In Praise of Wood Violets

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I found my first wood violet with curled heart shaped leaves, a few days ago.  Some call them ‘common’ or ‘wild’ violets, a landscaper informed me once that they were invasive weeds…yet where would we be ~ as gardeners without Violet’s lovely cultivated cousins- the Pansies and Johnny Jump Ups?? I have a huge patch of white wood violets and while I believe that white is probably more rare, the deep purple ones with etched centers are my favorites. A mere snapshot cannot capture its charm.

One of the sweetest ladies I have ever known loved the color purple, my grandmother favored it too. Purple is the color of royalty. A ‘seller of purple’ is mentioned by the name of Lydia in the New Testament. Purple fabric commanded a high price, the dye most likely was extracted from purple flowers ~ knowing that, we dare not place a low value on wood violet, her ancestors may have robed Kings and Queens.

If you take wild violet flowers, brush them with egg whites and dip them in sugar- when left to dry they make the most charming decoration for cakes and petit fours. Forage for them, boil the flowers down with water ~strain and add to a simple syrup, you have the makings of a Spring Tonic which is high in vitamin C.

And there is also this… the sentimental value. The memories of southern ladies I have known who cherished violets. In season, my grandmother kept wild violets in a tiny pale pink McCoy vase beside her, she loved to pick them she said. A bouquet of wood violets will only last a few hours, in water maybe a day. So I must praise the tiny wood violet ~touched by the Hand of God~ On my woodland stroll I found a wild violet low to the ground nestled near the roots of a huge tree- she was without ambition to be seen or admired.  The lesson of the tiny purple flower is this ~we may tread on its innocent beauty and not a sound of protest will be heard ~ the priceless fragrance of the wood violet would bless the shoe instead.

Love y’all, Camellia

The Southern Pantry

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Spring Green for the Southern Pantry!
There’s nothing like a few good things to add to the pantry, here are 4 I really love to have on hand ~ hot pepper jelly, mint sugar syrup, pickled peppers and lime zest sugar.
Hot pepper jelly can be made or purchased and I always have it on hand, last year when we were at the Guenther House in San Antonio, the home of Pioneer Baking Company, pepper jelly was served with everything from hot biscuits to waffles. I love it on top of spring greens, when stirred into a salad dressing, a dollop on top of hot buttered cornbread is out of this world and recently I topped a meatloaf with it. Try it you’ll love it and want to keep it on your shelf year round. The next item is also used all year round, mint sugar syrup- yes, you read that right! My grandmother loved to grow mint and she also was the only one in my family who regularly served mint iced tea, one of the most refreshing drinks of summer. Mint tea is also good hot and some of this simple sugar added to taste in a cup of peppermint tea, you’ll sleep like a baby! Mimi might not have known what detox-ing was but she sure did know a thing about spring tonics! Mint tea. Add fresh mint when you’re making a simple syrup, then spoon it in to taste, add a squeeze of lime juice, a sprig or two of fresh mint and you’ll have a spring in your step! Speaking of lime, take a cup of sugar, add the zest of several limes to the sugar, the sugar will dry out the zest and you have lime sugar; with this in the pantry you will have a treasure welcome in any southern pantry! I love homemade flavored salts and sugars, all year round~ anytime you think of it, zest a lemon and add to salt, terrific finishing for asparagus or a warm fresh spinach salad. Just zest limes when you have them, add them to sugar and sprinkle over fresh hot shortbread cookies or stir into a homemade graham cracker crust for key lime pie or mix the lemon salt and lime sugar together in equal parts to rim glasses for lemonade or limeade so festive and refreshing anytime. Another favorite is ‘vanilla sugar’ ~ take vanilla beans ~I use the hulls of them~ cut them or leave whole and add to a cup or two of sugar ~ let all the sugars and salts sit a bit before using, especially vanilla sugar. When if you have fresh made biscuits or even leftovers ~top with melted butter, sprinkle vanilla sugar on top, run them back in the oven until warmed ~ split, add sweetened strawberries and whipped cream, that vanilla sugar adds a little extra something ~ yum! Finally on my shelf for the southern pantry is a jar of pepper sauce, it is used in and on all types of foods but one of my favorites is to add a little of the liquid to homemade pimento cheese ~ adds a zip you can’t get any other way! Fashion may change but these four things never go out of style! If you have them on hand you can make any meal sing!
Love y’all Camellia