The delightful fragrance of flowers was traditionally captured in Provence by the perfumeries of France's perfume capital Grasse in the hills above Nice. But in a tradition dating to the medieval period, rose petals, violets, mimosa flowers, jasmine, lavender, lemon verbena and mint leaves, and angelica stems have been crystallised, candied, incorporated into nougat confections created traditionally from lavender honey, the new season's harvest of almonds, and candied melon and orange peel. They have been made into violet syrup, jasmine or sweet violet jellies of sparkling clarity, or conserves of rose petals or violets.
Florian is situated at Pont du Loup north-east of Grasse near the beautiful perched medieval town of Tourrette-sur-Loup on the Gorges du Loup. Tourrette is famed as a centre of violet growing: the leaves are extracted for essential oil while the fresh flowers are bunched for sale in Nice or used to make jellies and candied violets. Visitors are made welcome at the confiserie and are happy to show all stages in creating a wide range of products and are greeted in summer with the fragrance of roses as artisand pluck the petals of great mounds of freshly picked roses (photographed above), varieties chosen for their rich fragrance.
Opposite: Candied sweet violets, rose petals, lemon verbena leaves and mimosa flowers at Confiserie Florian
Below: Sweet Violet 'Victoria'
is the violet of choice for the creation of crystallised violets in Tourrette-sur-Loup
They will not last like the candied flowers of Florian and other Provence confiseries but it is easy to make crystallised violets, violas, rose petals and mint leaves at home to decorate a special cake or dessert. They will keep well for a week in an air-tight container. the recipe has its variants but is many centuries old.
N.B. A number of flowers are edible but quite a few can cause tummy upsets or worse so violets, garden violas, and rose petals are safe choices. Make sure they haven't been sprayed or contain
insects. Separate rose petals and remove the bitter heels (unless using heritage roses which lack
bitterness. Don't be tempted to shortcut by dipping the petals in the egg white. The flowers will take ages to dry, and be clumped with dull sugar globs
Beat the white of an egg until fully broken up but stop before creating froth. Use a fine point water colour paint brush to paint both sides of the petals. Sift over with fine castor (superfine) sugar. Shake off the excess sugar and row out on wax paper to dry in the sun on hot sunny days. If there are flies around, cover with thin butter muslin cloth or similar. If the weather isn't co-operative, dry them on trays in an oven set at the coolest possible temperature with the oven door ajar. When dry they should glitter like precious jewels.
If you are travelling to France for a holiday, the entire district of Grasse and medieval jewels like Gourdon (rightly rated as one of the most beautiful villages in France and perched on an 800 m rocky cliff of the gorge, and Tourrette-sur Loup will delight you. The whole area is positively littered with Roman remains. From Grasse, take the Route Napoléon D6085 north-east out of Grasse to Chateauneuf-Grasse, and at Pré du Lac take the route to Bar-sur Loup and continue on to Pont du Loup. To find stunning Gourdes (don't miss the little jewel of a medieval garden beside the town carpark, absolutely do not miss the garden of the Chateau de Gourdon (originally a Saracen fortress) designed by the great André de Notre, landscape designer to King Louis XIV - buy a ticket for entry and a guided tour, walk to the end of the village for stunning views all the way to the coast, and don't miss the wonderful La Source Parfumée, with its cauldron, cave, artisan candles and fragrant products). It's far too much for a single day but don't miss a visit to nearby St Paul de Vence wth its artisans and artists. There are many more amazing gardens in the area. More on a different post