Subterranean Sensuality and Beltane Lollipops
Early May is a time of great celebration, from May Day to Beltane to other ancient spring festivities. It's when our region seems to hit peak fertility, with blooming flowers and trees blanketing the land in a magical explosion of life and beauty. We gather around spring's first bonfires and watch the sun set as evenings lengthen and warm. It's a wonderful time to celebrate the beauty of our world, and one wonderful way to do so is through the use of edible flowers. In this post I have highlighted a couple specific floral flavors that I find particularly suitable for this time of year, plus an easy and gorgeous recipe for edible flower lollipops!
I know spring has truly arrived as soon as I see wild violets blooming in the forest. These shy and sensual flowers have been praised since ancient times for their sweet smell, delicate flavor, and healing properties. I like them because they are the herald of the season, the gatekeepers of spring. And with spring comes a burst of energy: the beginning of the most fertile of seasons, when new life springs up everywhere. How magical this time must have been for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, hungry from living off of preserved foods and bark. How reassuring it must have been to see the wild violets in the woods and know that soon, very soon, the hunger would be gone and the bellies filled with nourishing delights.
These gorgeous little pockets of blue-purple (along with pansies, their domesticated cousins) are some of the first spring color to grace our region each year and are a familiar sight to many. Violets have been associated with love for many centuries, probably due in part to their heart-shaped leaves. Both the leaves and the blossoms are edible. The leaves are soft and succulent and make an excellent addition to a wild greens salad, and the flowers carry with them an intoxicating fragrance. That fragrance is yet another magical part of violets; the main scent molecule that makes it (ionone) can only be picked up by our scent receptors for a small period of time. That means that we’re only able to smell that amazing scent for a few moments before it fades into the background, then comes back out again later to surprise us with its beauty.
The common blue violet (Viola sororia) is native to most of North America and can be found in the woods, but it also makes its welcome appearance in lawns and along sidewalks in the city as well. Though the native violets here lack the strong aroma of their European cousin (Viola odorata), they do have a pleasant sweet scent of their own. There’s another side to them, though, that is not quite so familiar. Did you know that violet plants have a second kind of flowers that grow hidden underground, yet still seed? These ghostly-white flowers exist entirely under the earth’s surface and are never exposed to pollinators or breezes but produce fertile seeds none-the-less. They develop their seeds in the darkness and release them directly into the soil, where they then sprout into a new violet plant. These seeds are stunning, too - they’re iridescent and look like tiny pockets of pearls. These ghostly flowers and their mezmerizing seeds are a backup plan for the violet plant. Violets keep their hidden seed-producers underground in case something were to decimate the rest of the plant. It’s almost as if these sweet and innocent flowers lead a secret life underground through their pearly appendages and subterranean sensuality.
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows” -A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare
Vanilla, on the other hand, has a fleeting but exciting reproductive cycle. Each flower opens up in the morning and closes late in the afternoon on the same day, giving it only one day of blooming. If it is not pollinated in that tiny time window, the flower is shed and no beans are produced. They are entirely dependent on pollinators like small bees and specific hummingbirds. Vanilla is also a very sensual flavor, having been used for centuries in everything from wedding cakes to body lotions. The little flecks of its bean pod are a mark of decadence and quality in sweet treats and make a lovely addition to these glowing golden lollipops, a celebration of the beautiful new light and smell of spring.
I believe that the foods we eat carry with them the magic they exhibit in their life cycles. These lollipops are not only gorgeous, filled with edible flowers and shimmering vanilla specks, they are also full of the secret sensuality of spring. Beltane (celebrated in early May) was a cross-quarter celebration for many ancient spiritualities and religions. It is a time to celebrate the peak of fertility and filled with flowers, bonfires, and general cavorting. I designed these lollipops in honor of the season. They shimmer with a warm orange hue like candle-light or rose gold, sparkle with edible gold luster, and showcase the floral beauty of edible spring flowers. They would also make a wonderful Mothers Day gift! Hibiscus tea gives these lollipops their lovely orange hue and a slightly tart flavor that balances out the sweetness of the other floral flavors. It’s optional, but strongly recommended!
Vanilla - Violet Lollipops:
2 c. sugar
2/3 c. corn syrup
2/3 c. strongly-brewed hibiscus tea
1/8 tsp. Cream of Tartar
2 tsp. vanilla paste or extract
Fresh organic edible flowers, washed and patted dry
lollipop mold OR a pan filled with powdered sugar (see below)
edible gold luster (optional)
- If you are using a lollipop mold, lightly grease it with cooking spray or a piece of paper towel with some oil on it. If not, you’ll need to create your own mold: pour 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar into a shallow baking pan and gently pat down. Create indentations in the size you want your lollipops to be with a round flat-bottomed object like a small jar or cup. Set aside.
- Stir together the sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, and water in a small saucepan with a candy thermometer clipped to the side of the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and continue to heat without stirring.
- When the mixture reaches 300F, remove pan from heat. Do not overcook or the mixture will start to caramelize!
- Stir in the vanilla (be careful - it might sputter a bit). Wait for the mixture to stop bubbling.
- Using a metal spoon, drop the sugar mixture into the molds or powdered sugar indentations. Carefully place a flower face-down on the hot candy (I recommend using tweezers to avoid accidental burns.) Use the end of a lollipop stick to lightly press it into the candy. Then pour just a bit more hot candy over the top to encase it completely, covering the backside.
- Place a lollipops stick in the candy and turn a half turn to encase it.
- Allow the candy to harden, then remove from molds. If you’ve used the powdered sugar method, rinse off the excess sugar under a thin stream of water and then let air dry. If you’d like to add another layer of decadence to them, you can brush the backs of the lollipops with gold luster when they’re slightly tacky, then continue to dry them.
P.S. I couldn't decide which pictures I liked better - the ones with a cluster of real violets, or the ones in the purple teapot. Comment below and let me know which ones you like better and why!
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