Friday, August 14, 2009

Fried Violet Leaves

It often happens, in recipe searching (as in every other sort of searching, I suppose,) that something entirely different from what one was looking for turns up – something too good to ignore, something that just has to be put aside to explore further another day. Such as the following recipe, for Fried Violet Leaves, from the Melbourne newspaper The Argus of July 17, 1945

Fried Violet Leaves
is a recipe that comes from Mrs E. V. Lucas, wife of the noted essayist. Myself, though, I would feel almost a cannibal eating them, for violets are amongst my favourite flowers.
They are fried in a little butter until slightly brownish. They are eaten with orange or lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar.

I am a little baffled by the ‘cannibal’ concept. No matter how purple or fragrant or shrinking Mrs Lucas considers herself herself to be, she cannot by any stretch of the imagination be anywhere close to coming from the exact same species as the violet – which is surely a requirement for cannibalism? However, I digress.

Several things came to mind when I saw this recipe. Firstly, I wondered what they taste like? Are they as fragrant as the flowers? Secondly, they seem to be a sweet ‘dessertish’ item here – I cant think of any other leaves cooked in quite this way, can you?

It also struck me that the cooking of violet leaves in fat is the same method used to make violet ointment. Violets have a long medicinal use, particularly in the internal and external treatment of cancer. Here is a recipe from A Common Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve (1930’s).

Violet Ointment.
Place 2 oz. of the best lard in a jar in the oven till it becomes quite clear. Then add about thirty-six fresh Violet leaves. Stew them in the lard for an hour till the leaves are the consistency of cooked cabbage. Strain and when cold put into a covered pot for use. This is a good oldfashioned Herbal remedy which has been allowed to fall into disuse. It is good as an application for superficial tubercles in the glands of the neck, Violet Leaves Tea being drunk at the same time.

I then wondered how many other culinary uses violet leaves might have had in the past that we have forgotten. Here is an interesting idea from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery (an eighteenth century American MS transcribed by Karen Hess, 1995)

To make a Haggis Pudding.
Seethe a calves haggis [chitterlings], & when it is cold, chopp it with beefe suet, & put into it parsely, time, penneroyall, violet leaves, & margerum, of each an handful chopt together small. then put in creame, grated bread, cloves, mace, pepper, salt & suger, mingle all these well together and make up ye puddings, and boil them.

Quotation for the Day.
If people take the trouble to cook, you should take the trouble to eat.
Robert Morley.


Anonymous said...

I think this may be one of the times when "leaves" doesn't mean the green leaves, but the flower petals (you seem to hear it most frequently used for rose petals). Then again, it still doesn't explain the cannibalism bit.


Liz + Louka said...

I wish my little daughter would take note of what Robert Morley says.

D. S. Foxx said...

Sweetened cooked violet leaves? I'll have to try this, thanks--until this post, the only culinary direction I'd seen for the leaves was the usual frustrating direction to "cook like spinach," which I've decided means that the author hasn't actually tasted the item in question.

...or, perhaps, spinach.