Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nibbling on Roses and Violets


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.

Many family firms from tiny to medium in Provence remain true to the ancient art of making nougat, calissons, and superb glacé fruits, and some, like Confiserie Florian, still create delicacies made from flowers harvested from small farms around Grasse. Bee keepers constantly move their hives around the countryside to capture the nectar flows of mimosa, orange blossom, lavender and other flowers, and their honey finds its way into traditional nougat or is sold bottled as single flower honeys.

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.

Crystallised Flowers

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.

Judyth McLeod


  1. I guess I am conservative because I have never eaten flower petals. It is interesting to know that you can crystalize them.

  2. Have you ever heard of a company called Woodland Fairy Acres ( They sell marshmallow mixes and scone mixes in a variety of flower flavors. Just thought you might get a kick out of their products!