I was probably about 6 the first time I encountered mulberries. We pulled into the parking lot of our town’s fitness center for my weekly swimming lesson. We had an outdoor pool but I was too delicate to be plunged into the icy cold water. A warm, over chlorinated pool was the only way I’d learn to swim. As my mom negotiated a parking space, I peered out the window at two middle-aged Spanish women standing on ladders in the middle of the lot. The ground below them was stained bright purple and they stretched to pick berries off the tree above, barely out of their reach. They had buckets filled to the brim with deep purple berries and occasionally would pop one into their mouths. I remember asking my mother what they were doing, but I don’t recall much of the conversation as we scurried into the building, late as usual. But that scene still plays vividly in my mind today and it was then I realized that there were plants you could eat not grown in a traditional farm or garden.
A few weeks ago I went to visit my friend, Cristin, in Baltimore. It was a beautiful weekend in early April. Baltimore being only a few hours south of New York, I’m still always surprised by the weather difference. Magnolia and Cherry Blossoms were already in full bloom, with New York’s spring still a few weeks away. There was no shortage of activities in front of us–museums, Fells Point, antiquing. But being high off my first foraging experience just the weekend the before, we decided on what any sane, classy women in their early 30s would do. We spent the afternoon picking dandelions and the evening making wine.
Last weekend was my mom’s…29th Birthday. Somehow time has reversed and it’s gotten to the point where I’m actually a year older than her. I’m not an expert, but I’m fairly certain those numbers don’t quite add up, but we’ll let it slide. So my family came to Brooklyn for dinner. Food is always a good way to entice visits. The problem with a late April menu is, while it’s clearly been spring for a few weeks now, Spring fruits and veggies are still trying to catch on. The menu was a bit limited–mixed greens from greenhouse gardens, carrots from last year’s harvest, potatoes (there’s always potatoes) and lamb stuffed with bitter spring greens. On the positive side, I was able to bring some brightness to the menu thanks to my new foraging skills. Over the past few weeks I’ve gone a bit crazy with violets–jelly, syrup, candies–and I might have just one more recipe up my sleeve if I can find some more flowers this weekend. I figured what best to celebrate the awakening of spring than with some edible flowers?
It’s a little late in the night, I know. I’m here sipping on the last of my fizzy violet cocktail. Not so fizzy anymore. We hosted my family yesterday for my mom’s birthday, with a good deal of violets and some foraged field garlic. Dinner consisted of roast lamb stuffed with Swiss chard and Merguez sausage, smashed potatoes with field garlic and maple glazed carrots. And that cake with violet jam? Delicious! Don’t worry, photos and recipes coming soon. We’re not very good at stocking a bar. Sure, we have plenty of booze, but not too good with the mixers part. Instead we often have a signature cocktail, if you will, ready for guests to start the evening along with plenty of local wine and beer. I made fizzy violet cocktails by the pitcher, and always forgetting how large the pitcher really is (it looks average size but fits about 1.5 liters), had to manage with some leftover cocktails tonight. A bit flat by now, but still quite tasty. But that’s neither here or there. You’re here to figure out what else you can do with those beautiful violets you spent all weekend foraging for. You did really forage, didn’t you…?
I’m always a little hesitant when it comes to making jellies. (A) they’re a lot more work than jam. You need to collect the juices of whatever fruit (or in this case flower) you’re using, then cook the liquid then add the pectin, then reduce it… It’s just a lot of steps. Where as with jams, you mash the fruit, cook it for a bit, and there you go. (B) I’ve had a lot of failures with jelly. It took me some time to get the hang of using pectin. The jelly isn’t supposed to be totally thick when you’re canning it, it thickens as it cools. I’ve ever ended up with over jellied jelly, so thick, it’s practically a soft candy, or under jellied where after canning, I can turn the jar over and it’s like having canned a syrup. Somehow with this recipe I got it right, a well jellied consistency that moves a bit in the jar but still holds firm.