Now that the days have grown longer and the spring chill has begun to settle, evenings are being spent going for lazy strolls around the park with our little neighbour, Kaelen, strapped to Djamo’s back. I’ve noticed that the cherry blossom buds have begun promising the arrival of delicate pink blossoms, which can only mean that I needn’t have to wait much longer for that breeze, gently perfumed with the hints of flora and salt, and for the pavements to be showered in a blanket of pink confetti. Whilst I was in London, where a number of ornamental and fruit trees had begun to proudly display themselves in all their floral magnificence, I could not help but find myself in the Japanese Centre at Piccadilly Circus, enjoying my first sakura mochi of the season. Of course, there was their sakura flavoured ice-cream too (with the added sweetness of cherry syrup), but somehow, the mochi, filled with azuki bean paste and delicately embraced by a single pickled sakura leaf (which is where the sakura taste and smell is strongest), is how I love to appreciate this seasonal wonder (I will definitely be sharing my sakura mochi recipe soon – would anyone be interested in a little prize giving of pickled sakura and leaves to play with in their kitchens?). What may come as a surprise to many, sakura tastes nothing like cherry, instead, its flavours are deeply complex and mysterious, with elements of sea salt and flora, and hinting end notes of fruitiness (which I want to call plum). Pickled sakura and sakura leaves can be difficult to get hold of but there are some stores online where they can be bought, and if you happen to have access to an ornamental cherry blossom (e.g. Prunus Serrulata) I would definitely try making your own Pickled Sakura and Pickled Sakura Leaves, which you can use to make your own rice flavouring, sakura essence, sakura tea or sakura syrup. The process is long, but definitely worth the effort.
But, sakura aside, there is another seasonal beauty to be found this time of the year: the sensitive violet. Hidden under the shade of dark, handsome shrubs, the violet’s perfume lingers in the air, leaving a trail for all her eager suitors to follow, while her purple bonnets are bent forward, to conceal their shy little faces. Once you begin to notice them, it is quite difficult not to find these little darlings quietly residing along a little pathway, or in the shadowed corners of gardens and parks. Crème de Violette is an old-fashioned alcoholic syrup, one I was inspired to attempt making at home by an uncle of mine, who made his own watermelon liqueur (which tasted heavenly). Namely, because the flavour has always intrigued me: somewhat delicate and perfumed, and not too dissimilar to the taste of grape candies.
There are three things to remember for this recipe. Firstly, Viola Odorata is the variety with the strongest scent and therefore, I highly suggest using them. Secondly, it is also important to remember that you will need to remove the calyx from the flowers as you will only require the petals to make this liqueur (otherwise the finished liqueur will taste rather like a cabbage-soup-gone-terribly-wrong as opposed to a subtly floral aperitif). Lastly, in order to create a deeper purple colour, I decided to use butterfly pea flowers which naturally provides a vibrant blue hue and, with the addition of lemon juice, turns the liquid a deep purple. However, because the flowers can impart a woody flavour, I would begin with one flower and slowly build up as you may not want this to affect the taste of the end-product for the sake of a deeper colour. If you do decide not to use it, rest assured the liqueur will simply have a faintly purple tone, which, personally, is equally as beautiful and in character to this flower’s shy disposition.
Crème de Violette
Cooking time: 7 days
Makes: approximately 200ml
If there isn’t enough fresh violets at hand, it is also possible to make this liqueur with candied violets. Simply substitute 1 cup of the fresh violets and the granulated sugar for 2 cups of candied violets. Refrigerate the liqueur and serve the next day if desired (or leave for a few days to allow the flavours to develop).
1 cup fresh violets (viola odorata)
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup vodka
4tbsp armagnac or equivilant brandy (optional)
1 tsp lemon juice
1-2 organic dried butterfly pea flower (optional)
Place the violets and white sugar together, layer in a jar for 3 days. On the third day, place the violet sugar into a saucepan with the water and allow all the sugar to be dissolved and the syrup to thicken slightly. Take off the heat and add the lemon juice (you can use the butterfly pea flower to colour the liquid if desired by simply steeping the flowers in the hot syrup for a few minutes before discarding). Allow to cool completely before adding the alcohols. Store in a sealable bottle and refrigerate. Use within 6 months.
I have always been interested in mixology but I have never found the time to learn more about it. Since making my first liqueur, I have definitely been more eager on the subject. I decided to add some cointreau to this mojito, not only for some added citrus flavour, but to help compliment the lovely sweetness of the crème de violette.
Mixing time: 5 minutes
Makes: 1 cocktail
1/3cup white rum
1/4cup soda water
2tbsp white sugar
2-3tbsp lime juice, plus lime slices to garnish
6-8 mint leaves
1 cup ice cubes (crushed or shaved)
3tbsp crème de violette
1tbsp cointreau (optional)
Crush the ice cubes and place in a glass, along with a few slices of lime and the soda water. Place the lime juice, sugar and mint leaves in a cocktail shaker and pressed down and lightly muddle the mint leaves and the liquids together with a wooden spoon (do not crush the mint as this will cause the leaves to release a bitter flavour). Add in the cointreau, rum, and crème de violette, and stir before pouring into the prepared glass.
Thank you for reading.