed since the summer prior. As they are the first flowers on the roadside, you should be fine as long as you choose a less-traveled road, or better yet, your own yard or farm lane!

Violet Jelly
  • 2 cups violets (see below)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 packet of Sure-Gel
Yield - 4-5 half-pint jars of jelly

The night before: Place the violets in a glass quart jar and cover with boiling water to the top of the jar. You will see the violet petals immediately start to steep and cast off a lovely pale blue (middle photo, above). Cover and set aside to rest over night or for at least a few hours. The next morning the violets will have floated all through the "violet tea" and will be pale in color (right photo, above). Strain the "tea" through a sieve, into a quart measuring cup or bowl, and discard petals.

Here is the specific recipe I borrowed from to make this.

NOTE ~ I used two cups of violets and doubled the recipe everywhere else so I was technically using half the amount of violets and got double the amount of jelly. However, I believe I got the same intended effect. Using four cups of violets probably just intensifies the flavor a bit more. I'll let you know next year!

Add the lemon juice and watch the pale violet color transform before your eyes.

Pour the violet and lemon juice mixture into a non-reactive pan.
Mix in the powdered pectin.
Add sugar and stir until boiling. Then boil again, hard, for one minute.
Pour into half-pint glasses that have been sterilized. Boil for 10 minutes.
[I use a simple hot water bath in a favorite old vegetable steamer for quick batches.]

And now I can't wait for rose season to make rose jelly and other herbal delights using the same infusion process.

You come back when you're ready! 


April 1, 2012

Spring Vacation !

"Just living is not enough," said the butterfly,
"one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”

― Hans Christian Anderson
We have been blessed with an early spring (winter never really arrived here this past season) and everything has been coming all at once––at least when things are somewhat sequential you know what to expect and you can enjoy things as they come. There is such profusion of blossom and fragrance and great weather right now that it's like spring on steroids! Most days, as the weather has been so glorious, it's a question of "OK, do I clean out that closet or that office pile or do I just go outside and play in the dirt?" You can imagine what I've been choosing as much as I am able.

Like the plants, I tend to bloom in the spring. I want to be out kicking around, visiting, and outside (especially in these lovely more temperate months before it gets too hot). I have a very different temperament in the spring and summer and have learned to go with it. Part of me needs to hermit-up in the winter and part of me needs this great stretch of weather and the warmer, sunnier months ahead. In Kentucky it's like we go from drab brown to glorious technicolor in a matter of a few weeks.

This swallowtail visited the lilacs that Henry picked for me today. I had just put
them out on the porch table at the cottage to enjoy with dinner.
And now you know why I usually have my camera within reaching distance!

Our boys are off for Easter vacation and we are puttering around our farm, taking a few day trips, and enjoying each other's company. Eli, helped by Henry (and friend Gabe today), has started another fort. This one is in shouting distance from the cottage porch where I've been spending much of my time planting seeds in flats, sorting through stuff, doing some writing, and serving many meals. [It's really unheard of to be able to eat outside in Kentucky in March!] The porch will also be my summer office, before the sun comes around to the west. I so enjoy the big picnic table that my great-grandparents (and that we had in Akron growing up) had made for cookouts and that has graced our porch for several summers now. There are wonderful vibes in that old wood and it easily seats twelve (my great-grandmother seemed to get sets of twelve in dining-related things and linens: it's a habit that I seem to have inherited, too).

I have some other projects for the week ahead and will blog about some of them. They are, in no particular order:
  1. Finish planting four large galvanized tubs with spring vegetables;
  2. Finish starting seeds;
  3. Plant some containers and tubs (but I need to remember that frost could occur! Our "last frost date" is usually in mid-May but often sooner);
  4. Make Easter sugar cookies using all of the vanilla combos that I've had percolating since last fall;
  5. Pick violets for vinegar and jelly;
  6. Resume spring cleaning on rainy days (if there are any this week);
  7. Attend the first produce auction of the season [See GROW Casey County];
  8. Clean out the henhouse!
And, the best news is that our daughter will be here in a few weeks for a good stretch of time between resort seasons. It's always wonderful to have her with us again.

You come back when you're ready!


Postscript ~ Our daughter has bumped up her visit! She'll be arriving on Good Friday instead–just in time for Easter (and until she has to return to work in early May)! Now, this Snow White had better bump up her plans to spring clean that cottage...Hi Ho Hi Ho!