vapid, leathery neighbors juxtaposed ::::
When I was in elementary school, I lived next to a house with teenagers. I remember the two sisters, dark skin gleaming with baby oil, shiny like snake skin, lazing in lawn chairs in the humid Illinois summers. I tried my best to soak up the sun the same way. Lying on a beach towel in the grass in full sun was challenging. How did those girls stay so still for so long? Didn’t they get bored? Hungry or thirsty? The best I could do was sit in the shade of their lawn chairs to keep from getting burned or too sweaty. This lasted about ten minutes for me and I was unapologetically off in the shade or poking around my parents’ garden for excitement.
Another friend, I’ll call her Jasmine, had a divorced mother. Though financially modest, Jasmine’s mother’s goal every summer Saturday was to get to the country club pool before 10:30AM to get the best sun. She drove a nice car. She dyed her hair blonde. She wore fancy clothes and tried to look younger than she was. And her skin was already like leather. Jasmine’s mother chastised her one afternoon for getting a late start. The reason was because I showed up “late.” Showing up after lunch so I wasn’t in the sun all day getting dehydrated and hungry impeded on her leather-making and melanoma-building time.
While I’ve had my time in the full sun, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef or training for marathons, with sunblock, I retreat to the shade more and more now. The soft, cool shade of a tree is always welcome if not for the respite from the barreling light of the sun then for the sheer refreshment of sound of the rustling leaves in the breeze and the life it shelters. My cheat for the summer sun was to just avoid basking in it and enjoy it while in the shade. Violets also prefer the shade, their tender blooms wilting under extended full sunlight. They sit nestled in the short grass, heart-shaped leaves like valentines, petals like a strange welcoming face.
I noticed this welcoming face slowly in the past three weeks. Pops of purple speckle the green everywhere now in the neighborhood, colors quickly being usurped by the blooming azaleas. It’s a wonder I missed it before. Most of my lawn violets are the common blue violet (Viola sororia, V. papilionacea) with a freckling of the lighter morph bicolored violet (Viola bicolor), also known as the field pansy. If you look, you can find white, blue, purple, and even yellow violets.
My goal was to locate the sweet English violet (Viola odorata) for culinary fun. As far as I have read, it does not grow wild in the United States. This violet is known for its sweet scent and a vibrant, yet delicate, floral flavor when used in light desserts and drinks. The violets in my yard are common blues, bland but pretty, much like those teenage girls that lived next door.
The deep purple color makes up for fragrance and flavor the common blue violets lack. But we can cheat: violet essence purchased from a fancy market imparts the fragrance and flavor well, as if the English violet tiptoed into your drinks. Shrink into the shade and cheat for this recipe. You will feel refreshed drinking violet lemonade. And your skin will thank you. The neighbor girls and Jasmine’s mother are not so lucky.
One year ago: red-haired girl and mustard-mayo glazed asparagus
Two years ago: flourless caramel oat cookies and pink lady apple and kale salad
Three years ago: roasted pumpkin seeds and coconut cake with mango curd filling
Four years ago: flourless chocolate torte with walnuts and raspberry sauce and monterey and napa delights
- ¾ cup water
- ⅓ cup edible violet petals, gently rinsed of grit
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 2 lemons, juiced (about ½ cup of juice)
- A splash of seltzer, optional
- 1 to 2 drops of violet essence, optional*
- Fresh violets to garnish
- Heat the water to almost boiling, allow to sit for a couple of minutes, then add in the beautiful violet petals. Over the next few minutes, the water will turn a bluish or greenish color as the flower petals steep.
- Add the sugar to the warm violet water and stir to dissolve.
- Add the lemon juice and watch the color turn more purple-pink. Give the mixture a stir and steep for at least an hour. Cool to room temperature, strain over ice, add a splash of seltzer water to each glass, and serve with violet garnish.
- You can steep up to 3 days in the refrigerator if desired, for a darker hue. For the pictures you see above, I steeped for about three hours.
- Makes 2 lovely drinks.
- A note on the ice: For the extra-fancy folk, reserve some petals for the ice cube tray. For each cube well, sprinkle in a petal or two, fill with water, freeze, and use with the lemonade.
Important note: I will repeat this on each of my posts about edible violets. African violets are NOT the same as edible violets, genus Viola. Repeat: African violets are in the genus Saintpaulia and NOT edible!