At the end of March these little violet things started popping up in our garden. A friend told me that they are called viola odorata, better known as sweet violet, that they are edible and even medicinal.
This, naturally, called for a cake.
The viola family contains over 200 species of which 5 are native to Britain and you can find them in gardens or forests from February to April.
They have been used in foods for their particular violet flavour for a very long time: a violet syrup recipe from Warwickshire was found in a seventeenth century recipe book.
During the reign of Charles II, the costume were to crystallise the flowers and enjoy them as a confectionery called Violet Sugar and was also used to treat consumption and other ailments of the lungs such as asthma, congestion and coughs.
The plant’s positive effect on respiratory problems is still one of its main medicinal uses today. The flowers are also said to aid relaxation, relieve menopausal symptoms and digestive issues.
The sweet violet has both edible leaves and flowers and owe its floral sweetness to the honey in the flower as it blooms before there are many bees around to harvest it. The leaves are more bitter and can be ingested, but are better used as poultices for bruises and they speed up the healing of wounds as they are antiseptic. The leaves have also been used in alternative cancer treatment, particularly to treat cancer of the throat.
I decided to make a raw cashew nut cheese cake, incorporating the mixed viola flowers in the middle section of the cake. I expected the cake to turn slightly violet, but this was not the case. After researching a little bit more it seems that they have to be soaked in warm water (or warm coconut oil could perhaps work?) in order to release their colour and so my cake was white with specs of purple flower pieces. Never mind, they still lent a delicious violet flavour to the cake!
The cashew cake recipe is borrowed from My New Roots and I changed the raspberries for blueberries in the top layer. I only added a small handful of viola flowers as I was afraid the flavour would be too powerful, but they were so delicious that next time I will use a proper handful and I recommend that you do the same.
Finally, let me apologise for the blurry cake photography. What can I say, I was hungry.
1/2 cup raw almonds (pecan or walnuts will also work)
1/2 cup soft Medjool dates
¼ tsp. sea salt
1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked for at least 5 hours, overnight is best
juice of 2 lemons
the seeds of 1 whole vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. alcohol-free vanilla extract)
1/3 cup raw coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup raw honey (solid or liquid.)(Vegans use agave nectar.)
1 handful violet flowers
1 cup blueberries (thaw completely if using frozen)
1. Place nuts and dates in a food processor (or use a hand mixer) with sea salt and pulse to chop until they are to your desired fineness (process a finer crust longer than a chunky one). Test the crust by spooning out a small amount of mixture and rolling it in your hands. If the ingredients hold together, your crust is perfect. Scoop out crust mixture in a 20 cm spring-form pan (if you don’t have a spring-form pan, use a pie plate lined with saran wrap), and press firmly, making sure that the edges are well packed and that the base is relatively even throughout. Rinse food processor well.
2. Warm coconut oil and honey in a small saucepan on low heat until liquid. Whisk to combine.
3. In the most powerful food processor / blender you own (you decide which one has the most torque) place all filling ingredients (except raspberries) and blend on high until very smooth (this make take a couple minutes so be patient).
4. Pour about 2/3 (just eyeball it, you can’t make a mistake!) of the mixture out onto the crust and smooth with a spatula. Add the raspberries to the remaining filling and blend on high until smooth. Pour onto the first layer of filling. Place in freezer until solid.
5. To serve, remove from freezer 30 minutes prior to eating. Run a smooth, sharp knife under hot water and cut into slices. Serve on its own, or with fresh fruit. Store leftovers in the freezer.
Happy picking – and baking!