Violet Jelly Made from Northern Downy Violets

A few weeks ago I came across a bookmark for a violet jelly recipe. Last year I marked the recipe page as the violets had already bloomed for the year when I first saw the recipe. I knew that Viola sp. were edible and had already put a few blossoms on top of a salad or on a plate or drink just to snaz things up a bit. The colorful blossoms don’t seem to have much of a taste and that made me curious about violet jelly.

As serendipity would have it, a ton of native violets grow wild on our property. At the time I was reading about making jelly from violets our Northern Downy Violets were in full bloom, so we made a batch of violet jelly! Oddly, I thought it would taste like grapes, because of the cool colors I guess. The real taste is floral – like a violet and slightly fruity or berry-like with a faint hint of elderberry. Elderberry jelly has a much, much stronger flavor, but there were notes of it in our violet jelly.

Three of us went outside on a sunny and breezy day in April to pick two cups of violet flowers. Just the flower heads were needed so any stems that came off the plant were picked out of the bowl. Violet flowers were picked from our backyard on the mountain ridge top.

Violet pickers happily picking flowers for jelly.
Violet pickers happily picking flowers for jelly. Photo taken 20 April 2012.

In about 15 minutes time we had the amount of violets we needed to make the jelly. Nearly three cups of violets were loosely tossed into a measuring bowl and the whole amount was firmly packed in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Now, that’s not firmly packed like brown sugar measured out for a batch of cookies, but the flowers were pressed down lightly to fit in the measuring cup.

Three cups of loosely packed violet flowers.
Three cups of loosely packed violet flowers.
Two cups of violet flowers in a glass measuring cup.
Two cups of violet flowers in a glass measuring cup.

The violets appeared rather clean, but since the pollen has been very high lately they were given a quick rinse with water in a colander anyway.

Violets were rinsed with water running through a colander.
Violets were rinsed with water running through a colander.

The next step for making the violet jelly was to pour two cups of boiling water on top of the flowers. We want two cups of liquid to make the jelly, so don’t rely on using the measuring cup scale for adding two cups of water. Since the violets already took up space in the measuring cup, boiling water was measured out in a separate measuring cup and then poured on top of the flowers.

Two cups of violet flowers after two cups of boiling water was poured on them.
Two cups of violet flowers after two cups of boiling water was poured on them.

After a couple of hours steeping the deep blue liquid could be decanted off the flowers. We let the measuring cup sit at room temperature for a couple of hours so we could see the color develop and then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. After 24 hours of total steeping time, a double layer of cheesecloth was draped over a 2 quart bowl and the flower and water mixture was poured over the cheesecloth. The flowers were held back from the liquid and then taken to the compost pile.

Ingredients for making violet jelly.
Ingredients for making violet jelly, including from the top, clockwise: 3 oz. packet liquid pectin Certo brand, 2 cups violet juice, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 4 cups sugar.

At this point the violet liquid was a very deep blue color. Four cups of sugar were measured out into a separate bowl. A 3 oz. package of liquid pectin, Certo brand, was opened and sat upright in a glass. A quarter cup of lemon juice was measured out too so that all ingredients were ready when needed. Previously, about an hour before, glass jars were washed and sterilized in the dishwasher and the door kept closed so that the jars would stay hot until needed. Bands and lids were sterilized with a kettle of boiling water poured over them as laid out in a skillet and covered with a lid until needed.

Take caution! To cook up the jelly use a 4 quart pan. When we made this particular batch of jelly we used a 2 quart pan to cook the jelly and created one heck of a mess. As the jelly cooks to a boil foam is formed and that foam layer rises a couple of inches up from the liquid level in the pan. Needless to say there was a scorched mess on the stove top to clean up because the hot jelly ran over. I just knew that pan looked a little full at the time, but I neglected my own thoughts and decided to follow the recipe to a T. Wish I had listened to myself, but since I didn’t, maybe you won’t make the same mistake.

At this point in making the jelly we should have transferred the blue liquid to a 4 quart pan before turning on the heat. The heat was set to high and the mixture was constantly stirred. The lemon juice was added and the color changed immediately from deep blue to a light lavender or pink color.

Lemon juice added to the violet juice turned the deep blue color to pink.
Lemon juice added to the violet juice turned the deep blue color to pink.

Sugar was added to the pan and the heating continued. It didn’t take too long to bring the mixture to a boil and it was constantly stirred.

After sugar was added to the violet and lemon juices, the mixture was an opaque pink color that cleared upon boiling.
After sugar was added to the violet and lemon juices, the mixture was an opaque pink color that cleared upon boiling.

Once the boil was reached, the packet of liquid pectin was added and the mixture boiled for two minutes more. With the smaller pan we had to guess at how long the pectin-sugar-juice mixture was actually boiled because the pan was taken off the heat to stop the boiling over. We guessed ok because the jelly gelled just fine.

