“ Brand: Fiddles Paynes / Type: Candy „
When I was 8 in 1968 I went on a very special holiday to Gloucestershire with my grandma Emily. She was born in 1894 so she would have been 74 then. It was a magical holiday, we walked along the country lanes in March and she taught me so much about flowers and about nature. She had been born there in a house dating back to the 16th century with 13 brothers and sisters and this house still stands proud today. It doesn't have the sounds of children bursting at the seams but it is a reminder of times gone by. Now it has a garage, lights, and a wide screen TV then just candles, cobbles and no entertainment except for the natural world outside.
One of the things she pointed out to me were wild violets which grew in the verges by the side of these lanes, and I remember them pale and interesting peeking out on frosty mornings with their tiny purple flowers. When Emily died aged 102 the memory of my time with her on that special holiday didn't, and violets still remain one of my favourite flowers because I associate them with her and with the time and the moment I was first introduced to them.
In actual fact they have had a history dating back much longer than Emily. In Roman mythology Venus became jealous of some maidens and when Cupid could not tell her they were less beautiful than she was it is said she turned them into woodland flowers. There is also the story of the legend of the God Attis who after castrating himself saw his blood turn to violets! Violets were the national flower of Athens in Greece and Persephone was out collecting some when she was abducted and taken to the underworld.
Later the Greeks would throw violets onto graves as a symbol of remembrance and this continued through the Middle Ages -even Napoleon covered Josephine's coffin with them. There are even stories of medieval monastery gardens growing violets to protect against evil spirits.
In the 14th century in France violets and almonds were ground and served with rice pudding and today the main use for these delicate flowers is still in cooking. There is a shop in Toulouse which sells everything made from violets, and indeed most of the crystallised violets we have today are harvested in France. You can eat both the leaves and the petals and they are high in vitamins.
Today when I see violets my thoughts turn to those happy days spent with Emily and one of the ways I enjoy them is by using the petals in cooking particularly in decorating cakes and deserts. The last few years has seen a real shortage of the petals as due to global warming there has been too much rain and the petals have not been suitable for crystallisation, but you can still buy them if you look.
Fiddles Payne a company who make a lot of home baking accessories make a glass jar of these which you can purchase from most major supermarkets. This has been a bonus as until recently I had to hunt them out from cake icing retailers and specialist shops. The glass jar they come in looks really pretty as you can see the glistening pieces of violet coated petals inside.
The ingredients are sugar, natural flowers, acacia gum, flavouring and colouring and this jar holds 36g which is plenty to decorate several cakes and will cost £3.19. You can also mail order them from several cake making companies such as
www.janeasher.co.uk. The Fiddles Payne glass jar is of course recyclable.
They are a crunchy texture and the company also makes rose petals as well.
My favourite way of using them is to make a chocolate cake and then to decorate the top with a chocolate ganache or butter cream layer and then to use them to finish off. The best topping of all is to use pure dark chocolate and having melted it over a pan of simmering water pour it over the cake. As it is setting place the violets on the top.
Utterly delicious! My favourite cake is a family recipe which I have listed below, it is moist and keeps well and is a perfect forum to display my violet petals!
Easy Chocolate Cake
4 Tablespoons of cocoa powder
½ pint milk
2 Tablespoons syrup
175g granulated sugar
350g self raising flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 beaten eggs
Cream the margarine with the sugar and syrup till light and pale. Beat in the eggs and stir in the flour and cocoa powder and finally mix the milk with the bicarb and add.
Bake between two greased and lined 8" tins for about 34/40 minutes in a moderate oven 325 degrees or 160c or Gas mark 3. Keep an eye on it but don't keep peeping and its ready when a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the cake.
You can then make some butter cream to fill it and cover the top with the icing of your choice.