Wild violet liquorMay 10, 2010
In early March, after flipping through some old recipes and cleaning tips that I found in a book dating back to Raphael’s grandma’s generation, I got the brillant idea to make a violet liqueur. Violets grow wild all over the winery in early spring so the timing was perfect. I began picking handfuls as I walked around the property filling my pockets with the delicate flowers.
The recipe calls for 500 grams of dried violet petals although it doesn’t specify if you should weigh the entire violet while still fresh, only the petals while still fresh or only the petals after they have dried. Trust me, this makes a difference in the weight. I chose to weigh the dried petals. So after I picked each small handful of violets, I removed, one by one, the delicate petals placing them in a bowl to dry.
After about two weeks of accumulating violet petals in a plastic bag on top of the refrigerator, I decided I probably had enough. I took down my kitchen scale and emptied the petals into the bowl. The needle barely touched 15 grams. Most people would give up. I became obsessed to pick enough violets to make a liquor that I can’t even drink until after baby is born. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to find enough violets on the winery for this recipe.
Each time we went for a drive I scanned the roadsides for the tiny purple flowers. I learned that they grow in humid, shady areas and frequently along stone walls or at the edge of woods. Maybe, like the truffle mushroom and the Oak, there is even a specific type of tree they grow near.
My first big find was on my way home after buying goats cheese. Spying a flash of purple, I pulled the car over, hoped out and filled my coat pockets with violets. Guiltily, I glanced in all directions certain some local would come walking up the road shaking a stick and yelling at me in French that I was a horrible girl stealing wild flowers from the side of the road. But as the grams on the scale climbed I was more determined to reach the 500 mark. Then I his the jackpot. On my way back from visiting the statue of the Virgin Mary on the cliff above the village of Clansayes, I passed a slope of hill covered with violets. The slope was bordered by the village stone wall on one side and hidden by trees on the road side which is why I didn’t notice the flowers on the way up. I was in a hurry as it was almost time to get the girls from school but I couldn’t resist. I even had a bag in the trunk. In a rush, instead of daintily picking one or two flowers at a time, I grabbed handfuls, shoving them into the bag.
When I got home, I set to sorting the flowers from the sticks and grass and removing the petals. But that was not all I found in the bag. As I opened the bag, large black spider came scurrying out at me with surprising rapidity. I guess during the ride home, he found his way near the top of the bag and was just waiting for me to open it for him to reclaim his freedom. I relocated furry guy outside using the dust pan.
When all the petals were removed I was thrilled to see I had filled the bowl and half of a second. I set them back on the fridge with the intention of weighing them when they were dry. Surely now I had close to 500 grams. The next day I weighed them only to find I had just reached the 100 gram mark.
Do you know how many violets you need to pick to get 500 grams? Neither do I. After a month and a half of collecting them, I gave up. I have about 150 grams of violet potpourri in a lovely bowl in the living room. I’m going to leave the alcohol making to the experts in the family.
I still wanted to try violet liquor so I recently visited the Eyguebelle Distillery not far from us in the Drôme. They have a tiny museum that walks you through the history of the distillery which was begun by the monks of the Abbaye d’ Aiguebelle. The visit ends at the store of course, where you can taste all the products. In addition to the liquors, they make sirops including a violet sirop which I happily tasted. A sirop in France is a condensed and sugared extract of a fruit or plant. You pour a small amount into a glass then fill it with water to make a drink. It’s a higher quality and better tasting Kool Aid. Maybe it was just my obsession but I found the violet sirop good enough to buy a bottle along with a bottle of the violet liquor – one for now, one for after baby.