By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America
While we waited to see Book of Mormon at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square, we settled onto bar stools at Bin 216. I ordered the Aviation Cocktail- a mixture of gin, crème de violette, luxardo and lemon — because I’d never hear of the violette liqueur and I love new culinary experiences.
The drink settled into the back of my mind until the book Eat Your Roses reminded me that the violets were edible.
And, I’m compelled to make everything I can from scratch. At least once. Consider, in my 20s I thought about raising chickens so I could control the quality of my chicken stock, but I couldn’t decide what would come first – the chicken or the egg.
Laugh if you must, but the thought crossed my mind.
So, why not make crème de violette?
Problem was my obsession started in February, after a foraging trip through the mountains surrounding Asheville, N.C. Unable to find fresh violets in late winter, I bought the purple liqueur. For the budget-conscious, it comes in a classy package and, again, costs less than buying your own packaging and making it.
But that wasn’t the point. I grew up in a family where from-scratch food was de rigueur. Store-bought bread? Verboten.
So, when on Easter 2016, I found violets growing in my boyfriend’s yard, it was time. When you eat (and drink) with the seasons you act before the window closes. I was on a mission.
It didn’t take long to realize accumulating enough of these little fairy blossoms was going to be onerous. So, I made like Tom Sawyer and turned it into a game with my boyfriend’s grandchildren. With the help of four girls we lightly filled half of a quart mason jar.
The glass jar was a delightful way to collect because we were charmed by the way the sun illuminated the delicate petals through the glass and the perfume was a promise of things to come.
I was almost reluctant to cover the vibrant violets with vodka. For a few seconds at least. Glug, glug, glug and the violets were giving up their soul to the spirit.
After marinating (macerating?) overnight the purple leached into the tasteless liquor. And, the flavor went with it, creating an almost berry-like balm. I knew because I’d sample every few hours. I call that quality control.
By day three, when the flowers were nearly colorless I strained the fledgling liqueur into another mason jar spilling precious drops onto the counter. I refrained from licking the liquid straight from the granite. It wasn’t five o’clock somewhere. Yet.
The sketchy instructions I’d found on the internet claimed their infusion was a light lilac. Mine was, but it oxidized to a light gold after a few days. How could I improve the coloring? The purist in me resisted food coloring, but I may give in. Again, we eat first with our eyes.
I decided to make another batch and another and another. I tried six different vodkas. Not to belabor the details, but the flavors were all slightly different. I preferred the barely there hint of fruit from Ciroc vodka – made from grapes – as it married with the violets. My second choice was Kamchatka, a lower-priced vodka.
Next step? Adding an equal part simple syrup.
Then, shake and serve over ice, splashed into bubbly or crafted into a cocktail.
NOTE: Simple syrup is a mixture of equal parts sugar and water, simmered until sugar is dissolved. After cooling I added it to my violette infusion.