One thing we should mention upfront, if you haven’t gleaned it already from our occasional disorganized garden posts, is that we’re not really “lawn people”. We do have, behind the house, a stretch of grassed yard, but it’s not flat (so we can’t put tables or chairs out there), it’s kind of public (we live on a busy road with a lot of hiking traffic), it does nothing for the biodiversity of the area, and we hate mowing it. In short, it gets a little neglected. And because of that benign neglect, we have areas that sprout whatever the hell they want to, and luckily for us, in early spring, that’s violets. Lots, and lots, of tiny, pretty, violets.
So in our ongoing quest to rid our garden of weeds — by eating them — we bring you homemade Violet Syrup, possibly the prettiest concoction ever. And we’re using that syrup to create a version of the classic Aviation cocktail, which just happens to be perfect for a celebratory Mother’s Day brunch!
Eating our Weeds
Some gardeners have a green thumb when it comes to flowers. We don’t. We inevitably find some way to accidentally kill anything pretty. So when Nature herself lends a helping hand, we’re delighted. Wildflowers are some of the most attractive splashes of color in our yard, but they can be a challenge to spot among the more assertive stalks of wild garlic, mugwort and grasses. Come April, it’s impossible to miss the carpet of scattered white-and-purple flower-heads that tell us it’s violet season.
Unlike the local deer, we don’t just mindlessly munch on anything attractive. A single violet flower doesn’t have much in the way of flavor. More importantly, it’s not always safe to pick a bit of vegetation from the environment and pop it in your mouth. We never use weedkiller or lawn chemicals (except for a very focused attack whenever a poison ivy vine emerges), so we just make sure everything gets rinsed off. If you’re picking violets, make sure you’re confident that the area hasn’t been treated with anything that you shouldn’t ingest.
And sometimes you’ll find an example of local fauna hanging out in your flower patch.
About violet syrup
The violet syrup is properly a simple syrup, and the process couldn’t be simpler. Mix water and sugar, infuse with violet flowers for color and flavor, and heat just until the sugar melts. While we have both purple and white violets, we really only want the purple ones for the syrup. For 2 cups of syrup, you’ll want to pick about 4 cups of violets, give or take. Go through them and remove any stems, leaves, and even the green bulb at the bottom. The less green you have in the mix, the brighter the syrup will be. Once the petals are separated, you’ll have about 2 generous cups of them.
Making the Syrup
Boil water in a kettle, place the petals in a heat-proof bowl and pour over 1 cup of boiling water. Give them a stir to make sure the petals are submerged and let them sit overnight on the counter. We actually left ours for 2 days because we got busy but I’m not sure the mix got any darker for it. Strain the petals out through a fine-meshed sieve and press or squeeze them to get as much liquid out as you can.
You can discard the petals (or compost them) and add the violet water back into the heat-proof bowl, along with 1 cup of sugar. Place the bowl on top of a medium pot so that the bowl rests on the rim, and add about an inch of water to the pot. Make sure that the bottom of the bowl isn’t directly touching the water. Bring the water in the pot up to a low simmer and gently heat the syrup mixture, stirring often, just until the sugar melts.
Don’t let the syrup boil or you’ll lose the vibrant color. It should be quite a brilliant violet-blue color. Take it off the heat and add just a 1/8 teaspoon of lemon juice, which will turn the color a little more purple. Keep adding drops of lemon juice until the color is where you want it to be (we ended up using about 1/4 teaspoon). Let the syrup cool to room temperature, then transfer it to a clean glass storage jar. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
The Violet Syrup would be delicious (and gorgeous) simply added to a glass of Champagne or club soda, but we decided to make it into an Aviation cocktail. Invented in New York in 1916, the Aviation classically contains crème de violette, a sweetened infusion of violets in brandy. It has a pronounced violet taste, usually generated artificially — if you’ve ever sampled Parma Violets, you’ll have an idea of the flavor of the liqueur. Our simple syrup doesn’t quite have the same kick — its distinctive floral flavor is more subtle — but it does supply the same deep purple hue to our version of the Aviation.
The cocktail pairs herbal gin with the two sweet components (violet and maraschino syrups) and just a hint of lemon juice to give it balance. Incidentally, we’ve fallen in love with Luxardo cherries, which are much more expensive than the more common jars of Maraschino, but are so, so much richer and totally delicious.
And if you’re planning on treating your Mom/Mum with a homemade Mother’s Day brunch (may we suggest scallion-cheese filled gougères?) or dinner (you could do worse than to make scallops with leek risotto), these cocktails, with their delightful purple color, and sweet flowery notes, would go down a right treat.
Homemade Violet Syrup
- 2 cups purple violet petals loosely packed, green leaves and stems removed
- 1 cup water boiling
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice optional (the acid turns the syrup from blue to purple)
- Add the violet petals to a heat-proof bowl and pour over 1 cup of boiling water. Swish the flowers around to make sure they’re submerged and let the mixture steep at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours. Place a fine mesh strainer over another bowl and strain out the petals, pressing or squeezing them to extract as much liquid as possible. Add the violet liquid back to the heat-proof bowl.
- Bring a 1 to 2 inches of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan and set the bowl with the violet liquid on top of the pan. Make sure the boiling water isn’t directly touching the bowl. Add in the sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 to 7 minutes. Make sure the syrup doesn’t reach a simmer so the color stays vibrant. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice. If you want the color to be more purple, stir in the other 1/4 teaspoon. Transfer the syrup to a clean glass bottle or jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Aviation Cocktail with Homemade Violet Syrup
- 2 ounces gin
- 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce homemade violet syrup or use 1/4 ounce Crème de Violette
- 1/2 ounce maraschino syrup recommended: Luxardo
- Maraschino cherries for garnish (optional)
- Violet flowers for garnish (optional)
- Combine all ingredients except garnishes in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake for 30 seconds to a minute, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry and violet flowers, if desired.