Saturday, May 14

The secret garden

About one year ago this time, I discovered my interest in foraging. As most things go, this too has come full circle; and again, I foraged violets for jam! However, since last year, some things have changed. For instance, last year when I foraged violets, it was one of my first foraging experiences ever (at least in an intentional way). Since then, I have foraged many meals, and have come to appreciate the seasons much more. When you are eating off the land (even if for just small things like violets and dandelions), you have to be in tune with the seasons. It is a beautiful thing.
Also, last year when foraging violets, I was with my friends Beth, Alicia and Neal. Since, Beth has graduated and moved home. Thursday, I foraged with Jill, and now we are nearing graduation, and though we will be in the garden unit through the summer, come fall the garden unit will lose its walls. By that, I simply mean that Jill and I will be moving to new quarters. This is not to say that the garden unit will be no longer. As time has progressed, I realize that the garden unit is more than an apartment (gosh, this sounds cheesy); and more like a state of being.

Also, since last year, we have shifted our dependence on packaged foods, to a homemade lifestyle. Last year when we made violet jam, we used packaged pectin. This year, we are trying something new: using our home-canned pectin from last fall! Not to worry, this doesn’t change the process too much. In fact, if anything, making jam becomes a stress-free process that can be appreciated more deeply.
Violets, collected
As opposed to packaged pectin, homemade pectin (which can be sourced from many different sources, including sour apples) takes a while to cook and reach its jelling point. The best description of a jelly test for using homemade pectin comes from Euell Gibbons, in his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962):

“Do you know how to make the jelly test? It is more easily done than described, but roughly, it goes like this: After the jelly is boiling hard, use the cooking spoon with which you are stirring it. Take up a little of the mix and wave the spoon around, over the kettle until the juice cools slightly. Then pout it back into the pot. If it runs off like water, the jelly is nowhere near ready. If it drips off the edge of the spoon in two places, it is approaching the jelly point. When the last two drops run together, sheet off the spoon and seem to break at the edge of the spoon then they drop, snatch the jelly from the fire.” 
--Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962)

Practice makes perfect! But, let me tell you, this is a much more relaxed approach to jelly than when using packaged pectin, which requires immaculate timing and perfect attention to detail.
Using the same recipe for violet jam as before, simply replace the store-bought pectin with 1 cup of homemade pectin. Then, using the drip test for jelly, cook the ingredients over medium heat until you reach the jelly-point. Finally, fill your jelly jars and can in a hot water bath. The violets add such a subtle flavor, and the color is sure to liven any meal! We really love of jam on homemade biscuits or a loaf of homemade bread. Not to mention, the process of picking violets for jam is absolutely delightful!
In the field of the secret garden


  1. I Love Stalking the Wild Asparagus (the book and the action! :). I am working on nurturing the violets in our lawn . . . hopefully next year there will be enough to make some jam or syrup!

  2. finding food is one of the most rewarding things. My mom is taking me to her childhood asparagus patch this spring (speaking of stalking the wild asparagus), where she picked and nibbled asparagus shoots throughout the spring season when she was a little girl. How amazing that certain foods are so long-lasting, as to be there generations long!

    I hadn't thought of making syrup before, but perhaps we will try that as well! Our little secret garden has a bountiful amount of the lovely little purple flowers. I hope yours flourish in years to come!

  3. i love these pictures, ali. you are adorable

  4. yummy jam too!

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