Wild violets are everywhere right now, they are one of the few things growing with abandon in this cold wet spring. If jelly isn’t your thing wild violets have many other uses – eat the flowers and leaves fresh in salads, dry them for tea or make a flavoured vinegar with them. I use wild violets in my homemade skin products – steeping them with sweet almond oil for a skin softener or with distilled water to create a refreshing toner. Wild violets are high in anti-oxidants, vitamin A and C and have been used medicinally for hundreds of years. They’re one more part of the urban landscape that often goes unnoticed until you develop a relationship with it. Now I notice and remember where they grow and anticipate them the following year.
To make six 4 ounce jars of jelly
Pick the open flower head, leaving behind the stem. You’ll need about 3 heaping cups. That’s a lot of violets and a wonderful way to spend a lazy afternoon but if like me you don’t have whole afternoons to while away in picturesque meadows then you could pick about 15 minutes a day over the course of a week like I did; meandering and stopping on my lunchtime walks whenever I saw a large patch, always leaving some behind. Be sure to pick them from someplace that doesn’t spray herbicides and away from car exhaust or construction debris.
If you’re not using them right away store your flowers in the refrigerator to keep them fresh. When ready, immerse your violets in cold water and swish gently to clean, changing the water a few times until there is no grit left at the bottom of the bowl. Put into a large glass jar or container with a lid and pour enough boiling water over the flowers to cover by half, roughly 5 cups. Stir until all the violets are under water and let sit for 24 hours. The water will turn a beautiful shade of teal and the next day it will have deepened to a rich purple. Drain the violet water into a saucepan, pressing very gently down on the flowers, pressing too hard will produce a cloudy jelly. Bring this liquid to a boil.
Follow directions depending on what kind of pectin you are using, I used a package of Certo powder and added 2 and ¾ cups of sugar and ¼ cup of lemon juice. Many recipes call for more sugar but the violets have a very delicate flavour which is easily overpowered by sweetness. The next time I make this I will try to find Pomona pectin which doesn’t require sugar to set. Once you’ve added the lemon juice and pectin the water will turn a bright fuchsia pink. The colour alone is enough to make this experiment fun. Stir until the sugar dissolves and bring back to a boil. Let everything boil merrily away until the jelly passes the ‘set’ test. Dribble a little jelly on a cold plate; it should firm up and when you run your finger through the jelly it should stay put. 1 to 5 minutes is usually recommended but because I used less sugar mine needed to boil longer. When it is ready pour into glass jars still hot from the dishwasher or sink, leaving one inch head space. You could also water-bath can them for 10 minutes at this point but with the sugar content and the few jars produced I know we will be eating these too soon to bother.
There are many recipes online for making your own jelly, I combined some of them to get the results I wanted. A very thick jelly with good flavour and less sugar. Making jelly isn’t rocket science but it doesn’t always work perfectly the first time. No need to panic. Just start over and boil your mixture longer until you achieve a good set.