Saturday, 20 April 2013

Violets: Elusive And Enduring

Dear readers,
Sweet violet season is drawing to a close in our neck of the woods.  Their first blooms in February demurely gracing our hedgerows and the shady outskirts of our neighbouring vineyards fill me with a quiet joy which whispers 'spring'.  How do I know they are sweet violets (Viola odorata) and not the tinier dog violets (Viola riviniana)?  Unlike their small cousins, the dog violet, which has no smell, these little beauties have that unmistakable perfume; the most elusive of all fragrances.  There have been abundant clumps of purple this spring - perhaps due to the equally abundant rainfall - and, soggy ground permitting, I have got down on my hands and knees to sniff.  Did you know that violets get their ephemeral scent from ionone?  After stimulating scent receptors, ionone binds to them and temporarily shuts them off completely. This substance cannot be smelled for more than a few moments at a time. Then, after a few breaths, the scent pops up again. Because the brain hasn't registered it in the preceding few moments, it registers as a new stimulus.  As magical as an illusionist's trick.  This year violets have been popping up, as if by magic, everywhere in our back garden.  I simply felt I had to do something with this unexpected crop and turn the elusive violet into something more enduring.

One of my most treasured French cookery books, L'Appel gourmand de la forêt, offers a handful of delicious recipes starring the modest wild violet.  Have you ever eaten toasted sandwiches with goat's cheese and violet leaves?  I haven't but I'm willing to give it a go!  Apparently the leaves taste like spinach.  Linda Louis, the author, explains how the elusive scent disappears completely once cooked.  The best manner of preserving the delicate taste therefore is by mixing the flowers, stalks and leaves removed, with alcohol, butter, vinegar, or sugar, of course.
I gently ground, as suggested, 40g of violets with 200g of sugar with a pestle and mortar, spread the purple sugar onto a paper-lined baking tray and let it dry overnight.  Sprinkled over fromage blanc, pancakes, waffles, meringues, and my favourite rice pudding, this sugar suffuses us for a few moments with nostalgia.
If the scent of violets is ethereal it can be equally difficult to capture the colour violet on camera.  My passion for violets compelled me to purchase some delectable yarn from The Uncommon Thread in the Viola colourway and knit something simple and a little old-fashioned for our sweet Angélique.  Do you see those adorable mother-of-pearl buttons, found at La Droguerie in Paris during a wonderful day last week?  They have tiny violets engraved on them.


The pattern is Granny's FavouriteThis is my first Georgie Hallam pattern. I was slightly taken aback when I saw sixteen pages printing off but I hasten to add that it is a perfectly wonderful pattern to follow; a delight to read with its colour-coded size instructions. Granny’s Favourite - we are talking Little Red Riding Hood’s Grand-mother of course - can be knitted with short, middle-sized, or long sleeves which makes it sound a little like Goldilocks And The Three Bears!  My Ravelry notes are here.
I am delighted to announce that the winner of my French harp music giveaway is An Cailin  Please email me your postal address so that I may send it off to you  I just know that it will make your heart sing.
A bientôt,



  1. What a lovely post Stephanie!
    How lucky you are to have violets popping up everywhere and what clever little flowers they are.
    Angélique's cardigan is ever so pretty and such a beautiful shade too. :)
    I love La Droguerie, I've not been to the one in Paris but their shop in Nice is a treasure trove of delights, I could spend hours in there!
    Happy weekend my friend,
    V xxx

  2. Such a beautiful post, I learned so much about violets and got to feast my eyes on your sweet girl in her violet sweater.

  3. Lots of lovely information about the little violets. I was photographing them in my garden today as I have an abundance of them too this year.
    What a delightful little girl Angélique is.

  4. EVERYTHING, TOUT, about this post, is making my heart race with joy.

    Dearest Stephanie, the color of violets is unmatched. The scent is heaven to me, for my half sister who was 35 years older than me (YES!) always kept violets in her WHITE kitchen. I have fond memories of seeing these beauties just glow with loveliness.

    Then there are the recipes; I find that violets in SUGAR are the best, tainting the sugar with just the right amount of color and taste...as well as LAVENDER petals.

    But my favorite of all is YOUR creation for la petite. The color is perfect, the stitching supreme, and of course your petite ange modeling? PERFECTION.

    Thank you for always sending an air of kindness in your posts. Much love chère amie, Anita

  5. Simply gorgeous. Every bit. Your little Angelique is the sweetest picture in her violet card. A beautiful post that says Spring in every way.

    Janine xox

  6. Oh wow this is my first glimpse of your wonderful blog - I love it such adorable images I love the little cardigan it's just so perfect x

  7. Stephanie, your beautiful and instructive post has me wondering how I could have reached my current age without knowing about the reason for the elusive violet scent. Thank you so much for that gift of information!

    Your violet infused recipes seem quite elegant. The china cup and saucer are sublime!

    And then, there is the absolutely charming Angelique in her lovely violet cardigan and floral tiara. I suspect that photo will now inspire many folks to do some springtime knitting. You made me smile with your mention of the multi-paged instructions...I would also have initially wonder what on earth was going on. How kind of the designer to actually offer such detailed, helpful information.

