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 Favourite. This 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.