30 March, 2010

La grêle, les fleurs.

So this is short and sweet, unlike the storm that blew through today in the less than balmy south of France. Can you say "la grêle"? Because that is what we were saying, along with some other choice words. It hailed. It's April, or very, very nearly so. I didn't take photos during the hailstorm, it was just too grim; besides, I was busy consoling my appalled Weimaraner. Who knew the sky could crack open quite so loudly, over and over again? No golfball-sized hail, but large enough for my dog to decide he was going to hold it for a looong time.

I went to check for damage afterward, camera in hand, but even though it had sounded fairly apocalyptic, most blossoms were still whole (the ones that haven't been already ruined by the last Norwegian-style snowfall, that is). Perhaps it helps that we've gotten a slow start to spring.
My camera and I were followed by a capering crew of animals and children. (Can you see one of them above?) My daughter started picking violets. Lots of them. To make a secret potion for spring (obviously!), which she proudly shared with me after working at the petals with my mortar and pestle and a bit of sugar. It was a minute amount of "eau de violette". You could indeed just smell the flowers...There are actually French sirops de violette, or violet syrups, available on the market. They aren't particularly easy to find, but you can get them, and I imagine a judicious touch might liven berry desserts, jams, even ice creams. And just think, crystallized violets to top it all off. This got me thinking, which then had me dusting off a bottle given to me of--bingo, violet liqueur. The most famous violet liqueur comes from Toulouse, where at peak production in the early 1900s, there were some 600 producers formally organized in a cooperative, cultivating some 150 acres. Violets are also sold fresh, go into perfume, those syrups. The liqueur is used to make a number of classic cocktails (like the 1930s Aviation cocktail), which Jonathan Gold recently wrote about at Gourmet Magazine. It is also used to make kirs, using white wine or Champagne. Doesn't violet liqueur seem right up the alley of, say, Martha Stewart? Will this concoction lose its Grandma's cupboard connotations? I, for one, would like to cook with it. I did do a quick search, and found a recipe for homemade liqueur, for in case you're intrigued. 180 grams of violets for a bottle of liqueur. That is a pile of violets. We have a lot out in the meadow, but I think I'd rather candy them.

Any ideas for how to use that liqueur in the kitchen?

After the storm.


  1. See--it's things like this that make me love France. You can drink flowers!

    I don't have the faintest idea what to do with the stuff, although I imagine it would be good soaked into a dense pound cake, like Nigella's Madeira Cake.

    Sadly, I do not believe violets grow in my area. No home made violet liqueur for me.

  2. wow, is that your front yard?? amazing! Not sure what to suggest but maybe some dessert with that liqueur..

  3. My dad once bought me French violet candies. They were hard with violet seeds in the middle. Very floral tasting and very different. I'm not sure how you go about making it though.

  4. Rose,
    Hmm, soaked in a cake, like a Baba au Rhum. I think you've got something there...just don't want the cake to turn blue!

    Well, the green bit's ours, with a bassin in the middle which collects water from rainfall and the mountain spring, and that is used to irrigate the garden. I can't imagine this liqueur going in anything but a dessert either.

    I have heard about those candies, very old-fashioned. Didn't know there were seeds in the middle. Wonder where he found them...

  5. Lovely post. I still have a little bottle of "violettes de Toulouse" that I brought back from France a long time ago.

  6. Tammy you might enjoy this blog

  7. Tammy, What's wrong with blue cake? My kids would love it.

    Oh, I remember those candies Wandering Chopsticks is talking about! That brought back memories from my childhood. I remember candies just like that, but they were rose, not violet. They came in a little round tin.

  8. Gah! Would you just look at that rainbow?! The calm after the storm, I suppose. Sounds like an Event to Behold. As to the violets, I remember a certain violet hard candy my mom bought as a child. It was perfectly hideous. Even to my now-adult mind :) Not much help, that! Hopefully others will supply...
    Cheers, Molly

  9. Hi Nadege,
    Thanks for the heads-up on the site/blog, I'll go check it out. Do try to make an Aviation Cocktail with your precious liqueur, and watch the sun go down...

    Perhaps you (and WC) should take a look at the post I wrote about anise. Is it that candy you had in mind? There are rose and violet versions, and they have cute tins.

    That was some consolation prize after the storm. It stretched from the creek to the other side of the property. My camera couldn't get it all in; the children wanted to dash down to touch it, but like a dream, it faded away in matter of moments.


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