When I think of foraging, I think of going out in the woods to gather something exotic like mushrooms. Gathering flowers is more like meandering through the garden, unless it starts hailing, snowing and raining. In that case, a rather fluffy pastime can turn into an extreme sport of running in and out of shelter with camera and tripod in tow. Lucky for me, I have easy access to loads of Viola volunteers close to my house.
The genus Viola includes violets, pansies, johnny-jump-ups and many more. I have 4 of the more common species in my yard and didn’t plant any of them from seed. I did “relocate” one from a parking lot years ago but the rest just showed up and continue to find perfect little spots here and there to take hold.
According to Robert Henderson in the Neighborhood Forager, all Violas are edible. He mentions eating the foliage, either raw or steamed. I have sprinkled the flowers in salads but I wanted to try to crystallize them for decorations on cupcakes. My assistants showed up and I immediately put them to work.
The first step is to gather the flowers, cutting with decent stems, when you can. Place in small vases of water to keep them fresh while you work. It’s best to pick flowers on a warm, dry day but if you can’t, don’t worry, just blot carefully with a paper towel.
Put one egg white in a bowl and beat it just until it starts to foam. Use a fresh organic egg since you are going to be eating the flower. Don’t use flowers that may have been sprayed with pesticides.
Hold the flower by the stem and carefully paint a light layer of egg white on the front and back with a small paintbrush. Hold the blossom over a plate of superfine sugar. Using a small spoon sprinkle sugar on all sides. When it is coated, shake lightly to remove any excess.
Cut the blossom from the stem and allow it to dry on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper in a cool, dry place. If the flowers get too warm, they will wilt before they dry. Drying takes about 8-12 hours. If you don’t use them all, you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months.
As for the cupcakes, I found an incredibly easy frosting recipe in Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food.
Warm 3/4 cup heavy cream ( I used creme fraiche instead).
Chop 6 ounces semisweet chocolate.
Remove the cream from the heat, add the chocolate and let it sit until the chocolate melts.
Stir it all together. As it cools, it will thicken.
This is enough for 24 cupcakes plus a few licks for the cook.