Jars of Violet Jelly made from Northern Downy Violets.
Jars of Violet Jelly made from Northern Downy Violets. 21 April 2012.

Evidently, the same jelly recipe could be used for other floral jellies, like rose or rose hips jelly, or herb jellies, like mint or lemon thyme jelly. It would be fun to try some other fine jellies like that, but if we find another big violet patch, we’ll be making some more violet jelly first.

New Recipe for Elderberry Jelly

We made some elderberry jelly this year and this time we used a slightly different recipe. We’ll have a taste-test or two on the upcoming weekends, so we’ll comment back when the consensus is in. From the initial sampling, we can say that both recipes are delicious.

The elderberries ripen around the middle of August here in central Pennsylvania. Clusters were cut from four plants with scissors and dropped into a 5 gallon bucket. Other folks have commented that the hot weather hit some of the berries really hard this summer or that the birds beat them to the elderberries. We are lucky to know of a spot where the elders grow next to a small stream. Evidently, they weren’t bothered by the extremely hot summer weather.

The elderberries were twisted off their clusters into large bowl. A cup at a time was measured into metal bowl with a flat bottom and then crushed with a potato masher. To keep track of how many cups were processed so far, a single berry was placed on the counter in one spot each time a cup of berries was transferred to the mashing pot.


Bowls of elderberries during processing to make jelly.
The large bowl on the right contains wild elderberries that were transferred to the bowl on the left for mashing, one cup at a time. The mash and elderberry juice were poured into the cooking pot at the top of the photo, taken 16 Aug 2011. Loose berries on the counter, at the bottom of the photo, indicate that 5 cups of berries were processed so far.

It was more of a curiosity to know how many cups of elderberries were processed. If we were a little shy of the quantity of juice needed for the recipe, we could make up the difference with whatever fruit juice was in the refrigerator at the time. It’s worked just fine in the past by using up to 1/2 cup apple-raspberry juice to get the total juice volume with no effect on taste, as far as we could tell. We had 12 cups of elderberries.

The mashed berries were poured into large cooking pot. The heat was turned on to bring it to a boil and then simmered for 10 minutes, covered.

The warm mash was taken off the heat and spooned onto dampened cheesecloth, three layers thick that had been laid cross-wise across the bottom of a large bowl. The ends of the cheesecloth were pulled up to retain the seeds and pulp and to allow juice to drip out into the large bowl. The ends were tied together and hung from the cupboard with a clothes hanger, rubber-band and clip. The juice was allowed to drip from the cheesecloth for a couple of hours, although most of the dripping was done in the first hour.

The elderberry seeds and pulp that were retained by the cheesecloth were spread in an area where it would be nice to have elders grow.

Elderberry juice was measured into a large cooking pot, 3 1/2 cups, and 1/4 cup lemon juice was added. The package of pectin was gradually stirred in and the mixture heated to a rapid boil. The measured sugar was added and brought back to a rapid boil for one minute. The jelly was taken off the heat and ladled into hot jelly jars using a funnel. We made six 8 oz. jelly jars full.

A couple of things were different this time compared to other years when we’ve made elderberry jelly. We hadn’t heated the mashed berries before straining out the seeds when making this jelly before. This extra step probably isn’t necessary, but we wanted to try it out. When the elderberry juice and pectin are cooked, and when the sugar is added and the mixture is continuing to cook, that is probably enough cooking to bring out the elderberry flavor.

The old elderberry jelly recipe used 3 3/4 c. unheated juice, a box of pectin, and 4 1/2 c sugar. Without pre-cooking the mash, 8 cups of berries made 3 cups of juice. For the last 1/2 to 3/4 cup the cheesecloth bag was pressed to expel the last bit of juice.

The new recipe used 3 1/2 c simmered juice, 1/4 c. lemon juice, a box of pectin, and 4 1/2 c sugar. So, simmering the mash before straining the seeds and adding lemon juice were the changes from the old recipe. Our 12 cups of berries made 3 3/4 cup juice and no pressing of the cheesecloth was necessary.

We’ll have to have a taste-test with the elderberry jelly we’ve made before. Good thing we made two batches last year – there’s still a few jars in the pantry.

Will the lemon juice make a difference? The acid of the lemon juice is supposed to help the gelling process. Each time we’ve made it, we’ve used a package of commercial pectin and had no problems with the jelly setting. Indeed, the elderberry jelly we’ve made has always turned out a little stiff compared to other jellies.

What effect will simmering the berry mash before the juice collection have? With the old recipe we mashed the elderberries and right away hung up the mash to collect the juice. The juice from this batch of jelly was cooked a lot more and may be stronger tasting because some water evaporated when the mash was still warm from simmering.

So far, we’re not sure if the new recipe or the old recipe will win the contest, but we’re looking forward to your input. Does everyone use lemon juice and pre-cook the elderberry mash?