    And so, once again, many thanks to you, too. xo

  8. Hello lovely Stephanie....Such a beautiful violet themed post today!...Your china teacup is so pretty...Can I join you for afternoon tea and share some of those beautiful toasted sandwiches that you've described so perfectly? I have never used violets in my cooking but you have certainly made me very curious. Angélique looks adorable in her new cardigan and her little fairy wreath...such a sweet image and lovely work as ever!
    Wishing you a very happy weekend Madame Millefeuilles!
    Susan x

  9. Adorable little girl, beautiful cardigan, and ever so pretty china. A delightful post to read, especially as I love violets too. Thank you.

  10. dear stephanie, oh my goodness how precious is this post. i've almost never seen anything prettier than your little daughter in her violet hand knit and the halo of flowers on her head. sigh. xxxxx

  11. What a sweet little cardigan! I had a dinner service in that china when I first got married, gave it all away in the mid 90s- must have been mad! :) x

  12. You have violets?? Just growing wild in your backyard?? LUCKY LUCKY you!!! I want some sugar-violet mixture on rice pudding too!

    You should go find the blog Curly Birds. Once there, do a search for Violet Jelly. The most beautiful picture you will ever see. You'll love it!

    How sweet is your little angel in her violet cardi? And the floral crown?

    This post made me very happy!!! xoxo

  13. Violets...my very favourite! My dear Mummy would sugar violets from our garden, then place them atop vanilla-iced cakes...such delightful and cherished memories indeed.
    Your darling fairy-girl is ever so sweet in her violet sweater, and flower blossom crown!
    Sending hugs across the sea ...
    Judy xx

  14. Une bien jolie fillette et les tasses sont ravissantes!
    Merci pour suggerer le patron (16 pages, vraiment?) et un grand bonjour de la cote Pacifique Nord Ouest!

  15. Such a pretty post Stephanie. Your daughter looks lovely with her new cardigan! The little march violets are still in bloom in our garden, but not for long any more. You are right to use them in dishes too. I have never really crystallised violets, but I think I may give it a try soon. They will look lovely on a cake.

    Happy weekend!

    Madelief x

  16. Angelique and her cardigan make the prettiest picture. And you couldn't have found more perfect buttons. I don't think I have ever come across sweet violets, I think it is dog violets that I have seen growing wild around here but I must pay more attention next spring. Juliex

  17. Thank you so much! I think I made a little squeak of delight when I read my name, which made me sound rather like one of your lovely mice. Anyway, I am very excited and will be off to send you my address as soon as I finish here.

    I must agree with everyone who has said how wonderful little Angelique looks. The wreath in her hair is a perfect touch. She looks like she should be sitting in Faerie eating some of the violet dishes in your cookbook. (What are those in the photo with the cardigan? They look like sugared violets.)

    I never knew that about the violet scent. It's very interesting; I must be sure to remember. I don't think they grow natively here, but I had a pot of them in the windowsill for the longest time. Only a few months ago there was a mishap with the cat and they didn't make it.

    Many thanks again,
    An Cailin

    1. Oh, would you please let me know if you get the email? I think I sent it right, but I'm not entirely certain.

  18. All so pretty - and fascinating about the scent of violets. We have violets in our garden I must go and seek them out to see if they have a scent (though I do not think they do) I will pass on the violet flavouring though - it reminds me a little too much of "Parma violet " sweets, which aren't the most pleasant.

    Your little on in her cardigan is charming - such a lovely pattern.

  19. Violets always remind me of my gran and the little bottles of scented Devon Violets that she used to keep on her dressing table. My sister and I didn't see her very often but we always came away with a pretty bottle. Little Angelique looks so lovely in her new cardigan. It most definitely is her colour.

  20. Oh what a delightful post Stephanie. Your Angelique is growing and is too gorgeous for words in her new violets cardy x Beautiful descriptions about the violets too, they remind me of sheer nostalgia with my two grannies and they are too pretty and delicate. Sounds like you had a great day in Paris certainly if it involved going to buy buttons from that shop. I always have to google a town or city if its new to me visiting to find out where all the yarn shops are �� Enjoy this week full of the joys of Spring xxx Penny

  21. ~ Parma violet sweeties bring back such lovely thoughts...Wild Violets are so special....I have them just peeping out in my tiny forecourt garden. ~ your sweet little Angelique looks so pretty too...~ A lovely post, dear Stephanie....And well done to the winner too! ~ with kindest thoughts...Maria x

  22. lovely post love violets too and the have a great sweet smell that bring happy and peaceful memorys too leon10

  23. Dear Stephanie,

    I also love violets and remind me of my dear Grandmother, who had a Violet fragrance perfume. Thank you for sharing the interesting information on the pretty flowers.
    Angelique looks adorable modelling her sweet new cardigan and love the little floral garland.
    Also I adore your sweet mice - they have so much character and are darling.

    Happy new week and many thanks for visiting me

  24. Stephanie...Thank you so so much for your sweet comment on my book and for buying a copy...My heart is happy to think that one of my books made it all the way to France! Your blog is magical...and that image of that sweetie in that violet sweater makes my heart melt..so so darling. Hugs from Canada. xo

  25. Wow! I LOVE the colours in this post - so beautiful!
    I love the photo of your sweet little one in that cardigan and fairy princess crown! :-)

  26. Beautiful post - I love your cup and saucer they are so pretty!
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

  27. how pretty~and so interesting too!i didn't know all that about violets...
    the recipes sound intriguing...and i love the little cardigan :)
    thanks for stopping by, and your kind comments...have a super week :)

  28. Such lovely flowers!!! They are impossible to grow! Your little girl is adorable. So pretty and sweet! Your flower recipe reminds me of my mom's penchant for eating rose petals in jam with toast :)

  29. Stephanie, that color is so difficult to match but I think you did it just right with your sweater. I once bought a box of candied violets from France, it cost as much as a bag of groceries at the time but I thought it was a very wise investment as I put them one on little frosted cakes I'd made and elevated them to art! Just the box alone was cheering.
    That looks like a gorgeous cookbook. And all your rain has paid off! I wonder how it will effect the mushroom crop?

  30. You're so right about the difficulty of photographing violets...purples...blues. I can make a lovely flower arrangement of lavenders and purple and the color turns the most awful flat inky blue. I love the color of that sweet sweater, and the buttons are enchanting.
    Something like Dog Violets grow wild in my backyard. O. Well.

  31. What a delightful post. I am not usually drawn to purples or lilacs, but that shade of violet, with it's grey and blue tones, it's quite beautiful.

    I find photographing most colours very hard - often what comes out in the picture bares little resemblance to the ball of yarn or piece of fabric in front of me!

    Gillian x

  32. She is such a sweet, lil' one. Love the purple on her and the cardi is so cute. I don't believe I've ever eaten sugared violets.

  33. Huummm.... your delicate post nearly brings the scent of sweet violets. Violets have popped up here and there all around our litthe garden is now, but smelless ... so I think that I can conclude from your post that we have
    Viola riviniana. We're missing the amazing tricks of ionone ...yet the view is charming.
    "L'appel gourmand de la forêt" is another precious discovery.
    Angelique is so sweet in your viola sweeter (her eyes are so beautiful, matching the colour). The mother-of-pearl buttons of La Droguerie are also my favourite ones.
    Many thanks also for your kind words on "Bateaux de papier". I've just wrote there the answer to your questions.
    Happy spring to you

  34. Oh Stephanie, this was a post to fill my heart with delight. Violet is my favourite colour, and violet time is my favourite time of year. (We have yet to see any here.)

    What a glorious cup and saucer and cookbook ... didn't it hurt just a little, to grind up those lovely violets? :)

    Angélique looks just that in her violet sweater.

    1. Yes, Sue, it did make me wince to crush a handful of perfectly innocent violets! What can I say? I cannot be violent with violets :-)

  35. How pretty is the teacup and saucer! Gorgeous little cardigan too.

  36. Hallo Stephanie,
    ich danke Dir für diesen wundervollen, dem Veilchen gewidmeten und überaus aufschlussreichen Post. Vor allem die Sache mit der Entstehung und Wahrnehmung des Veilchenduftes fand ich sehr faszinierend! In unserem Garten tummeln sich Unmengen des leider nicht duftenden Gartenveilchens, aber ich habe mittlerweile auch ein paar Pflänzchen des echten Duftveilchens entdeckt. Hier und da sieht man mich dann auch auf dem Boden kniend...;-) Veilchenduft erinnert mich immer an den Garten meiner Eltern, wo der Rasen mit Veilchen übersät war. Wenn man im Frühling in den Garten ging, war die ganze Luft mit diesem wunderbaren Duft erfüllt...

    Das Jäckchen für Angélique ist wunderschön!!!

    Ganz liebe Grüße, Bärbel

  37. STEPHANIE! How I love coming here again to see the charming Angélique in her violet sweater, lovingly made by sa mère! I AM THRILLED that you got to go to Paris last week and that you will be participating in the France Link Party! You will be perfect as you live in France, your wares, your language - everything will be so charming to see! I will put your name and link on my next draft!

    Merci mille fois ma belle d'être venue participer. BISOUS! Anita

  38. Lovely post. Violets are so special. I have two of those teacups, but no saucers. :)

  39. Angélique looks adorable in her sweet new knit. And what a marvellous thought, violet sugar!

    You have such a delicate touch in all you do dear Stephanie and it never fails to delight :)

  40. Oh, I love little spring violets! I have some wild ones that grow in the rocks of my flower beds and on the north side of our gate. So pretty!~
    And LOVE that beautiful cup and the cardigan!! She looks like a little angel in it! And the color is perfection! I hope some day I'll get up the courage to knit something like that!

  41. Oh my what a wonderful post! it has filled my heart with joy, i would love to make some violet sugar too.
    your little one is such a little sweetie
    from one violet lover to another .... love jooles xxx

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